2016 Shadow Giller Winner

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the last few weeks, the Giller Shadow jury (Kim, Alison, and myself) have been reading and reviewing the shortlisted titles on the Giller Prize shortlist. (If you want to see my reviews, you can find them here.)

As Kim says on Kevin’s blog, “…it took a bit of deliberating, across time zones, provinces and continents, but we are delighted to reveal the winner of the Shadow Giller.”

Pop over to Kevin’s blog to find out which book we chose to be our winner, and how we arrived at our decision. Then be sure to check back after November 7th to find out if the real Giller jury agrees with us!

Which would you like to see win the prize?

 

Shadow Giller: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

There was always that shadowy twin, thin when I was fat, fat when I was thin, myself in silvery negative, with dark teeth and shining white pupils glowing in that black sunlight of another world.  –Margaret Atwood

25716567What Mona Awad does so well in this book is to put us inside the head of a woman with poor body image. Elizabeth is so preoccupied with the way she looks that there is no room in her head for anything or anyone else, leading to dire consequences in her daily life and relationships.

Easily read in a day or two, the book is made up of 13 vignettes taken from Elizabeth’s life as she experiences adolescence, college, internet relationships, shopping for clothes, marriage, the death of her mother, and more. In this time, she goes from fat to thin, from being worried about the way she looks to being completely obsessed with her weight and the food she consumes. (Her will power is actually quite impressive.)

The three parts I found most interesting:

1) Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother. In one of the stories, while Elizabeth is home visiting, her mother is so proud of Elizabeth’s new look (i.e. thin) that she shows her off to all her friends and colleagues. She even lays out the clothes she wants Elizabeth to wear.

2) Elizabeth’s relationship with other women. There are many occasions in the book where women are shown to criticize and belittle each other; the way they look and the food they’re eating. Elizabeth is also shown to hate other women simply because they seem to be effortlessly thin. She doesn’t like to have to eat out with one of her colleagues at lunch, because her tiny colleague eats a lot of food for lunch while she has only a salad. In another chapter, she becomes obsessed with getting her nails done with Cassie. She seems fascinated by Cassie’s large body and the fact that Cassie seems to be happy and at ease in her body. She can’t seem to understand how this might be possible.

3) Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband. The chapter where we see Elizabeth from her husband’s perspective is one of my favourites. Elizabeth’s obsession with food and weight causes a lot of tension in their home. You can feel the strain he’s under when he’s trying to answer her questions about meals or outfits; trying to choose words that won’t offend her or send her off on one of her bouts of depression. He misses the woman he fell in love with.

Every other Saturday night she permits herself two double margaritas and enchiladas verdes at the Blue Iguana, followed by a Brownie Bonanza at Ben & Jerry’s. Though it scares and saddens him a little to see her hunger let loose upon a small complimentary basket of tortilla chips, he too looks forward to these Saturday nights. It’s the only night when her smirk goes slack, the noose of restraint loosened enough for her features to soften, her beauty at last unbuckling its belt. She is never more expansive and easygoing in conversation than when she is snatching chips from the basket with quick fingers. He’s learned not to look at the fingers. If he does, she’ll stop…. What he does not relish is seeing the naked disappointment splayed across her face when the last chip has been eaten, the final spoon of ice cream swallowed, the knowledge that there is another two weeks of sprouts ahead dimming her features like a pre-storm sky. And then of course, on the way home, she’ll begin to feel sick. “I’m so full. I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t even enjoy it. Do we have any Perrier at home?” She’ll spend the rest of the evening scowling and sucking back Perriers from the bottle, too full and sick for sex.

What I thought was lacking:

1) Perhaps because of the vignette-style of the book, I felt that there wasn’t enough depth to the story. Her relationships with her mother and husband were interesting, but we don’t get to know very much about them beyond the present. For example, it was hard for me to understand what her husband ever saw in her, because whatever it was, we don’t get to see it.

