Kathleen Winter’s Annabel was undoubtedly the Canadian book of the year in 2010, when it accomplished the rare feat of being shortlisted for all 3 of Canada’s major literary awards: the Giller, the Governor General’s, and the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction award.
Annabel tells the story of a child who is born both male and female, in the hyper-masculine hunting culture of 1960’s Labrador. Surgically altered at birth and given the name Wayne, only three people know of his secret: his parents and a trusted neighbour.
But as Wayne approaches adulthood, the woman literally buried inside of him, Annabel, refuses to be forgotten. It is the story of a “son” who wants to swim in an orange bathing suit, not trunks. It is the story of a mother who has to deny her son that simple wish, and live with that denial.
It is the story of a wife who loves her husband, but not wholly enough to stop longing for her life back in St. John’s, and who she could be. It is the story of a Labrador man whose ability to connect with the natural world exceeds his ability to connect with his family, yet he is there, faithfully, when needed
It is just as much a novel about the characters as it is about their predicament, and Winter can channel her varied characters masterfully, switching points of view between her five characters as they encase themselves in private worlds.
In showing us all angles of her five main characters, from inside and out, whether it was her intention or just gifted writing, she’s showing us the humanity that overrides gender and age, and the basic human traits and desires that unite us all.
Annabel is an unforgettable novel of struggles, personal and inter-personal, and Kathleen’s empathetic voice does them justice in a way that connects reader to story. This is a story of isolation and a communication breakdown that breaks a family down, and breaks the reader down along with them.
… and now it’s coming to the big screen! The film rights for Annabel have been acquired by Toronto director Deepa Mehta’s production company, Hamilton Mehta Productions. Mehta is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, so the book is in good hands. Mehta also won a Genie for the screenplay of Bollywood/Hollywood.