Tuesday, 26 July 2011

What we’re reading… Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Here at Book Festival HQ we’re lucky enough to have every book in the programme at our disposal. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you some reviews of what us Book Festival folk have been reading. Today it’s Annabel by Kathleen Winter

"Whenever she imagined her child, grown up without interference from a judgemental world, she imagined its male and female halves as complementing each other, and as being secretly, almost magically powerful."

In 1968, into the beautiful, isolated 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.

Wayne’s father, Treadway decides to raise their baby as a boy, whilst secretly his mother Jacinta and her friend Thomasina nurture the girl curled up inside of him. Kathleen Winter takes us on a journey through two decades of Wayne’s struggle to come to terms with the female identity inside of him, known to him and Thomasina as Annabel. Not only is it a story about Wayne but it's also the story of his parents over these years; as well as Thomasina who studies to become a teacher and travels Europe sending postcards to Wayne; and a childhood friend, Wally Michelin, a young girl with a passion for music. Winter teases out the inner emotions of the characters, and their change over time, without judgment but with obvious love. It's hard not to care for every character fleshed out here, and empathise with their flaws as well as celebrate their triumphs over the raw land, relationships changing over time, regrets and their attempts to make amends.

The novel is a beautiful and haunting portrait of a person trapped in a body that the outside world sees as a dreadful mistake. An exploration of small town life as well as gender and sexuality, this book is extremely worth reading.