Sunday 17 January 2021

Tea and treats on a snowy morning...

I’m looking forward to nibbling on a delicious Date Bar and a slice of Portuguese Yogurt Bread that a colleague brought to work on Friday, and of course sipping my steaming cup of chai, perfect to keep me warm on a chilly, snowy morning.  

Last week I read Daniil and Vanya, a debut novel by York University associate professor Marie-Hélène Larochelle.  Larochelle’s research focuses on violence in contemporary French literature, which led me to expect that she may explore this topic in her own work, originally published in French in 2017, and I was absolutely correct.  Emma and Gregory are a thirty-something couple living in Toronto who seem to have it all: a good relationship, a large house with an ample yard in a prestigious neighbourhood, and a successful design firm.  Following a traumatic failed pregnancy, Emma is inconsolable. She is determined never to have children, but her grief leads them to sign up with an international adoption agency.  When they get a call to say that there are Russian twins available for immediate adoption, they fly to St Petersburg to complete the process and start their new family.  Things are not, however, as easy or as straightforward as they were hoping, and when the boys demonstrate a lack of empathy, an inability to bond with anyone, a reluctance to speak, and a determination to live in their own little world of two, Gregory denies and Emma despairs.  We follow the twins from toddlers to teens and witness their increasingly perverse behaviour over these years until a final, sadly satisfying conclusion.  Imagine Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin times two, only much shorter and with less detail.  It was certainly unputdownable, and I really wanted to know what happened next, anticipating a “big reveal”, the kind of book that is like watching a train wreck through partially covered eyes.  It was less explicit than Shriver's novel, but still very effective, and it was interesting that Larochelle was able to depict the deterioration of Emma and Gregory, both as individuals and as a couple, parallel to the twins’ increasingly unusual relationship.  I'd read a review of this novel and was immediately interested in reading it, but when I picked it up from the library, I was disappointed to find that the cover design looked much like the blank covers of the advanced reader copies (ARCs) I often get from publishers or at the library conference I attend every year.  It was not enticing and I would never have picked it up from a display shelf based solely on the cover, but I was thrilled to find that I was immediately engaged in the story.  I was always on the lookout for signs that the marriage was not what it seemed, always looking for those hints, particularly about Emma, that were woven into the twins’ story.  It’s definitely not for everyone, the same as We Need to Talk About Kevin, but if you liked Shriver's novel and are interested in reading a dark, violent, slow-burning domestic thriller, this might be the book for you.

That’s all for today.  Stay safe and keep reading!

Bye for now… Julie

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