Beauty and the Bleak – Kathleen Winter’s ‘Annabel’

Cover ImageAnnabel, the novel by Canadian writer Kathleen Winter, has made its way onto the 2011 Orange Prize shortlist where it now joins five other titles from female authors across the globe. Also a finalist for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize and a bestseller in Canada, Annabel has garnered high praise for its gripping prose and depth of human understanding.

Annabel is the tale of Wayne, an intersex boy born and raised in rural Labrador (Winter herself is a native of Newfoundland). Winter’s work is profound, and draws on the steeped traditions and vibrations of Labrador’s landscape. Those who reside in Labrador have long read the skies for signs and looked to the harsh earth for answers. As Winter throws herself into the body of Wayne, she makes accessible to her readers the complex struggles of a sexual anomaly in a small, conventional world.

Annabel is a tricky work to push, which might make it tough to snag the Orange Prize. While Winter’s work is truly beautiful in scope and compassion, Annabel might be a tough sell for the sexually queasy or those who read only for sheer entertainment.

For the more serious reader, however, it is of note that every single one of Winter’s characters is worthy of in-depth conversation and her vision of Labrador and its Inuit people fascinates. Annabel is a patient novel that requires a reader’s patience in kind to truly appreciate Winter’s intent. Assuming she is the deep thinker and humanitarian she appears to be, Winter just might be more concerned with the impact of her work and subject matter rather than accrued prizes.

Though I liked Annabel and will certainly be a better reader and writer because of Winter’s work, I still have a few books to go on my Orange Prize “To Read” list. No doubt Emma Donoghue’s Room will be tough to beat from a popularity standpoint, and American author Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) is also in the ring with her novel Great House. Only time will tell, the winner of this year’s Orange Prize will be announced in June.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New York Times Review: Announcing Her Existence

Scotia Bank: Kathleen Winter Video Profile

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