2) I wasn’t expecting anything miraculous, but I was hoping that by the end Elizabeth would have recognized that her weight is not what is making her unhappy; that she needs to explore other possibilities. Her negativity and self-loathing makes her hard to like, and yet I wanted to like her so badly; I wanted her to like herself. And I saw no hope there.

Despite these small issues I personally have with the book, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it because of all the important and insightful things it has to say about body image in our culture and how crippling it can be.

[As a mother of two daughters, I see the influence of the internet everyday; every time they watch a music video or those you-tube channels featuring beautiful young women who teach you how to pick out the perfect clothes, put on your makeup, or decorate your bedroom. My youngest especially finds them mesmerizing. Lately, she’s started saying things like “this makes me look fat” and “my hair looks so stupid”. Things I have always made a point of NEVER saying around my kids. (Although I do know that some of it is expected and unavoidable – even Anne of Green Gables worried about the colour of her hair and was a little too proud of her perfect nose.) And what about my son? Boys are exposed to all the same things; how do we prevent them from expecting the girls around them to look like the the ones on the internet? Or from suffering from negative body image themselves?]

At Between the Pages Halifax, Mona Awad said that what she wanted was to write a book showing the impact body image can have on someone’s life; how deep it can go, how penetrating it can be to every aspect of your life. In this, she has succeeded. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl almost crushed me with hopelessness for Elizabeth and for all those other women in the book who were slaves to food and to the gym. I believe in healthy living, but that is not what it should look like. This book is a plea to change the way we see and represent women; a plea to let women be themselves and to feel good about it.

Thank you to Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of the book for review!

Further Reading: There seems to be a wide variety of reactions elicited by this book from other bloggers. Here are the reviews I remember seeing around – if I missed your review, let me know and I’ll add you to the list!

Kim at Reading Matters (fellow shadow juror)

Rosemary and Reading Glasses

The Paperback Princess

Pickle Me This

I’ve Read This

Dolce Bellezza

Mona Awad on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers talking about body image, self-acceptance, and how her personal struggle informed her novel.

The Globe & Mail 

“…the cultural demands on women to conform to a certain size are not only largely unachievable, but destined to leave them distracted, weak and miserable. Further, the necessity of thinness inevitably pits women against each other, forces them into isolation and makes them deeply lonely. With admirable nuance and obvious skill, Awad critiques this damaging world we’ve created for ourselves simply by showing it to us.”

Shadow Giller: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

28513019I put off writing my review of The Wonder for a couple of weeks after reading Kim’s excellent review. I couldn’t see how I could add anything more. But I have taken some time to forget about what she wrote so that I can concentrate on my own notes.

Fans of Emma Donoghue will surely be picking this book up, but I hope that those of you who are new to Donoghue’s work will also consider reading it. Inspired by historical accounts of “Fasting Girls“, Donoghue has created a story about a young girl, her family, and her nurse.

In an Irish village very soon after the terrible Potato Famine, Anna has stopped taking food. For months she has supposedly been living off of nothing, which has caused a great stir. People want to come see her, they want to know if this is for real. So a committee is formed; one that includes the local doctor and priest. They hire two nurses to take turns watching over the girl to ensure that she isn’t secretly taking in sustenance.

Nurse Lib, who was trained by Florence Nightingale, travels to the village already with doubts as to the possibility of the situation. She imagines that she won’t be around long before the girl is discovered as a fraud. But, after a few days, it’s obvious to her that even if Anna had been receiving sustenance before the nurses began their watch, there certainly isn’t any way she could be now. Which means that the two-week watch could now be actually causing the girl to die. Lib tries to convince Anna to take food, but Anna refuses. Lib believes that if she can figure out the reason behind Anna’s decision to fast, she may be able to turn the tides. But what could it be?

One week exactly since Lib had arrived from London. So full of confidence she’d been – misplaced confidence in her own acuity, it had turned out. She’d thought to be back at the hospital by now, putting Matron in her place. Instead she was trapped here, in these same greasy-feeling sheets, no nearer to understanding Anna O’Donnell than she’d been a week ago. Only more muddled, and exhausted, and troubled by her own part in these events.

