ANNABEL

KATHLEEN WINTER

1968, an inter-sex child is born in a small village in labrador. The child has one testicle, a vagina and a what appears to be a penis. Or is it a clitoris?  The father want to raise him as a boy so he can hunt and trap with him and learn his skills and his love  of the wild. The doctor agrees. When the doctor measured the penis it was larger than a centimetre; larger than a centimetre and it is considered a penis but if it is smaller then it is considered a clitoris. The boy, Wayne, needs to take pills every day but he doesn’t know what they are for. He feels like there is a girl curled up inside him. Annabel is the name the midwife whispered in his ear at his christening and would call him when they were alone together. No one knows what the right or the best thing to do is. As Wayne grows older he needs to know who he is. The parents start with a strong relationship gradually drift apart. Bridges are a major theme in Annabel and Wayne bridges male and female.

Annabel is a must read.

THE CAMELOT CONSPIRACY: A Novel of the Kennedys, Castro & the CIA

E DUKE VINCENT

What is the truth about  11/22/63   the day JFK died. People from my generation clearly remember that day, even Canadians.  A shot that was heard around the world. Vincent’s imagining is quite engaging but the subtitle should have included “the MOB.” The mob were angry that their casinos in Cuba were taken away from them. There show girls were given jobs in Havana and kept in rotation as Fidel’s mistresses. The mob were angry that JFK would not take a definitive stand on getting rid of the communists in Cuba. They were angry that JFK’s brother John, the Attorney General, was taking such a strong stance against them. Their motto: if a snake is bothering you, cut off its head. The Cuban diaspora was angry at Kennedy also. They wanted to return home to their wealthy positions of power.

An interesting read but it bogs down with too many characters. There is a three page list of characters two of which are historical figures and one is fictional characters. The list does help keep it all straight.
I am looking forward to reading Steven King’s latest novel on this same subject 11/22/63.

 

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BRIDE OF NEW FRANCE

SUZANNE DESROCHERS

When her father died Laure was taken by a wealthy woman to be raised as her daughter. There she learned to sew, embroider and make lace as well as read and write. But when her benefactor died no provisions had been made for her. The person who took over the estate told her that he did not need another servant. So she was sent to the poor house in Paris, to the best floor of the poor house where still conditions were substandard. Laure took it upon her self to write to the King to plead for better food and conditions. The reply was sent to the warden telling her to tell Laure and the other women to buckle down and asking the warden to choose one hundred women to send to New France to be married to soldiers and courier du bois. Of course the warden was gleeful to tell Laure that she was the first to be chosen to be “une fille de roi.”

The first part of the book in Paris is slow, but when the women and Laure get on the boat for New France  and when the arrive were quite interesting. A good read.

THE REINVENTION OF LOVE

HELEN HUMPHREYS

History is stranger than fiction is an oft repeated cliche. Certainly it describes this true story of the love affair between Adele Hugo, the wife of writer Victor and literary critic Charles Sainte-Beuve. Especially given the strange fact that Charles was a hermaphrodite with an unusable penis and female genitalia underneath. “A sex the size of a snail.” It seems that Adele liked this. She did have several children with her husband Victor and did not want any more. The couple take turns narrating their story. For public meetings Sainte-Beuve disguised himself in his mother’s clothing as “Charlotte”. He sometimes thought that Adele loved Charlotte more than Charles.

Humphreys writes well. Love is well worth the read.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS

ERIN MORGENSTERN

Night Circus is magic realism at its best. The fantasy world Morgenstern creates reals in the reader amazingly quickly and takes him on a magic carpet ride through a world where magicians can control matter with their minds. Two characters create the Night Circus as a challenge to see who is the greater magician. The Night Circus opens at midnight and closes at dawn. Audiences might watch a tattooed contortionist fold herself into a tiny glass box, feast on chocolate mice and caramel popcorn, or wander through a sequence of tents that includes an ice garden, a desert and a maze constructed from towering clouds. There seems no end to the exploration of the circus.

Morgenstern’s imagination is magnificent. Circus is a page  turner.

 

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THE CAT’S TABLE

MICHAEL ONDAATJE

Michael is on a long journey to England, to meet his mother.  He can’t remember what she looks like. In the early 1950’s it is a 21 day journey by boat from Ceylon to London. He has almost no supervision though he is only 11 years old. For meals he sits a the cat’s table; the table where the lease important people sit. There he meets two great friends Ramadhin and Cassius as well as a group of eccentric and intriguing passengers. The boys have all kinds of adventures on this huge ocean liner. The three boys make a vow: each day they will do at least one forbidden thing. They stay up to midnight to see the prisoner take fresh air and exercise while locked down in chains. They strapped themselves to the deck to feel the wrath of a tropical storm. They sneaked into first class buffets to eat the superior food, later leaving their dishes in the safety boats.  Having nothing else to do, one night the boys snap off twigs from a cane chair to light and suck on like cigarettes. They plan on smoking the whole chair before their voyage ends. “There was darkness all around us but we knew how to walk through it. We slid silently into the swimming pool, relit our twigs, and floated on our backs. Silent as corpses we looked at the stars. We felt we were swimming in the sea, rather than a walled-in pool in the middle of the ocean.”

The adult characters that populate Ondaatje’s book are also wonderful. There is Mr. Mazappa, a half-Sicilian pianist who has “hit the skids.”  Botanist Larry Daniels keeps a garden hidden in the ship’s bowels, the brilliant greens and golds dazzling amid the shipboard palette of blue and grey. Miss Lasqueti sketches life on board and carries pigeons within the 10 cushioned pockets of her jacket.

Truly a great read.

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