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25.09.2011

It's been quite a while since a book grabed me this way, I did have to take some breaks since it's emotionally quite trying at times (in a good way) so it took me 5 days to finish, when I started I felt I'd be done way too soon and the feeling remains.

It’s hard to read Annabel without thinking of Middlesex by J. Eugenides. Being that I love Middlesex, not just for its topics but for its narrative voice (and it’s title, I think it’s an awesome title) I was really surprised to discover this novel equally enticing and impossible to put down. There are some hints that this is KW’s first novel (published, of course, but it does say something) in the way things are a bit too straightforward or the descriptions wander in the middle of scenes without (that i can see) adding much to them besides atmosphere but most of the time you won’t notice. The ending is very open, which would have worked better if there hadn’t been an epilogue to do the exact opposite thing.


✗  QuOtEs  ✗    


✗    Privately she thought the woman would come to her senses one day and allow the babies to die. But when you are the mother, you take it in stride. You take albino hair in stride, when you are the mother. When you are the mother, not someone watching that mother, you take odd-coloured eyes in stride. You take a missing hand in stride, and the same with Down Syndrome, and spina bifida, and water on the brain. You would take wings in stride, or one lung outside the body, or a missing tongue. The penis and the one little testicle and the labia and vagina were like this for Jacinta. PP. 23.

✗    Treadway Blake considered with every step, it was how a decision of his affected not just himself but everyone. He understood privacy but he could not understand practical selfishness. Every part of him knew it was physically ocnnected to every prt of everyone else on this coast, and not just the people but to the sky, and the land, and the starts. He was both Scottish and Inuit, and he was nothing if not fair. TO him the land was a universal loaf of bread, every part nourishing and meant for everyone. It never once occurred to Treadway to do the thing that lay in the hearts of Jacinta and Thomasina: to let his baby live the way it had been born. That, in his mind, would not have been a decision. It would have been indecision, and it would have caused harm. He was not an imagining man. he saw deeply into things but he had no desire to entertain possibility that had not yet manifested. He wanted to know what was, not what might be. PP. 27

✗    ...Thomasina would not fall appart at the lost of her husband. Though they complained about their husbands, the first two would have looked at a dripping tap, a leaky ceiling, a tree fallen on the property, as insurmountable difficulties over which they had no control. They were the kind of women of whom the Apostles had written that it was necessary to help from a safe distance. They had not, during their marriages, held any part of themselves in reserve. They joked, when they got together, of how easily their lives would become if they did not have to cook for the men, but if these women ever lost their husbands, they would themselves be as lost as orphaned whitecoat seals. PP. 39-40.

✗    ...which was how Thomasina saw people. She wa snot a person who froze someone’s character in her mind, calling this one egotistical and that one not nearly confident enough and another one truthful or untruthful. To Thomasina people were rivers, always ready to move from one state of being into another. I twas not fair, she felt, to treat people as if they were finished beings. Everyone was always becoming and unbecoming. PP. 41

✗    In the city the colour, the life, came shouting out. Human life. In Croydon Harbour human life came second to the life of the big land, and no one seemed to mind. No one minded being an extra in the land’s story. PP. 55


✗    You felt young - you were young, because you were not yet eighteen and had not yet gone to Labrador to work, and had not yet met the man you would love but who would never unedrstand the greatest part of your soul, the part that lived on such wisps of romance and faded when they were taken away. PP. 57

✗    Now Jacinta sat in her kitchen in Croydon Harbour holding her baby, Wayne. Instead of longing for her youth, the cinema, and the street life she used to know, she found herself bereft of the old wistfulness, and its absence was harder to bear than its existence. PP. 58.

✗    Wayne knew his father was right. Anyone from Labrador called vegetables by their single name. Cabbage. Turnip. Carrot. No matter how many individual specimens, you spoke of them as an entity. He realised Treadway thought about people in the same way. Men, to him, were one all man. PP. 121-2.


✗    Why did people not realise children could withstand the truth? Why did adults insist on filling children with the deceptions their own parents had laid on them, when surely they remembered how it had felt to lie in bed and cry over fears no one had bothered to help you face. PP. 199
✗       “I don’t like lamb.”
 
             “I never met a child who did. I guess eating it seems like one of the more barbaric adult practices.”
 
             “It’s sad.”
 
             “I guess it is, in a way.”
 
             Wayne liked that Thomasina could admit this. His father would not have done so, nor would his mother. They did not admit that it was sad to eat rabbits either. He wouldn’t mind their eating these animals if part of them could admit, as Thomasina did now, that it was sad in some way. He didn’t like that they pushed all sadness away.
 