The beginning of the book, with the introduction to the story and the setting, immediately pulled me in; then there was a bit of a lag in the middle when I wondered if the rest of the book would just be Lib’s travels back and forth between the village and Anna’s cabin. But it picked up again as the race against time became obvious, and the frustrations Lib found herself coming up against in trying to deal with, and talk reason into, Anna’s family, her doctor, and the rest of the committee who were determined to see the two week observation period through to the end.

28449257This is a good book; the history, the religious politics, the setting, and the characters. In particular, I found the attitudes and beliefs of the characters the most interesting aspect of the story. The doctor was hoping to make a great discovery; the possibility of human existence without the need for food. Anna’s family seemed paralyzed by their religious beliefs. And Nurse Lib was an interesting character; she made mistakes and held a prejudice against the Irish – one that represented the feelings about them in other parts of the world at the time (“What a rabble, the Irish. Shiftless, thriftless, hopeless, hapless, always brooding over past wrongs.”). But she was also strong and passionate about her cause, and a good nurse. “Good nurses follow rules… but the nest know when to break them.”

The end was an exciting finish, but felt a little too ‘fairy tale-ish’ for my tastes. However, I’m sure there will be many readers out there who will find it satisfying.

This book will do well. But as good as it is, and as popular as it will be, is it what the Giller jury is looking for? Are they looking for a good story? Or are they looking for a book that will make you question what you thought you knew, a book that will give you the urge to read it again, or one that leaves you with a burning desire to talk it over with friends? On November 7th, we will find out.

*Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review! 

***************************************

A review in The Star calls The Wonder a “powerful exploration of religion and the sway it holds“.

A review in The New Yorker explores some of the history behind Donoghue’s book.

Emma Donoghue’s interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

Shadow Giller: Yiddish For Pirates by Gary Barwin

25893536

Gary Barwin’s imagination knocked my socks off. History and adventure come together in this remarkable tale full of word play and wit, all told by a 500-year-old Yiddish-speaking parrot.

So, you ask, how did this shell-less cheder-bocher – schoolboy – drawn from the waters of Ashkenaz find himself on the Spanish Main, the blade of his sword pressed against the quivering kishkas of Spanish captains? How did Columbus, the Inquisition, and the search for some books cause us to seek for life everlasting?

And, come to think of it, how did I, an African Grey, become his mishpocheh, his family, and he my perch, my shoulder in the world?

And so begins the tale of Moishe and Aaron, his parrot.

A bookmark without a book doesn’t know where it is. Moishe was my slim volume, my scrawny story. My shoulder.

Together they take on the Inquisition,

“Since the beginning, they have tried to kill us Jews, but ha-Shem – God – gives the story a little, what you would call, a drey, a twist, and then somehow, we aren’t destroyed. Until the next time.”

Christopher Columbus the pompous,

The ship’s master unfurled the flag of the Spanish Kingdoms and planted it in the sand. For we shall have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth and have a fancy brocaded flag to prove it.

and the Ocean Sea.

To be at sea is to know vastness, to understand the flight of clouds, the reach of the stars and of invention. He was riding the expanding ripples of God’s great cannonball. Moishe felt as if he were travelling in every direction at once, each direction away from home, toward story.

They seek “revenge and retribution from Spanish ships and their gold”,

Was I surprised my hopeful pink boychik Moishe had turned pirate? Feh.

God Hisself would have turned pirate if, on bumping into the New World, He had seen that the othershtupping Spanish had discovered only a larger canvas on which to paint their murderous scenes. The same hateful fire burned inside their poxy hearts as fueled Inquisition flames. They had persecuted Jews. Now they persecuted Los Indios.

and they search for the Fountain of Eternal Life.

“Ach, who needs immortal life?” I answered. “It’s but a larger sack to fill with misery.”

