Annabel by Kathleen Winter

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Annabel by Kathleen Winter

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A book about a very sensitive and emotive subject. In 1960s rural Canada a baby is born but there is confusion as to whether the baby is a boy or a girl - and so starts a tortuous life journey for Wayne/Annabel.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224091275

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The back cover blurb has praise for this debut novel from two of my favourite authors: Joseph O'Connor and A L Kennedy so things were definitely off to a good start. The front cover is rather unsettling (as it's meant to be) - some may say disturbing: it's of an adolescent, but neither male nor female but rather a fusion of the two sexes. And the question is right up there before I've even opened the book - how would such an individual (and family members and society as a whole) deal and interact with such a person. It's not an easy question to answer, if I'm honest.

And so the journey begins for Wayne/Annabel (that double name alone is spooky, unsettling isn't it?) which is all about perceptions, emotions, how we view ourselves and others etc. The story starts proper with the line Wayne was born, in bathwater, in the house of his parents, Treadway and Jacinta Blake. It seems such a simple, innocent sentence doesn't it? But it most definitely is not and the implications of this particular home birth are felt by many, years, even decades later.

As the baby grows, starts school, makes friends (the usual stuff) - there's plenty of anguish and heartache for the parents. Even although they've done the right thing medically by their child, some niggling doubts remain and do not go away. In fact, as the baby grows into a young person, these doubts become stronger. Sadly, the parents disagree as to how to bring up their child. The father wants a big, strapping lad to tussle with, to knock about it but the mother (the more intuitive of the two) feels for her child, trapped in the wrong body.

The child is named Wayne. It's official. And so this quiet, rather feminine and small-boned 'boy' sets out on his life's path. But things are far from plain sailing. And as if to underline this very point, Winter spends a lot of time telling us about the bleakness, the harsh living conditions, the loneliness - in this part of Canada. She gives us plenty of evocative descriptions such as Treadway was not an unkind man. His neighbours said he would give you the shirt off his back ... if that shirt had not been full of sweat from hauling wood and skinning animals ...

Wayne is a very confused and at times tortured young boy. He wants to take part in more feminine play-time activities both at school and at home and he also likes to play with the girls - not the rough-and-tumble boys. This is not encouraged. And so his confusion intensifies. And as the situation deteriorates, Treadway's way of dealing with it - is not to deal with it (if you get my drift). He buries his head in the sand muttering to all and sundry as well as to himself that everything is just fine. But this denial comes at a heavy cost later in the novel.

The reader travels on this painful journey with Wayne. And unsurprisingly, there are more downs than ups. His daily life is far from happy and his pain almost drips from the pages at times. Puberty brings on more awkward issues to deal with. And one episode in particular is extremely moving. Winter's style is flowing, very easy to read and she takes plenty of time and patience to tell us all about Wayne and his world although at times I felt the story was a little laboured and lacked some sparkle. The book is also written with empathy for the subject matter for what can be and is, a highly emotive subject.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try Cockroach by Rawi Hage.

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Buy Annabel by Kathleen Winter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Annabel by Kathleen Winter at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Annabel by Kathleen Winter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Annabel by Kathleen Winter at

Booklists.jpg Annabel by Kathleen Winter is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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