Summary and book reviews of Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Annabel

A Novel

By Kathleen Winter

Annabel
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jan 2011,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2011,
    480 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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About this Book

Book Summary

Kathleen Winter’s luminous debut novel is a deeply affecting portrait of life in an enchanting seaside town and the trials of growing up unique in a restrictive environment.

In 1968, into the devastating, spare atmosphere of Labrador, Canada, a child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret—the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and their trusted neighbor and midwife, Thomasina. Though Treadway makes the difficult decision to raise the child as a boy named Wayne, the women continue to quietly nurture the boy’s female side. And as Wayne grows into adulthood within the hypermasculine hunting society of his father, his shadow-self, a girl he thinks of as “Annabel,” is never entirely extinguished.

When Wayne finally escapes the confines of his hometown and settles in St. John’s, the anonymity of the city grants him the freedom to confront his dual identity. His ultimate choice will once again call into question the integrity and allegiance of those he loves most.

Kathleen Winter has crafted a literary gem about the urge to unveil mysterious truth in a culture that shuns contradiction, and the body’s insistence on coming home. A daringly unusual debut full of unforgettable beauty, Annabel introduces a remarkable new voice to American readers.

1
New World

Wayne Blake was born at the beginning of March, during the first signs of spring breakup of the ice — a time of great importance to Labradorians who hunted ducks for food — and he was born, like most children in that place in 1968, surrounded by women his mother had known all her married life: Joan Martin, Eliza Goudie, and Thomasina Baikie. Women who knew how to ice-fish and sew caribou hide moccasins and stack wood in a pile that would not fall down in the months when their husbands walked the traplines. Women who would know, during any normal birth, exactly what was required.

The village of Croyden Harbour, on the southeast Labrador coast, has that magnetic earth all Labrador shares. You sense a striation, a pulse, as the land drinks light and emits a vibration. Sometimes you can see it with your naked eye, stripes of light coming off the land. Not every traveller senses it, but those who do keep looking for it in other places, and they ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How is Wayne a litmus test for the humanity of others in the novel? How does he challenge their preconceptions?
  2. What is Thomasina's role in the book? How do other people react to her?
  3. Jacinta always fears for Wayne's growing-up world, the taunting that seems inevitable. Yet Jacinta raises Wayne with a sense of possibility.  How does she foster his love of art, music and fantasy?
  4. What does the practical Treadway hope to instill in his son? Is there a spiritual element in this Labrador trapper? How is this world part of the legacy he hopes to leave Wayne?
  5. "There were so many ways Wayne could fail" (p. 134). How does Treadway's disapproval make his son's "chest tense up"? From the Carnation milk, ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Someone famously said once that reading novels is the best way to understand the thoughts of people other than ourselves. Or something like that. Regardless, this is the biggest reason I read fiction. I am fascinated by human beings and what makes us tick. Kathleen Winters has written a remarkable book that takes the inner lives of a small family and blows the pieces apart for us to dig through and marvel at. This book will show you some of the things inside your own head, as well as making you think twice about what your family members might be feeling.   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Though delivered at times with a heavy hand, the novel's moral of acceptance and understanding is sure to win Winter many fans.

Booklist

A simple yet eloquent coming-of-age tale, this debut novel quietly questions our assumptions about gender by presenting us with a host of complex, evocative characters. A fantastic read...

Library Journal

Winter's lyrical language contrasts with the characters' discomfort about Wayne's secret.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A compelling, gracefully written novel about mixed gender that sheds insight as surely as it rejects sensationalism. This book announces the arrival of a major writer.

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

A novel about secrets and silences ... What Winter has achieved here is no less a miracle than the fact of Wayne’s birth. Read it because it’s a story told with sensitivity to language that compels to the last page, and read it because it asks the most existential of questions. Stripped of the trappings of gender, Winter asks, what are we?

The Chronicle Herald (Canada)

[An] aching tale of ... identity, acceptance and family. ... Fluid and poised ... Annabel is a stunning and stirring debut that signals the long-overdue arrival of a literary talent.

Reader Reviews
avid

surprisingly relevant
Although this book focuses on the coming-of-age of a hermaphrodite, its message is relevant to many parent/teen relationships. Its themes of love, acceptance, and friendship are universal. Unlike "Middlesex" (the other popular ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Labrador and Newfoundland
Annabel
takes place in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province of Canada. Located on the Atlantic coast, the province is divided into the mainland area of Labrador (east and north of Quebec), and the island of Newfoundland. With a total area roughly the size of Colorado, the island of Newfoundland makes up 25% of the area and 94% of the population (approximately half a million), leaving the larger area of Labrador sparsely populated. The northern part of Labrador is above the Arctic Circle, so the climate is both polar and sub-arctic, with most of the population clustered around the coastal areas. Wayne grows up in a small village on the southeast coast of Labrador, not too far from Newfoundland.

Labrador and Newfoundland...

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