“But it works the other way, too,” Moishe said. “Trouble would scatter like ashes in the wind over a life-without-end. And anyway, it’s the Fountain of Youth, so you’re made young again. Younger than your memories, younger than your pain.”

“Eternal relief.”

“An everlasting finger to those who tried to erase us: here we are, a permanent stain on the pages of history.”

They suffer great sorrow but maintain hope for the future.

I wish that we, too, could leave this meiskeit-ugly bloodletting. That we, too, could silently row out of this story and find another one, a story where more blood stayed in the body. Sha. I’m only looking for this treasure, these books, this poxy fountain, because, like a shlemiel, I still believe – keneynehoreh – in life instead of death. But, takeh, it’d be easier to be dead.

And through it all, Aaron can’t help but crack his jokes.

I smiled sheepishly. If a parrot could be said to be sheepish. Or to smile.

 *********************************************

This book comes with a warning: despite the jolly feel of the novel, there are some very graphic scenes of violence. You’re thinking it be the pirates. But, sadly, the worst of it comes from the “good guys”; the Catholics in Spain ridding the country of heretics, and the great explorers of the New World who think the Native Islanders are soul-less.

Yiddish For Pirates is not a quick read, but every word is enjoyable. I giggled and smirked, felt anger and awe, and at the end of it all I shed a tear. I was sad to see Aaron go.

In the Acknowledgements, Barwin says that he dedicates this book to his family: “I have tried to infuse it with wonder, thoughtfulness, wit, intelligence, culture, love and compassion. If I have succeeded in this in any way, it is because I have learned these things from them.”

He has succeeded.

***********************************************

With Yiddish For Pirates, Gary Barwin has earned every last ‘blurb’ about his book. Here are a couple that I especially like:

“All my life I have been waiting for the romantic tale of a Kabbalistic Jewish pirate as filtered through a uniquely Canadian perspective. Today, my prayers have been answered and then some.” Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure

“What an accomplishment! What an imagination! The wit, the wordplay, and the subversive humour make this a thoroughly original and delightful novel.” Lauren B. Davis, Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated author of Our Daily Bread and Against a Darkening Sky

For someone so accomplished, I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of him until his book made the Giller longlist. Happily, that has been rectified, and I hope the treasure that is Yiddish For Pirates will bring him much well-deserved recognition.

****************************************

Yiddish for Pirates is also a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

The review in the Globe & Mail claims that Yiddish For Pirates is “unlike anything else you’ll read this year”.

The review in The Star reveals some of what Barwin was thinking as he wrote his book.

“Pirates were these word-invention machines. These insults and swashbuckling threats are such a juicy joy to speak,” he says. “That’s a component of that in Yiddish as well. People who speak Yiddish love to revel in the Yiddishisms and clever charismatic ways of saying things. It’s so fun to riff off of those.”

Gary Barwin’s interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

*Thank you to Random House of Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review!

 

Shadow Giller: The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

[Rape Culture’s] most devilish trick is to make the average non-criminal person identify with the person accused, instead of the person reporting the crime…                                                                                                       – Kate Harding, ‘Asking For It’

29220492This book is timely, insightful, and a page-turner. This is a book that will appeal to a wide audience, and will get people talking. And thinking: How would you react if someone you loved and trusted was charged with the worst of crimes? The Best Kind of People is an examination of rape culture; what it looks like and how it affects us, the victims as well as the accused.

No one saw it coming.

Everyone loves George. He’s a charming and generous family man; everyone’s favourite teacher at the school. He has a devoted wife and a loving son and daughter. So, when he is arrested for several counts of sexual assault and attempted rape, everyone is shocked. Everyone’s first reaction is denial. But, over time, the doubt begins to creep in. His daughter, Sadie, feels it first, along with guilt and shame. What if?

… if even a portion of the allegations against him were true, then what would her support mean? She was hit with a powerful surge of guilt. When your family needs you, you should be there.

