Annabel by Kathleen Winter
House of Anansi, Toronto, 2010
Shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, on the long list for the 2011 Orange Prize. I own this one.
Imagine being eleven years old, with thoughts of becoming a teenager and the awkward sense of things changing around you and in you. Then imagine suddenly learning you are not who you think you are. This is the story of Wayne Blake. This is the story of Annabel. They are one and the same.
Jacinta and Treadway Blake both know there is something different about their child. Jacinta is torn by a sense of loss. Treadway is determined to raise his son the way he was raised. They never speak about the difference, never share their knowledge with their son.
All children, she thought as she watched him, could be either boy or girl, their cheeks flushed, their hair damp tendrils. Wayne looked up at her so trustingly she badly wanted to sit beside him, to look at him and honestly explain everything that had happened to him from birth. At nine, she thought, a child has a capacity for truth. by age ten the child has lengthened and opened out from babyhood, from childishness, and there is a directness there that adults don’t have. You could look in Wayne’s eyes and say anything true, no matter how difficult, and those eyes would meet yours and they would take it in with a scientific beauty that was like Schubert’s music. From pages 93/94.
The decision to keep silent, to keep secrets, places a wedge between Jacinta and Treadway and eventually between parents and child. Winter is wonderful at developing her characters and sharing their inner lives with the reader. I ended up caring for all of them, with all their differences.
…..When Treadway needed to speak his mind, he spoke it to a boreal owl he met when he was seventeen. He and the owl shared physical traits. Both were small for their species. Each had a compact rounded shape, efficient and not outwardly graceful. The boreal owl was one of the quietest, most modest birds. It roosted in tall, shady thickets of black spruce and drew absolutely no attention to itself. Treadway had met the owl as he rested halfway between the Beaver River and the trail back home. He had been in the same spot more than half an hour when the tiny owl caught his eye, twenty feet over his head. He didn’t know what caused him to look up at that spot. A silent impulse of recognition. Treadway often discovered wildlife like that, as if an invisible bubble had burst and somehow it made you look in that spot. From page 214.
Kathleen Winter has written a moving and eloquent book about mixed gender, identity and the human journey to individuality. It weaves together the lines that connect us as families and as friends. It tells how easily these connections can be broken. It is a story containing wonder and ugliness, all beautifully written. I enjoyed this novel immensely. It is about about families, about growing up and about trust, acceptance and love.
…..There is a new world for every child, sooner or later, no matter what kind of love has lived in the home. Strong love, love that has failed, complicated love, love that does its best to keep a child warm through layers of fear or caution. One day the layers begin to fall… From page 228.