My second Orange of 2011 is another debut novel and another novel dealing with an issue alien to me - Annabel by Kathleen Winter is the story of a hermaphrodite. The principle character, Annabel/Wayne is born of indeterminate sex, having a vagina, a tiny penis and one testicle. Is he/she a boy or a girl? The mother can't decide, but eventually his father decides that he is a boy and medical procedures are performed to cement this decision. Throughout his childhood, his mother cannot quite come to accept this, and frequently thinks of Wayne as her daughter. Whether it is this, or whether Wayne actually is a girl, causes issues as he grows up - he desires a beautiful swimsuit rather than involvement in the boyish pursuits that his father tries to inflict on him.
I didn't think that the subject matter would really appeal to me, but it was something that I didn't know anything about really, and I found Winter's treatment of it persuasive, and it gave a fascinating insight into the nature of identity - it wasn't just a look at Annabel/Wayne's feelings but at those of his parents. And I was interested to know how the story would play out. I also found the stark setting of Labrador, Canada captured my attention, and reminded me a little of some of Margaret Atwood's Canadian writing. I've seen some comparisons made with Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I haven't read that so I can't offer an opinion on that! Beautiful writing too I thought.
I did find that the book went a little bit off the boil in the last third; its success in the first half was largely due to the exploration of hermaphroditism, and the knowledge that eventually Wayne would discover what had happened to him. Winter tried to introduce more of a plot to bring the book to a close, but I didn't think that that quite worked as well as the first half.
Again, it's a little too early in my longlist reading for me to discern whether or not I think it will make it onto the shortlist, but I am once more glad that the novel I have just finished made it onto the longlist as I found it worth reading and would probably not have come across it otherwise. I also passed my copy this morning onto a colleague who was MOST dubious about it, saying that the subject matter DID NOT appeal at all...however, when she turned up at lunchtime to relieve me she said that she could not put it down and also used the word "beautiful".
This title is published by Jonathon Cape, and I am very grateful to Fiona from Random House sending me a copy to read.
I love books, baking and my boyfriend, and love to write about the first two. I particular love "forgotten" books, books brought out of obscurity by republication and those still languishing in obscurity. I'm currently reading my way through all of the Virago Modern Classics, but taking in other books along the way.