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.