Archive for the ‘Winter, Kathleen (3)’ Category

Trevor reviews Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

October 26, 2010

Copy courtesy House of Anansi

Trevor at the Mookse and the Gripes has posted a review of Kathleen Winter’s Annabel, completing his reading of the 2010 Giller Prize shortlist. That means that visitors here now have access to two sets of reviews of the five shortlist titles (see the links in the sidebar). Since the Real Jury will not be making their decision until Nov. 9, that gives the Shadow Jury lots of time for discussion — I will be posting our decision on this site on Friday, Nov. 5. In the meantime, here are Trevor’s opening paragraphs on Annabel — you can find my thoughts (and a guest post from author Winter) here.

Fifth and final stop on the 2010 Giller shortlist for me is Kathleen Winter’s Annabel (2010), an intriguing story I’ve been looking forward to reading since I saw KevinfromCanada’s review of it earlier this year. First, there is the cold wilderness setting of Labrador. I like dwelling in harsh weather conditions — in books, that is. But what interested me more was that this setting is used to emphasize themes in a book about an intersex child (intersex is, recently, the politically correct term for those historically called hermaphrodites, though ”intersex” too apparently has critics).

Annabel opens up with a mystical (or is it mythological) prologue. A blind hunter and his daughter Annabel are floating on a canoe for the hunting season. The hunter is asleep as the daughter drifts sleepily down the river. Then the daughter spies a white caribou on the shore. As she stands to reach out to the animal, Annabel upsets the boat. Neither she nor her father can swim, and they perish.

In the next scene, Thomasina (the wife and mother of the two who have just drowned) is helping Jacinta Blake give birth. As you may have guessed, when the child is born, neither Thomasina nor Jacinta knows whether it is a boy or a girl. It appears to be both. They will, they know, both love it, but Jacinta wonders, “Will other people love it?”

The baby’s father, Treadway, is a quiet hunter. For much of the year he is gone on his sled. Though Treadway is far from cruel, when he learns of the child’s sex, he ensures that what he feels is right is done. There is little discussion. They will, he determines, raise it as a boy — no one else will know the secret — so the baby is christened Wayne. Thomasina, who has just lost her Annabel, breathes the name Annabel at the christening.

All three Shadow jurors have had a worthwhile time with this year’s shortlist. Your comments on any of the books are certainly welcome — and by all means let us know if you have a choice.

Aspects of the Novel, by E.M. Forster — a Guest Post from Kathleen Winter

June 27, 2010

Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

KfC note: When House of Anansi Press offered me a copy of Kathleen Winter’s debut novel, Annabel, they asked if I would be interested in doing a blog interview. I’ll admit that in my previous life in journalism, I did enough face-to-face interviews that I am left wanting no part of doing e-mail ones. So I declined, but said that I would welcome a guest post from Kathleen Winter — and I am delighted with the result that follows below. She not only gives visitors here an insight into writing her novel, she does an even better job of introducing a number of books that influence her writing. (My review of Annabel is right below this post.)

House of Anansi has kindly offered a copy of Annabel for a KfC giveaway. So if you are interested please indicate so in a comment on this post — after you have offered your observations on Kathleen’s thoughts, of course. Deadline for entries is midnight GMT, July 4. Unfortunately, the giveway contest is restricted to residents of Canada.

My personal thanks to Kathleen for this valuable contribution to KevinfromCanada.

Penguin Classics 2005 edition


Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster

A lesser-known detail about E.M.Forster is the fact that he liked to crochet, and one item on my to-do list has been to find out if some museum has any samples of his crochet work. I imagine it different from the regular doilies and other decorative dentelle of his era: maybe he made a case for his glasses, or veils for his summer hats, or for the hats of his associates. Whatever he made I have long hoped someone has saved some of it. I’d like to see, preserved in its frayed stitches, some three-dimensional echo of his themes: the barricades of class and gender, and the longing of the heart to get back to its native land where there are mysteries yet unlabeled. I hoped his hand-made fabric might tell me secrets about how he wrote.

