Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Canadian First

So here is a quick review of another great Canadian contemporary novel that I recently finished (I promise to start on some New Orleans fiction soon). Mouthing the Words is the first novel written by Camilla Gibb, who has been shortlisted for her more recent works for the Scotiabank Giller Prize--the top National award for literature in Canada, for my American readers.

I haven't read any of Gibb's other work but Mouthing the Words is definitely an impressive first. I read a review in the New York Times Book Review that compared her style to that of Sylvia Plath and I couldn't agree more--think The Bell Jar with a slightly more modern twist to the prose.

The plot is of the oft-done 'girl grows up in abusive environment and dreams of escape' type, but Gibb's insight into her protagonist's deeply damaged psyche is unrivaled. Thelma, who we first meet as a child, withdraws into her own fantasy world to escape her sexually abusive father and her emotionally-absent mother, but loses track of the separation between fantasy and reality as she grows older. This eventual borderline personality disorder doesn't stop the brilliant Thelma from eventually pursuing her ambitions of a career in law.

This might sound like a very depressing story but in fact the book is often hilariously funny and engaging, with a constant cast of Thelma's imaginary companions who often have a lot to say on the state of things. Mouthing the Words will disturb you, anger you, and above all entertain you--glad to see that Ontario is still keeping up it's tradition of producing bright literary talent. Must read!

We trust that we know to be normal is normal simply because it is known to us. Worlds meet in collisions and the coherence of our histories crumbles. I feel it in the blank looks I tend to receive at dinner parties. When other people recount stories, I habitually interject with statements like, "Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I used to feel just like that when my father held me over the bridge by my armpits." Eyes previously animated are suddenly staring soberly. "You know?" I might add hopefully. "That bridge over the Don River?" A gracious dinner party host might break the uncomfortable moment with some tactfully placed suggestion of more Stilton. And if I had a lover, this would be the perfect moment to give me a reassuring squeeze of the thigh under the table and whisper something in my ear like, "It's OK, dear. Just try not to talk."

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, that quote made me add it to my Amazon wishlist.