Annabel by Kathleen Winter
This was the last book on the Giller Prize 2010 shortlist that I hadn’t yet read. Now that I’ve read them all, I can make the following two statements:
1) Out of the five finalists, I would have picked this book to win.
2) After four years, I am no longer going to read the Giller Prize shortlist every year.
While Annabel was the most readable, most lyrical, most compelling and most cohesive of the finalists, what it lacked most was commitment. The first half of the novel charged along, drawing us powerfully into its pages as it introduced the protagonist’s unique condition, the good guys and bad guys in the protagonist’s path and the bubbling cauldron small town setting that is ready to boil over.
Unfortunately the second half backed away from the promise and promises of the beginning. The most interesting character, Thomasina, leaves on two extended vacations that take her away from the plot for years. The bad guys and hints of trouble brewing in the small town never erupt. The protagonist, a hermaphrodite raised as a male who spends his entire childhood buying women’s swimsuits and dresses and wearing makeup, finally faces his condition … by deciding to remain a hermaphrodite.
The Gillers just aren’t cutting it for me. I’m not enjoying many of the selections, I don’t recommend them to others, and I don’t see them becoming classics – if they don’t meet any of those criteria then what’s the point? Maybe I’ll switch to reading the finalists of another literary award or maybe I’ll read the winners of several different awards. Or maybe I’ll just choose my books the way I have always preferred: by seeing favourable reviews of modern books or by selecting classics I haven’t read yet.
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.