Tag Archives: Kathleen Winter

‘Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage’ by Kathleen Winter

BoundlessstarstarstarCanadian Kathleen Winter knows the North. Born in the UK, she has lived in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her amazing award winning novel Annabel is set in the remote north. Coming from an immigrant family she understands feelings of rootlessness and the tension between freedom and belonging. Even in Annabel, which is about gender, she sensitively explores the difficulty in finding home, the place where you belong. For Wayne/Annabel that struggle takes place in his/her own body. She often uses descriptions of cold natural landscapes to depict isolation and loneliness within. Her writing is thoughtful and insightful and graced with self-deprecating humour in this narrative non-fiction called Boundless.

Robert J. Wiersema, himself an accomplished novelist,  wrote a beautiful review in the Globe and Mail which I will include here, because he simply says it all better than I can:  Globe and Mail Review

Boundless, part biography part travelogue, is the result of an impromptu opportunity Kathleen Winter had to travel on a ship through the Northwest Passage. The gravity of following fatal Franklin’s “one warm line” through barren land and icebergs was not lost on Winter. But neither was the beauty. With great reverence and awe, she uses her reflective story telling so that we can travel with her and experience a part of the world that few will ever have a chance to see for themselves.

Being a Stan Rogers fan, I was thrilled to hear that Nathan Rogers, his son, was also on the boat with Winter. How poignant it must have been to hear him sing his father’s iconic and haunting “Northwest Passage” while actually being on the voyage! Stan Rogers tragically died when Nathan was only a small child, but the son has gone on to become just as fine a musician and human being as his Dad was.

Orange Prize for Fiction 2011

Well, I completed a personal challenge, one that was on my bucket list. I managed to read all of the books on a prize shortlist before the prize was chosen. I’m glad I did it because I don’t think I’ll do it again.  Next time I might just read the winner. This insanity was partly motivated by a great event that is coming up!

Windsor Public  Library is having an Orange Prize Event on June 8, the same day that the Orange Prize winner will be revealed.  The evening will see each of the six books promoted and as a group we will choose which one we think will win. Then we’ll see if we are right! It proves to be a great evening, mostly because it will be a huge group of people gathering who enjoy books and reading! It’ll be like a massive book club meeting and I’m really looking forward to it!

The Orange Prize is awarded to women of any nationality. Traditionally, Orange Prize winners have been more “readable” than some other prize winners. In the interest of brevity, I will comment only briefly about each of the books. You will find a synopsis of each book and a biography of each author on the website. (Orange Prize for Fiction 2011)

All of the books are well written. The order of the books here is my ranking from highest to lowest. If you have read any of them, please comment if you think it should be ranked higher or lower and why. I’d love to hear what you think!

An amazing story of survival. A boy and his mother are locked in a small shed for years without hope of escape. There is however, hope in the love they share and the ways in which they cope. Although the circumstances are horrific, the tale is rendered readable because it is narrated by the innocent voice of the 5 year old boy.Check out a full blog post in the December Archive or by putting ‘Room’ into the Search box.

This book is about finding identity beyond gender. A beautiful story set in the harsh and remote landscape of Labrador.  A child is born intersex, with both male and female genitalia. His journey to adulthood and finding his place in society is remarkable. Check out a full blog post in the May Archive or by putting ‘Annabel’ in the Search box.

This is the story of a severely mentally and physically challenged girl sent to an institution in the 1950’s. Her treatment there is appalling but she finds love and humanity in her friends, especially Daniel. Though  Grace cannot speak, the story is narrated in her voice, both childish and poetic. There are some graphic scenes which make it at times difficult to read.

Evocative and delightfully haunting, this story has an old world quality but felt fresh and new. Set in the Balkans after the war,  it is a folk tale with magic realism. It didn’t matter to me not to be able to distinguish tale from reality, they were artfully interwoven. Unfortunately the story got too complex towards the middle, losing the thread and the crisp, muscular writing which was so enjoyable at the start.

This is a book about the war in Sierra Leone, but more about the before and after. It shows how ordinary lives can be affected by atrocities in the past. Forna’s own father was killed for his political beliefs and her personal story informs the writing. Researching her background enhanced the reading and helped me to understand the themes in the book. Also the fact that I lived in this country for many years.

A large ominous desk looms large in this novel, connecting several individuals who are affected by its mystery and power. This framework could have worked well for her novel but it became unsatisfying because of many loose ends. What I liked about Krause’s writing was the way she captured the complexity of relationships, especially how people can wield such power over one another.

‘Annabel’ by Kathleen Winter

This is an extraordinary book about gender that I would highly recommend. It is fiction, but it reads like a personal story, full of dignity and compassion. The characters are on a journey of love that begins with secrets and fear but ends in acceptance and truth.

Annabel is the story of Wayne, an intersex baby, born with both male and female genitalia. He is born in Labrador where his parents have little support or previous experience to deal with the situation. There is a an attempt to “fix” the child by deciding early on which gender he should be, but as the child grows and develops and as Wayne struggles to develop his own identity, he finds himself identifying more with his female side, which to him is Annabel. It is heartbreaking to see Wayne displaying attitudes that are expected of him, when they are so contrary to his authentic self.

Kathleen Winter eloquently captures the wild and stark loneliness of the Labrador landscape and that loneliness is mirrored in Wayne/Annabel who must navigate the territory of his/her situation with little  help. It is lonely to be different and even though there are some around who are supportive, they don’t really understand.

Finding identity can be tricky for anyone, but it is especially challenging for those with a gender or orientation that doesn’t fit neatly into societal norms.  In this novel, Winter promotes the freedom to find our identity as human beings beyond gender, and she has achieved this beautifully.

Note: The picture of the caribou on the cover carries more meaning than representing Labrador and the north. Caribou are unique among deer in that both male and female have antlers.