Ann-Marie Macdonald. Vintage Canada. 1996.
At different points I wondered what drew me to it in the first place. Yes, it was a Giller Prize finalist in ’96, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in ’97 and the author is a woman. As a rule I read fiction by women only, about women’s lives. I’ve been called biased but it is what it is. In a good length of this one the main protagonist is a man. Who elopes with a child who he treats with contempt, escapes to war hoping to die there but doesn’t…I didn’t know how to feel about this one. But Ann-Marie Macdonald’s mastery of language stupefied me. She strings words together as a virtuoso composer would, using every instrument under the sun to achieve a most complex yet harmonious piece. Like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach rolled into one. At times I had to turn back pages to remember who the latest character was again – like a conductor she folds them in, calling in a new instrument into the orchestral production. The instrument fades out but not quite, remaining in the background until it is called in again and finally bows out. A masterpiece.
“Under a smoky streetlamp I stood face to face with my beloved and pricked my fingers against the diamond studs of her immaculate shirt front. Being tall, she slipped her hands naturally around my hips. And being bold I put my arms around hers and this time went inside and told her all the things I’d been longing to. Dark and sweet, the elixir of love is in her mouth. The more I drink, the more I remember all the things we’ve never done. I was a ghost until I touched you. […] She kissed me again and we didn’t stop for a long time, except to lean out of the light when we heard horses coming. We slipped into an alley and i pulled her shirt out from her pants. I pressed the center into her and she sighed. It made me flood from inside, the sweetest music. We were finally dancing. I slid my hands under and up her smooth sides, I wanted to be slow to savor but we couldn’t, she gripped me and moved under me…”
I finally got it, why i had selected this book. In the back of my head I remembered having seen it on a lesbian fiction list, on top of being an award winner. Women loving women is part of the plot. Actually the whole story is wrapped around this plot. Bewitching storytelling style, magical mastery of language. I had no idea Ann-Marie Macdonald, broadcast journalist – and an excellent one at that – is also a novelist, and queer! She’s upped the standards for me on what to accept in fiction writing.
(After writing this I discovered it was an Oprah Book Club selection in 2012 and is listed as one of Boxall’s 2006 “1001 books you must read before you die”)