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February 24, 2011

Book Notes - Kathleen Winter ("Annabel")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Kathleen Winter's debut novel Annabel has been on my radar since garnering critical accolades last year in Canada.

Annabel lives up to its hype. Winter tells the coming of age story of a mixed gender child eloquently, lyrically, and powerfully without resorting to sensationalism.

The Rumpus wrote of the book:

"Annabel is a novel that evokes deep emotion, a coming-of-age story that risks sentimentality without ever sliding over into it. Throughout, Winter pushes right up against that boundary, daring us to feel the depth of her characters’ existential anxieties. If there is a touch of the sensational in the hermaphrodite birth, Winter always pulls back before leading us into artificially heightened territory. There is nothing cynical here, nothing self-referential, nothing hip or particularly modern or post-anything. Annabel is simple, touching, real, absolutely convincing and sympathetic in its portrayal of well-intended people in their attempts to deal with a person who defies the most basic categorization: the first question we ask when we hear a baby has been born."

In her own words, here is Kathleen Winter's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Annabel:

"Bird Girl," Antony and the Johnsons

I played this song over and over with my headphones on when I was writing the last third of Annabel. At its heart Annabel is a book about an entire human being suppressed inside another one and not allowed to live for many years. Everything about this song, from Antony's voice, to the lyrics and melody, embodies the raging sorrow of the reluctant boy with a girl mute inside him because of limitations of thinking and the appearance of bodily form. This song helped me to get inside Wayne's ribcage and become the fluttering bird girl trapped inside. It made me mourn and weep as I wrote. It made me write scenes which never got into the final book, but which informed it and gave it an atmosphere and a meaning it would not have been able to access otherwise.

"St. John's Waltz," Ron Hynes

This is a song about the lights, the harbour, and the energy of old St. John's, the city to which Wayne's mother longs to return during her bleakest Labrador years. It's a waltz of joy and longing, mournful mists and sparkling lights, and it encapsulates some of the longing in the novel; the unrequited yearning to belong.

"Lowlands Low," Anita Best and Pamela Morgan

This is a song for Thomasina, Wayne's midwife, mentor and strongest woman role model. It's a traditional song of one who has lost her lover to the water, as Thomasina has done, and it also echoes the loss of many selves in the book: Wayne's own lost identity, his mother's lost strength, and his father's lost confidence that he has made the right decision in raising his child as a boy. But there is strength in the song too: strength of landscape, of rock, of ocean, and of human connection that endures even after it has been broken.

"Dance to your Daddy," Landermason

This is the lullaby Jacinta sings to Wayne as a way of reclaiming the lost girl of his childhood. It's a song she inherited from the Old World to make the New World less lonely, and it undoes some of the damage done in the first twelve years of Wayne's life by lies and family secrets.

"Cantique de Jean Racine," Toronto Children's Choir

This piece is pivotal in Annabel. It is the choir piece Wayne and his childhood friend Wally Michelin practice for hours upon the replica of Ponte Vecchio they have built as an escape from the ordinary world. It represents artistic potential, creative fulfillment, and emotional healing. It is found and lost repeatedly, like Wayne/Annabel's own real identity. The atmosphere of the piece possesses the same emotional temperature as the whole novel: a cloud of deep longing with the faint hope of a silver lining.

"The Tide is High," Blondie

North American 70s and 80s pop culture plays a big part in the novel's social backdrop. While Croydon Harbour's traplines and rivers and remote way of life exist outside time, TV and radio bring a whole other world into the deep Labrador wilderness. This song is played at one of the parties Wayne attends while trying to fit into his high school social scene. It represents a world of emotional intoxication and romance unattainable to him.

"Stay," Jackson Browne

This is one of the songs Brent Shiwack, Mark Thevenet and Wayne's other male classmates practice in their garage band. Wayne is outside their circle: while they don't overtly know his secret, he remains on the margins. Gender roles are clearly defined, yet Brent and Mark have no problem mimicking David Lindley's falsetto part in the song – is there a bird girl in everyone?

"Rebel Rebel," David Bowie

This song is played at Wayne's high school prom, where the students dress and behave with even greater adhesion than usual to extreme points on the gender spectrum. They don't listen to the words.

"A Land Called Labrador," Harry Martin

Harry Martin is a Labrador wildlife officer who writes songs about a land Wayne's father, Treadway, knows intimately: songs of the trapline, and of the rivers and islands in the part of Labrador portrayed as Wayne's hometown. This song expresses the love of the land Treadway feels, and Harry Martin's voice possesses the warm strength and stability Treadway embodies in his best self.

Kathleen Winter and Annabel links:

the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry

2Bmag review
Backlisted review
Bella's Bookshelves review
Book Gazing review
Globe and Mail review
The Keepin' It Real Book Club review
KevinfromCanada review
Lindy Reads and Reviews review
Literal Life review
Long Island Pulse review
Monniblog review
Montreal Gazette review
The Mookse and the Gripes review
National Post review
New York Times review
No Cupcakes for You review review
The Rumpus review
Salty Ink review
This Magazine review
Winnipeg Free Press review

Globe and Mail interview with the author
Globe and Mail profile of the author
The Keepin' It Real Book Club interview with the author
Maisonneuve interview with the author
National Post interview with the author
Open Book Toronto interview with the author
The Walrus Blog interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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