Thursday, February 21, 2013

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

I've been putting off reading this ever since my luke-warm reaction to the highly acclaimed book of a similar subject, Jeffery Eigenides' Middlesex. A book which, in my opinion, seemed to be more about loud, over-the-top characters and situations than about Cali, the child born with ambiguous sexual organs, raised as a girl and then identifying as a man in adulthood. An interesting and unusual situation, for sure, but surrounded by too many side stories to get the full gist of Cali's struggle.

So, Annabel by Kathleen Winter. Within the first few pages I was pleasantly lulled into the author's soft and gentle voice amid the harsh landscape of the Labrador coast. It was lovely to read and I appreciated her straightforward telling of the story of Wayne's life and that of his family and Croydon Harbour neighbours. The author gives the reader much to think about when it comes to exploring the duality we all, to some degree, have inside us. 'Male' and 'Female' are convenient labels and come with some predictable characteristics, but what happens when we are faced with someone who combines these characteristics to a degree that makes those around them uncomfortable? In an ideally enlightened and compassionate world there should be no problem at all. We are who we are on the inside, after all. Unfortunately society's acceptance of people who present themselves ambiguously still has a long way to go. Far from being loud or attention seeking, Annabel is a sensitive and thought provoking book that explores family ties, friendships, trust, and our need to just be.


In 1968, into the beautiful, spare environment of remote coastal Labrador, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret - the baby's parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbour, Thomasina. Together the adults make a difficult decision: to raise the child as a boy named Wayne. But as Wayne grows to adulthood within the hyper-masculine hunting culture of his father, his shadow-self -a girl he thinks of as 'Annabel'- is never entirely extinguished, and indeed is secretly nurtured by the women in his life. 
Haunting and sweeping in scope, Annabel is a compelling tale about one person's struggle to discover the truth in a culture that shuns contradiction. (back cover)

After the service, Jacinta, Treadway, the uncles and aunts, and Thomasina moved to the front, and Reverend Taft asked the parents to name the child.
'Wayne,' Treadway said.
It's the last moment, Jacinta thought, of my daughter's existence. She looked at the door. Where was her little girl in a sunlit dress? Run to me, quick! But the door was empty. Jacinta closed her eyes and spoke to Isis in the cathedral window in St. John's. Not Mary. Isis, whose son, Horus, was both child and falcon. pg62

Thomasina had always had insight. Graham Montague had called it second sight, but she knew it was not that. It was simply stepping back from a scene and letting its layers reveal themselves. She did not have to step back far or wait long to see below the surface of the life of Wayne Blake. pg171

"I wouldn't call what you have a disorder. I'd call it a different order. A different order means a whole new way of being. It could be fantastic. It could be overwhelmingly beautiful, if people weren't scared."
"What was the thing you saw when I was born?"
Thomasina wanted to say, A daughter. You were born a daughter as well as a son. But what would Wayne do with the truth. He would need a world that understood. pg209

There had been a stack of books on the sidewalk that she tripped over as she was looking at pieces of sculpture on the lintels.
"I thought it was wonderful," she wrote to Wayne. "A book sale. Of course I realized I could read none of them. Books started at the door and came down over the steps, filled the yard, tumbled out the gate, and spread themselves along the sidewalk . . . it looked as if someone opened a door in the morning and the books marched themselves out and plopped down comfortably wherever they felt like it. pg284

What was beauty? Not frailness, not smallness. Wayne looked at his arms and tried to imagine them holding Joanne, with her expressive wrists circled around him. That was how lovers' limbs were. Years of hormones had made him angular, and it occurred to him that he wished he could stop taking them. He wanted to stop swallowing them every day and having them alter his body from what it wanted to be into what the world desired from it. pg343

Publisher: Anansi Press Inc.
Publication date: 2010
Length: 461 pages
Format: Trade paperback
ISBN: 978-0-88784-290-1


Daisy said...

Wow, this sounds like a moving and fascinating story. Thank you for the review.

JoAnn said...

I've started Middlesex twice and never managed to finish. This one has been on my wish list for at least a year - it sounds wonderful!

Trish said...

Daisy - you're welcome! It is indeed a very moving book.

JoAnn - I much preferred Annabel to Middlesex, which I thought was a bit overdone. Give Annabel a try, I think you'll be pleasant'y surprised. I know I was.

Buried In Print said...

I enjoyed revisiting the novel in the quotes you've shared: Annabel was one of my favourite reads in that reading year, and I would love to re-read it too.