One day in Afterwords, a second-hand bookshop on Water Street in St. John’s, I saw something of Forster’s that I had not known about: small, tatty and the colour of a scrap of old crochet, his 1927 booklet Aspects of the Novel sat between a biography of James Joyce and some tome about Wordsworth eating pies in The Lake District. I don’t know who Joyce Jefford is, but her name was written in blue ink inside and I am glad that she either died or found some other reason to part with the book, because it has helped save my writing life.

Aspects of the Novel is not the only book that has saved me: others have helped me work my way through writing problems as well. I’m thinking of Brenda Ueland’s If you Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, which my brother Michael gave me one birthday and which I have worn out several times so that I am now on my third or fourth copy. Ueland nails the difference between writing that is alive and writing that is dead, and she’s funny too. Then there is Donald J. Borror’s Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms, which I found in the biology section of Memorial University’s bookstore, and which presents the Greek, Latin and other origins of biological terms and scientific names in a way that blows up language to show a fiction writer worlds within our world. Then there are my technical darlings like my Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a classic since 1918 and reinvigorated in the glorious 2005 version illustrated by The New Yorker’s Maria Kalman. These are books that make me happy and grateful, and I often silently thank C.T.Onions, editor of the etymology dictionary. “How aptly you were named, Doctor Onions,” I call through time, “dissecting language into its coded layers piquant enough to make a girl cry.”

But Forster’s Aspects of the Novel goes deeper than these. It is a book about which I feel emotional, because it comes from Forster whom I love, and because, in it, he addresses certain aspects of technique in a way that transcends the technical. A writer can know about life, about meaning and clarity, but these can suffocate unless the writer also knows about story and structure. Here is an example of the depths to which I sank as I wrestled with the difficult last third of Annabel. Imagine how desperately I must have needed a lifeline from Forster when I found myself writing the likes of this:

” There were some corridors and he got lost until he saw a man
coming out of the men’s washroom. The man told him to go
up three stairs and down the corridor to the practice room. There
were felt banners on the walls. It was a Presbyterian church and
children had entered drawings in a contest and all the drawings
were on the walls. Each drawing was an illustration of the verse,
“Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The thing that
interested Wayne about the drawings was all the forms that were
anything but children. The children had wanted to draw striped
snakes with zigzags, and ice cream cones, and an orange cat
wearing green horn-rimmed glasses, and had inserted these things
and more among the pastoral scenes of children listening to
Jesus. In one of the drawings was a spaceship with some aliens
who had also come to hear what Jesus had to say.”

Of course I threw this in my wastebasket, but later got out of bed and retrieved it, thinking I could whip it out now and then and read it if I ever wanted to feel a frisson of incredulous hysteria.

The next morning I turned to Forster, and was able to breathe properly again on reading this: “In the novel, all human happiness and misery does not take the form of action, it seeks means of expression other than through the plot, it must not be rigidly canalized. Nearly all novels are feeble at the end. This is because the plot requires to be wound up. Why is this necessary? Why is there not a convention which allows a novelist to stop as soon as he feels bored?”

This was my own lament. I didn’t need Forster to solve it for me. Just hearing him voice it as a lament of his own saved me from despair. “After all,” Forster went on, “why has a novel to be planned? Cannot it grow? Why need it close, as a play closes? Cannot it open out? Instead of standing above his work and controlling it, cannot the novelist throw himself into it and be carried along to some goal that he does not foresee? The plot is exciting and may be beautiful, yet is it not a fetich, borrowed from the drama, from the spatial limitations of the stage? Cannot fiction devise a framework that is not so logical yet more suitable to its genius?”

Reading Forster’s Aspects of the Novel felt like having a fairy godfather comfort me after falling off the neighbour’s garden wall. I was still sniveling and still had skinned knees, but someone understood.

One of my hopes is that a person’s greatest weakness can turn into a strength if that person works on it carefully enough. My leanings are toward character and atmosphere. Story and structure have tyrannized me but I have tried so hard to pay attention to them that I think we have come to some sort of coexistence. Forster’s lovely little manual on the novel has helped me do this, not by answering questions but by sitting in company with me until their torment turns into something else. I’m not sure how this happens.

Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

June 26, 2010

Review copy courtesy House of Anansi -- click cover for more info

For this reader, Kathleen Winter’s first novel is dependent on three key characters, none of whom are the “Annabel” of of the title. That character, who is born in the opening pages of the novel, has one little testicle, labia and a vagina. Those three adult characters are all present at the birth:

Treadway, the baby’s father. The opening pages of the novel are set in Labrador in a community that is dependent on seasonal hunting. Treadway is not just a hunter, he is a good one, completely comfortable in a wilderness existence. The birth and survival of his son/daughter/whatever is not a normal part of the Labrador frontier experience — Treadway will have to learn to cope.

Jacinta Blake, Annabel’s mother:

Wayne was born, in bathwater, in the house of his parents, Treadway and Jacinta Blake. Treadway belonged to Labrador but Jacinta did not. Treadway had kept the traplines of his father and he was magnetized to the rocks, whereas Jacinta had come from St. John’s when she was eighteen to teach in the little school in Croydon Harbor, because she thought, before she met Treadway, that it would be an adventure, and that it would enable her to teach in a St. John’s school once she had three or four years experience behind her.

And finally, Thomasina, probably Jacinta’s best friend and soon to be a widow when her blind husband and daughter (also named Annabel) drown in a near spiritual experience. (That is not a spoiler — the incident is related in the novel’s prologue.) Thomasina passes the name Annabel on to the newborn. Thomasina will depart Labrador later in the book for a global tour but she will always maintain contact with Annabel.

For Treadway, the baby will always be a son and his name will be Wayne. Jacinta, while confused, is comfortable with most aspects of the physical dual sexuality. For Thomasina, the child will always be a female named Annabel.

Author Winter not only does a good job throughout this book at exploring the conflicting attitudes these three have towards the child, she also is rigorous about illustrating how they each attempt to influence him/her in their own image. Treadway is determined that his child will know and love the wilderness in the same way that he does. Jacinta is equally determined that she/he be equipped to survive in the “urban” world of St. John’s. And Thomasina is just as devoted to acquainting Annabel with the world beyond the isolated provincialism of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Those three adults and their attempts to influence the child are, to this reader, the driving forces of this novel. At the midway point of the book, Wayne/Annabel is in grade eight and has just discovered her female side — while she will become a more central character for the last half, her confused life will be dependent on those adult influences:

Jacinta was thinking of Wayne’s safety. Part of him knew this, but the new-found part, Annabel, wanted to tell someone. Wayne closed his eyes in bed and saw the hidden part of himself in the schoolyard, in a dress with a green sash and shoes of red leather with a little heel like Gwen Matchem’s. There were lots of things that changed if you were a girl: not just your heels or the way you put your hair, but things you talked about and the way you looked at the world. Wayne felt this in waves.

Winter’s choice to make her central character intersex certainly creates one story line but it is a tribute to the book that is not the only one, as the author moves into even more confusing territory. Wayne will eventually take himself to St. John’s and that other conflict — the wilderness of Labrador, urban Newfoundland as represented by St. John’s and the broader world that Thomasina is travelling — will become every bit as important. The conflict between wilderness and urbanity is a frequent theme in Canadian literature — the introduction of dual sexuality adds a whole new dimension which makes Annabel a unique addition to the genre:

The city grew oppressive. If it was not formal wear in the Model Shop that disturbed Wayne, with its bridesmaid gowns and tuxedos that reminded him of the travesty of his own prom, it was the homeless people. He felt quizzical gazes from them, as if they recognized something in him. He had expected to have more time than he had to get used to the changes in his body. But his body jumped at the chance to become less like a man and more like a woman. When he had been reducing his pills for just one week, he felt tenderness in his breasts and he felt them start to swell, as if they had been constrained but were now able to expand.

As Wayne/Annabel grows into adulthood, none of the three adult influences on his life is willing to abandon their aspect of the “project”. Now, however, it is no longer a child whom they are attempting to influence but a young adult who is trying to discover his own confused way in the world.

Annabel will not be to everyone’s tastes, but to anyone who appreciated Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex or the far less well-known Two Strand River by Keith Maillard the novel will have much appeal. Like those two novels, this volume uses confused sexuality as a highly effective device to explore in detail some far more conventional issues, faced by far more people. It is not always successful, but the effort alone makes the novel worth the read.


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