“But his blood is in mine… What if he is guilty? What would that make me?”

Then again, what if he’s innocent? There is still irreparable damage done either way. Even if found innocent, it would be hard to go back to the way things were before. Never again would there be a sense of safety and peace of mind.

For months Joan would replay this moment, trying to decipher the look on her husband’s face. Was it guilt? Confusion? Indignation? Stoicism? Acting? But nothing, not even a revolving camera of omniscience, a floating momentary opportunity to narrate, would allow anyone to truly understand the truth about George. He became a hard statue, an obstacle, a symbol. // The father and the husband, from that moment, had been transformed.

Not knowing felt worse than knowing something for sure, even something terrible.

With the shifting of perspective between the three family members, (George’s wife Joan, their older son Andrew, and their 17-year-old daughter Sadie), Whittall manages to bring us three different standpoints. Sadie who has doubts from the beginning, Joan who is a full supporter and so desperate to have things back to the way they were, and Andrew who tries to remain neutral but feels the tremendous pressure. I was struck by how realistically she was able to have these three family members with their own, often differing, thoughts on the case still be able to come together and support each other despite their differences, rather than be torn apart. They did not always get along, they did not always agree, but there was always love.

“You don’t stop loving someone in an instant because someone accuses them of something despicable. Nothing is that black and white.”

Nothing is that black and white. And Whittall takes this and runs with it. There is so much grey in this book that you will want to hash it all out; in your own head and with someone else. Aside from the question of George’s guilt and all the questions it holds for his family, the book addresses issues of victim blaming and rights for men. When you see the result of these young girls speaking up, it becomes very clear as to why so many of them just don’t. The public attention and ridicule doesn’t seem worth it.

“Your father is a symbol of all that feminism has done to cause hysteria on this world. Hysteria has become law! Feminists show specific signs of mental illness, and you can see, this is what happens when these women get too much power. Innocent men go to jail because girls aren’t taught anything about being decent and responsible human beings. They are taught they can do anything, and deserve special treatment, and men have to pay for it.”

What I liked best in this book was Joan’s point of view as the long-time wife of George and mother of two children who she had to keep herself held together for (most of the time). As you might expect, her feelings and thoughts were all over the place. And then she also had to take in and register everyone else’s feelings and thoughts on it all; her children, her friends, her co-workers, and her sister (who had strong opinions on the subject, and wasn’t afraid to tell Joan what she thought). She had to take all this in, hold it all together, while trying to sort out her own feelings and try to put some semblance of a life back together. How do you reconcile with the fact that all you’ve ever known and trusted in life is suddenly in doubt? She went through the whole gamut of emotions; guilt, shame, a sense of betrayal, loss of control, lack of trust (in anyone). I felt everyone’s pain, and I will not deny that there were tears.

“You’re feeling ashamed, but you shouldn’t. This is not your fault.” // “I am not ashamed,” Joan spat at her. The truth was that the shame Joan felt was so expansive and so forceful that it couldn’t be something described by as few as five letters, something so commonplace. This was something else entirely. “A word doesn’t even exist for what I’m feeling,” Joan mumbled.

“And that is the entirety of the life lesson I have learned from this experience. No one has control. At all.”

And, the ending. The ending will keep you awake at night. Is it satisfying? Is it revolting? Is it inconceivable? Is it what most of us would have done? What would I have done? I know what I would have liked myself to have done, but that’s not the same thing.  I didn’t know what to think. I confess to feeling a strange sense of relief that disgusted and confused me. However it is that you feel about it, you will all want to talk about it.

Heavy stuff, right? Except that the way Whittall writes doesn’t feel too heavy. It feels effortless and conversational. She even throws in some humour to lighten things up.

Are you serious? might be the dumbest thing people say, as a way to buy time to let very serious things sink in.