             “Why do you eat it, then?”
 
             “There’s something ancient about the flavour of lamb. People have been eating it for centuries. Grown-ups put the sadness out of their minds because to them, appetite is stronger.”
 
             “Being hungry makes you forget it’s a lamb?”
 
             “Appetite is king.”
 
             “Why?”
 
             “I don’t know. I need to think about it.”
 
             Wayne did not know any other grown-ups who would admit they needed to think about something. They all came up with some kind of answer, even if it didn’t make sense.
 
PP. 205
 
✗    FOR ALL HIS FATHERLY TALK about how Labrador boys had to be part of a pack, Treadway Blake was the most solitary man in Croydon Harbour. The families of solitary people don’t always know they are living with someone unusual. They think maybe lots of families have someone quiet like this. A person who can go days without making any sound other than the scrape of a knife on sinew, the scrubbing of boots on the brush mat, the clink of a cup put back in its saucer. But then they go into someone else’s house and realize other people have husbands, wives, children, who yell and laugh and wrestle with each other and cry out over a foolish thing the cat has done.
 
             When Treadway had anything on his mind, he spoke not to Jacinta or Wayne, and not to any man. He did not go down to Roland Shiwack’s shed to drink with the other men on a Friday night, and he did not hang around the door of the community centre talking to husbands who had come to walk their wives home from bingo. If he had to talk to anyone about what was on his mind, he went into the woods, far from the community, and he spoke there. He did not speak to a god in his mind like the god of the Old Testament, nor did he envision the young, long-haired Jesus from the Child’s Treasury of Bible Stories, which had been the only book in his house, outside of the Bible itself, while he was growing up. When Treadway needed to speak his mind, he spoke it to a boreal owl he had met when he was seventeen. He and the boreal owl shared physical traits. Both were small for their species. Each had a compact, rounded shape, efficient and not outwardly graceful. The boreal owl was one of the quietest, most modest birds. It roosted in tall, shady thickets of black spruce and drew absolutely no attention to itself. Treadway had met the owl as he rested halfway between the Beaver River and the trail back home. He had been in the same spot more than half an hour when the tiny owl caught his eye, twenty feet over his head. He didn’t know what had caused him to look up at that spot. A silent impulse of recognition. Treadway often discovered wildlife like that, as if an invisible bubble had burst and somehow it made you look in that spot.
 
             The owl had made no sound and no movement. It looked like a piece of tree. He saw it, then he couldn’t see it. Then he could. He started talking to it in his quietest voice, and he hummed a tune to it. Which he would not have done for any other living being; not his mother, not his father, not his brothers, not himself. He liked, about the owl, that it asked nothing from him, and he had spoken to it ever since as if it were listening to him, though he never saw it again. It calmed him to talk to the owl, and he spoke to it now about Wayne.
 
             “Everyone thinks,” he told it, “that I know what I’m doing. For God’s sake, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. You know that.”
 
             The owl listened from wherever it was. Deep, deep in the woods, past Beaver River, past the pond, which was the pond in the interior where the waters changed direction and began to run magnetically north to Ungava Bay, the pond whose name was a secret.
 
             “I should have let well enough alone,” Treadway said. “I think that now. What would have happened if I had let Wayne become half little girl?”
 
             The owl allowed Treadway to see Wayne as a girl child. So Treadway stood there in the woods and saw a vision of his daughter. She had dark hair and a grave face. She was an intelligent girl, and Treadway loved her.
 
             “You’re a beautiful child.” But the child could not hear him as the owl could. The owl listened, and Treadway felt, for the first time since his wife had given birth, pain flow out of his heart and into the moss. It sank into the moss and became part of the woods. The owl took some of it. This had not happened to the pain before.
 
             “I could stay here,” Treadway said. “You’re a brave little owl.” He thought of the owl as alone. He thought of it, really, as himself, although he did not think he was brave at all. People call their friends admirable in this way or that way — brave, honest, loyal — but they do not see these qualities in themselves, even if they are present in greater quantity than in the friends. Treadway could not see the good in himself. His wife thought he could, but he could not. He knew he was not as self-contained or as brave as the owl, but he identified with how it had chosen to live. If only the world could live in here, deep in the forest, where there were no stores, roads, windows, and doors, no straight lines. The straight lines were the problem. Rulers and measurements and lines and no one to help you if you crossed them. His owl was not going to come out of the deep woods. It was not going to come near the fences and doorsteps of Croydon Harbour. It knew better than to try and live in that world.
 
