12 January 2011

Book 2: Annabel

Title: Annabel
Author: Kathleen Winter
Publisher/Year: House of Anansi Press  / 2010

Date Finished: 8 January 2011
Source/Format: Borrowed / Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: Take A ChanceGLBT(Q) Challenge,

The Short and Sweet of It
When a baby is born both male and female, a decision is made. The baby is named Wayne, constructed male, given pills, raised as a boy, and all without his knowledge until a traumatic event forces the issue. A fascinating subject with interesting characters, but I just could not get in to this one.

A Bit of a Ramble
I was just bored. I know I should have enjoyed this one: the subject is fascinating and important, covering intersexuality and gender construction. And yet, I was just bored. My problem may have been with the setting. The story takes place in Labrador, a community of woodsy-type men who spend months away from home on traplines while the women stay at home and well, do those things women are supposed to do. You know, clean, cook, raise children, gossip, have affairs, and the such not. I think I was supposed to admire the simplicity of life and the beauty of the landscape, but I just found myself not caring, skimming passages in an effort to just get through the story.

Or maybe my problem was that I was spread too thin. There is a handful of primary characters in the story, each one interesting and unique, and yet I never felt like any one of them was ever fully developed. The father's a melancholy, poetic, distant man who admires and feels at home in nature. The mother is a pathetic (not meant in a derogatory manner) woman with no backbone who feels the possibility of a wasted life. The best friend is an aspiring opera singer who loses her voice. The mentor is a fascinatingly strong woman who travels the globe finding postcards of bridges. And of course, our protagonist is an intersex child raised as a boy who can feel the girl inside him. Fascinating, fascinating characters. The story flips from one the other in an effort to, I think, paint a picture of life, and while I do enjoy this sort of portraiture-style writing (as in Cranford), the lack of detailed action really bothered me with this book. And so, I just never really connected with any of the characters and never felt like they were real people.

I am clearly in the minority with this one, however, a blogger I very much admire loves this book. Amy from Amy Reads says "The writing is exquisite. It really is beautiful. I usually read through a book quite quickly… but with this one I kept re-reading passages, and wanting to set it down to consider lines, and make it last as long as possible." And it even made her list of Best of 2010: Fiction!

Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read this one and a re-reading at a later date is in order. But for now, this is being marked as Accept. Honestly, I would have put Avoid if I wasn't a wee bit concerned that my state of mind may have been partially to blame.

Question: Have you ever read and really disliked a book only to read it at a later time and love it?

Disclosure: Annabel made the short list for the Indie Lit Awards: GLBTQ and I am a panelist for that category. This review in no way reflects which of the shortlisted books will get my vote for best of 2010.


  1. You know, if I didn't like a book the first time, I would probably never try it again, even if people told me I should. I have to say that I do love that cover. But seriously, your best bet, if you like the topic, is to read Middlesex if you haven't already.

  2. I completely agree with you on this one. While I found the writing beautiful, I had the same problem connecting to the characters - they were just so cold and emotionless, like disinterested actors wandering through a story. There is an interesting story there, and I like how it was constructed, but it's one of those instances where the characters break (as opposed to make) a book.

  3. Though you didn't like this one very much, it sounds like a book that I would really be interested in picking up. Perhaps it is the setting, as I have read quite a few stories set in Labrador, and I find it fascinating. The way you describe this book, it almost reminds me of The Quickening. Totally different types of books, both in tone and in scope, but I can't help feel that they are similar somehow. Thanks for the honest and thoughtful review. I am going to try this one out and let you know what I think.

  4. Uh oh, now I'm nervous about this book. At least the (Canadian) cover is pretty!

  5. Yeah, I've been there, done that. I'm a fickle reader in general, though.

  6. So sorry to hear that this one didn't do it for you! I think part of what made the language and setting resonate for me so much is that it is a rural Canadian setting not like how my grandparents and parents would have lived. A lot of the details just connected with me such as the going out on the trap lines, gossiping in the community, etc.

  7. Yikes. Boring is the kiss of death. But I have encountered books with really good writing and they just don't do anything for me. I's rough.

  8. sometimes the MOST frustrating thing about reading is wondering if it's a good book at the wrong time...because the desire to go back and try again is so weak.

    nice review, however, given that you weren't sure how your personal reactions impacted the overall literary quality.

  9. it could be a frame of mind thing with this one. i always get an uneasy feeling when i don't enjoy a book that the majority of the blogging population loves (the book thief!). i couldn't get into it after several attempts and it's sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to return to it. i will, one day!

    this novel has such a difficult premise and it probably wasn't an easy read. that said, your review is still fair and offers differing points of view. :)

  10. I tend not to revisit books I didn't like the first time around so I'm not sure I have.

    Did you ever read Jeffrey Eugenides's "Middlesex?" It deal with similar themes and is amazing ... you won't be bored!

  11. I was just thinking about this relatively recently. There are lots of books that I've tried to read, but I end up setting aside because I'm bored. But because I know that a book changes every time you read it (because YOU change all the time), there might be a time when a book I've given up on before, suddenly becomes my favorite.

    These musings inspired me to try again to read Jane Austen's Persuasion, a book I've found dull every time I picked it up.

    Turns out I STILL think it's dull, but at least I've read it now! :) Maybe once I change some more I'll pick it back up again.

  12. Sandy and Jenners - I LOVE Middlesex! What a great novel, and how awesome that two of my favorite bloggers both suggested it!

    Sally - Exactly!

    Heather - I'd be interested in hearing your opinion. Maybe you will sway me to re-read it at a later date.

    Cass - I'm definitely in the minority on this one, so I hope you like it!

    Andi - I think I am too! My mood really affects my enjoyment.

    Amy - I can very much see how a personal connection to the setting (combined with the language) could really make this an enjoyable read.

    Nicole - Yeah, boring is very very bad in books.

    Lisa - Exactly! A good book at the wrong time is a definite possibility for this one.

    Nat - Seeing so many positive reviews can definitely put a guilt trip on a person!

    Bookzilla - LOL! Too bad you had a bad experience with it the second time around too.

  13. Oh no! Sorry to hear it didn't work for you.

  14. Reread a book I didn't like? Are you kidding?? You couldn't pay me to reread Moby Dick (heck I couldn't even finish it). Or C. Or that asinine Too Much Tuscan Sun I was unfortunate enough to read.

  15. I completely agree with you on this one. While I found the writing beautiful, I had the same problem connecting to the characters - they were just so cold and emotionless, like disinterested actors wandering through a story.

  16. I'd thought about checking this one out, but now you've convinced me not to.


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