Andrew hadn’t thought about Stuart for years, and really only mentioned him when anyone asked him for his “coming out” story, which rarely happened anymore. Younger guys didn’t seem to have that ritual of exchanging stories of revelation, denial, acceptance, estrangement. These days they seemed to say, “What? I’ve always been gay. Here I am in day care in my Glad to be gay! onesie. What are you harping about, old guy?”

This book is written mostly from the point of view of the family of the accused, who are an upper-class white family. One thing I would like to have seen is more of a focus on the victims and their families. But that’s not the story the author chose to tell. She did touch on it, and it was an interesting twist to have the sister of Sadie’s best friend be one of the victims. In any case, there is still much to devour and ponder in this book; some things I haven’t even touched on in this review. I highly recommend it.

Best line: Outside, the leaves appeared to have reddened overnight, going mad alongside her.

Thank you to House of Anansi  for providing me with a copy of this book for review!

************************************

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor more information about Zoe Whittall and her other works, visit her website.

“Zoe Whittall might just be the cockiest, brashest, funniest, toughest, most life-affirming, elegant, scruffy, no-holds-barred writer to emerge from Montreal since Mordecai Richler…”
– The Globe and Mail

Review in The Globe & Mail: The Best Kind of People arrives at exactly the right moment

“I’m happy with how it turned out, but I feel, like every writer, you imagine how you could continue to write it forever.”

Review at the National Post: Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People delves into rape culture with a family broken by secrets

“Despite the plot’s real-world resonances, The Best Kind of People’s strength is in its commitment to the people themselves – tracking their shared and individual psychology over time, neither mindlessly sympathetic nor sadistic. Although invested in the politics at work, Whittall also observes and dissects filial loyalty, to profound effect.”

 

 

2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist

There are 6 books on the Giller Prize shortlist this year. The Shadow Jury will be reading and reviewing these books over the course of the next 5 weeks. We will be choosing a shadow winner a few days before the official Giller Prize announcement on November 7th.

25716567

Mona Awad for her novel 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, published by Penguin Canada

My thoughts: I haven’t read this one yet, but my feeling based on other reviews I’ve read is that the writing will be good, but I may find myself feeling frustrated by the protagonist’s negative outlook on life. On the other hand, maybe not…

My review

25893536

Gary Barwin for his novel Yiddish for Pirates, published by Random House Canada

My thoughts: This may be the book I know the least about, and I think I’ll keep it that way. I’m hopeful that it will be a fun read. I mean, it’s about pirates, right?

My review

28513019

Emma Donoghue for her novel The Wonder, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

My thoughts: This is probably next on my reading list. I don’t know very much about it, but it’s Emma Donoghue, so my expectations are high (whether they should be or not).

My review

27133420

Catherine Leroux for her novel The Party Wall, published by Biblioasis International Translation Series, translated by Lazer Lederhendler

My thoughts: I’m happy to see this on the list. To find out why, see my review.

27876415

Madeleine Thien for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada

My thoughts: I’m not surprised to see this on the list, as it is also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year. From what I’ve read so far, I’m expecting it to be a slower read, but rewarding.

My review

29220492

Zoe Whittall for her novel The Best Kind of People, published by House of Anansi Press Inc.

My thoughts: I’m reading this one now, and I can already tell you that it’s a page-turner. But how will it all end?

My review

Tell me, have you read any of these? Are there any here that you think shouldn’t be? Any that should be, but aren’t? Thoughts? Predictions?

******************************

This link will take you to CBC Books where they have compiled The Next Chapter interviews for 5 of the 6 shortlisted books.

What the jurors had to say about each of the books on the shortlist.

 

Shadow Giller: The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux, translated by Lazer Lederhendler

27133420The first thing I noticed about The Party Wall, even before reading the first page, was the story/character sequence; ABACADABACADA. Intriguing, right? Then, after about four stories into it, I had no idea where any of it was going (a good thing). Even more enticing are the little clues giving us hints as to when each of the stories take place in relation to each other; essential later for making connections between the stories.