             “I wish,” Treadway told the owl, “I could bring him in here with me for a good six months. Longer. Forget about the medicine that keeps him being a boy. Hospital medicine, no. The medicine in these trees. The turpentine. The smell of the blasty boughs. What would happen?”
 
             Where was the owl?
 
             “If I brought him here and never took him back? We could live here.”

 
PP. 216

 
✗  But it was not just that her aunt had a piano and purebred puppies and her shop and the dolls; her aunt Doreen was interested in things. She knew when an operatic star was coming to town or when a new Italian film was on at the repertory cinema, and she loved to get any kind of news, and to think about it and talk about it in a lively way. After the quietness of Croydon Harbour, Wally loved the bustle and activity of Boston, as well as this lively way her aunt Doreen had of making every ordinary thing in life an event. When the mail brought a postcard for Wally from Thomasina in Paris, then another from Bucharest, Doreen made an event of standing it on the table in the hall, against the vase she kept filled with carnations and white iris. There was music in the house, and there were books, and there was always a cake in a box from the Modern Pastry shop on Hanover Street.
 
             Aunt Doreen was a person to whom you could mention things, and the day Wally saw the notice about the Harley Street Voice Clinic at the college bookshop, she told her aunt about it. The cake in that day’s box was a Swiss roll spread with jam and studded with coconut, and Wally marvelled at its sponginess as her aunt cut them each a piece to have with tea in English teacups. PP. 325
 
             He said this with kindness, and Wayne had a sense of the world being a place where everyone had the sorrows he had, whereas, before sitting here with Robin Williams, the world had been a place where most people coped much better than Wayne did. Wayne pictured everyone in the rain with their sorrows, which were quiet, personal sorrows of every kind, and Robin Williams had studied them all. Did every woman feel this way once she had accepted the offer of a makeup consultation, or was this artist unique? Wayne had no idea. He thought of the name Robin, how blue the egg of a robin was in spring and how a robin meant certain hope.
 
             The artist told Wayne that you wear colours on your face that are the opposite of the colours in your eyes. He showed him how to create a lifetime supply of lipstick by using a pot of face powder for pigment and mixing it with any clear lip gloss.
 
             “If you take this face powder meant for women with dark skin, you can push it into your lash line with a brush and one pot will last you for years.”
 
             “Thank you,” Wayne said when Robin Williams showed him his new face in the mirror. He wondered if the colour around his eyes made him look harrowed. He was not sure. He decided to have faith for now, and bought the pots. He did not feel that Robin Williams was unscrupulous, or that he was there purely to sell.
 
             “I applied these with a Lancôme brush, but you can use any brush. You do not have to buy Lancôme brushes, which are twenty-four dollars.”
 
             The makeup artist was there to sell pots of makeup, to be sure, but Wayne felt he cared about what he did. Robin Williams felt that life was something in which maybe you would cry, and he gave every woman dignity by tracing her mouth, her eyes, her skin, with kind hands. PP. 410
 

✗    He was not alone with her but he felt as if they were alone. He felt they recognized each other in a way that no one else recognized either of them. Other people could look at him but they did not see what Wally Michelin saw, and perhaps others saw in her the same thing he did, but he did not think they saw it. What it was was limitlessness. When you were with an ordinary person, you could draw a line around the territory the two of you covered, and Wayne had found that the territory was usually quite small. It was smaller than a country and smaller than a town and sometimes smaller than a room. But this room, the room they were in, did not really exist. Boston did not necessarily exist either, although Wayne could sense it, fizzing with the unfamiliarity of its lights, its parks and streets, beyond the practice-room doors. The way he responded to Wally’s presence was that he felt as if life at this minute was blossoming inside him instead of lying dormant. He felt the electric presence of his own life, and he did not want that feeling to end, although he knew it had ended in the past and that it would end again. She whispered into his ear and the piece of her breath was warm with cool edges. PP. 452
 
 
    



Things I learned: Phantom Music (I think this has happened to me, sort of in those hazy moments when you just wake up), Dorothy Wordsworth (who sounds terribly boring except for the hints of incest that can be imagined from her close relationship with her brother)

2011, book-2011, 2011: novel in English, #queer literature, +genderfuck, +gender, +feminism, +family  *author: female, #audiobook, @read in english, #novel, +social issues, +immigration, +intersexuality, [quotes], [quotes] book, x: recommended





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