Clues about the time aren’t the only ones being dropped by the author; as you get further along into the book, bits of information help you begin to make the connections between the characters. The connections aren’t huge and mind-boggling; they’re small and almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But, this just serves to make them more powerful. The revelations made by the characters throughout the book, however, are life-changing for them.

There are moments nothing can prepare you for. Such as fainting on shaking hands with a stranger. Or reading your mother’s name for the first time. You don’t know what to do, how to behave. You forget how to breathe, blink your eyes, swallow the stones building up in your mouth.

Connections between the stories are fun, but they’re not the only reason to read this book. The writing is wonderful. And the stories are strong enough to stand alone, or show their connection through theme; duality and siblings are strong themes in this book, in unique and surprising ways.

She can’t find the words to tell him that is not how life works, to explain to her still very young son that the world is not a vast pair of scales where bad actions offset each other, where misdeeds are consistently sanctioned. The world is an unjust place where the good go bad from never being rewarded, where the truly wicked are very rarely punished and where most folk zigzag between the two extremes, neither saints nor demons, tacking between heartache and joy, their fingers crossed, knocking on wood. Every person split in two, each with a fault around which good and evil spin.

To say more would be to give too much away. This book is more rewarding the less you know about it. Read it. Especially if you are into creative forms of storytelling. (If you like your novels to be straight-forward and linear, this might not be for you.) And, while you are reading it, pay close attention. I’m sure there are things I missed along the way; this is a book that begs to be read again.

18455586At the end of The Party Wall, Catherine Leroux  talks about the real-life stories that inspired her characters, and in an interview she describes them as “so unbelievable, I kept thinking no writer would ever dare to invent something like that.”  In the stories Leroux created, she “wanted to reflect on what is inherited from one generation to the next, what resurfaces after it’s been buried or forgotten.” There is a focus on twins and siblings; a theme of duality in which her characters are “questioning dualism; they are repositioning in relation to the boundaries between each other, learning that their “party wall” is thicker or more permeable than they thought.”  “… we are not on one side or another, we are not building it, climbing it nor breaking it. We are inside of it. There is life within the thinnest barrier.

A few more spoiler-free passages:

The daffodils blossomed early and she has cut nine of them, one for each year since Micha died. This is the first time she’s thought fit to pick such cheerful flowers. Before, she would bring lilies and tulips. In their black hearts, tulips understand the gravity of grief, and the lilies’ heady fragrance speaks the language of the dead. The daffodils, with their double petals, their frills and sparkling colours say something quite different: “I no longer mourn for you,” and Madeleine confirms this out loud as she straddles the small springtime brook that splits the property in two. The truth is she stopped mourning years ago. But she has never dared to declare it to him so clearly.

The cameras are broadcasting real-time shots of the house, their house, with the blue paint that appears to be taking flight in the chilly air, the second-floor shutters, arms spread wide, the yellow bicycle with the flat tire chained to the balustrade, and the swing pushed by the August wind as if a ghost were seated on it.

Far away from the major cities, the noise of the new reaches them somewhat blurred; the distance lends an unreal sheen to events. Politics has taken on the shape of a masquerade for them, and human-interest items seem like sordid tales drawn from mythology… As far as the planet’s decline is concerned, they have let go. They are ordinary spectators of a world grown so warped as to beggar belief.

When he decided to marry and start a family, Simon never would have believed you could feel so far removed from those to whom you were supposed to be closest.

Victims and executioners often coexist in the same person. Those who forgive them are the ones who enable the world to heal.

A melody rises in a minor key, the scale that never finds happiness yet does not despair.

This is a beautiful book that I would be happy to see on the Giller shortlist this year. 

Update: The Party Wall made it to the shortlist.

**********************************************

Thank you to the friendly folks at Biblioasis who sent me a copy of this book!

If you’ve already read the book (or after you read it), and you want to listen to a discussion of the book, visit Write Reads with Tania and Kirt.

In this review and interview, Montreal Gazette calls Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall “a revelation”.