Tag Archives: Kathleen Winter

Making Us Think about History Again | Review of “Lost In September” (2017) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Lost

Amidst the celebrations around surrounding Canada’s 150th year since Confederation, there was some serious soul-searching about some of the ‘treasured’ events many of us were told were important historical dates in relation to our country. Were many of those dates really just as important and even positive events as our history teachers wanted us to believe? Talented novelist Kathleen Winter has taken a look at one such event and built a narrative around it (making many of us readers ponder history a bit more carefully) in her latest work Lost In September.

Pages 64-65

“Sophie, I need to talk about today. . . . I was thinking on the bus. . . .”

“Hang on!” She’s lit Facebook-blue. this is far from the kind of listening my mother provided, but it’s all I have.

I can’t always recall what happened in combat at Dettingen or in Culloden or at Quebec or anywhere else. Events have become entangled: all my wars now transpire in a single battlefield during one timeless period – darkness cut with spears of flame in whose light any instant of my soldiering might have played out. Sophie is supposed to help me disentangle the years. That has been our arrangement, from our first September to this one.

“Please?”

“Okay, shoot.”

“On the busy today I remembered flames, fire, all the times I made things burn, or made people burn, or when other people burnt things. . . . ~

“Forget about what other people burnt.”

“I never burnt anyone on purpose.”

“Okay.”

“Did I? Not directly . . .”

“You burnt people indirectly?”

“I see them scream and burn – but – I was not barbaric.”

“Weren’t you?”

“The enemy were the barbaric fiends”

“Which enemy?”

The answer to this is always hard to remember.

We all have heard some variation on the line `that ​those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.` But what if we muddle our history. We were all exposed to that infamous painting of General James Wolfe dying on the Plains of Abraham after defeating the French troops. But when we saw that painting in our history textbooks, did we read the story surrounding that battle with consideration or were we good little students and turn the page without giving the incident a second thought? Winter has done something unique here by bringing a version of “General Wolfe” to the streets of present-day Montreal and allowed his thoughts run amok by what he sees and what he thinks.

Page 147-148

I met a rugby coach on the train during my failed attempt to reach Quebec City last autumn, and he said, “I have a riddle for you: What’s worse than losing the championship game?”

“Winning the game,” I said, “is far more injurious to the soul.”

He looked at me anew, taking in my facsimile coat and hat. “Aye,” he said, “I guess a soldier would know.” He proceeded to recount to me the mountains of dolour and grief from which he had to dig his rugby players each season they were victorious. “They get depressed,” he said. “They get to asking what it’s all for. Some of the best hang their cleats up for good and I can’t stop ’em. It’s all I can do not to pack it all in myself and go on the beer.”

“My favourite poem is about that very thing,” I said.

“Favourite what?” He looked the way some people’s faces turn at the mention of coriander, or asafoetida, or even excrement.

I hauled from my pocket the page of my beloved poem, torn from a library copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. He found it incomprehensible. He was a lout, really. He completely failed to understand . I found the man so dispiriting I bailed out the TroisRivières station and caught a Greyhound back to Montreal where Sophie sent to the Mission, having rented my spot to a Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist who’d injured a meniscus.

There is something unique in the story line that Winter has created here. Our concept of history is muddled and confusing and that is what she has shown us here with this narrative. Would our forbearers -many of whom died for their ideals  – be truly impressed with the world around us today? Winter has given us something to ponder over as we read this book.

Page 174-175

A rack near the door has yesterday’s paper languishing on its bottom shelf. I sift through it as I eat, looking to see if anything of importance has happened in the world, but someone has torn half the pages out. Still, what remains is hardly inspiring.

If I had to name my greatest disappointment regarding New French Britain, I might have to say it’s the inconsequential drivel I read in papers purportedly published by the country`s learned set.

***

It’s the same with what I overhear in the streets. I eavesdrop on Montreal hoping I might hear its civilians discuss the latest findings in astronomy, or new perspectives on ancient philosophy, but they bleat the same small-talk I could neither abide nor understand in London of 1752: sports, weather, insipid flotsam sent on the wind by the latest political scandal – details petty and trivial and numerous as Sophie’s froth-flecks on her painted walrus’s sea, ephemeral. You’d think it all the most weighted precious stones, the way people bleat on. this fills me with chagrin and always has done.

Kathleen Winter has certainly made readers ponder over history just a bit with her book Lost in September. It is certainly a unique read and thoughtful book, but definitely a good piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin-Random House Canada’s website for Lost in September

Link to Kathleen Winter’s LiveJournal site

“What I am aiming for is emotional truth told through realistic detail” | Q&A with author Kathleen Winter

I came across Kathleen Winter’s “Annabel” during a low point in my life. I had entered the field of media believing that it was a way of documenting the human condition but most of the jobs I held in that field were nothing more than glorified advertising positions. Winter’s “Annabel” documented an important discussion of human desires trapped inside all of us.  And opened up a conversation on several fronts that I was party too. It was an honor to have Kathleen Winter partake in a Q&A for my blog.

*****

1) I am curious about the reaction to Annabel has been in general. I have attended a few discussions about the book in different cities and there always seems to be some unease by a few people on the general discussion of gender roles and sexuality. Have you encountered anything like that?

A: I like the fact that the book causes people to think about many aspects of life, including gender and sexuality, in a way that sometimes feels difficult. The story deals often with loneliness and isolation, and it’s also about what happens when courageous people can accept ambiguity and unease. I’ve had many reactions to the book and its subject matter, from people whose experience of gender and sexuality covers a large spectrum. Some feel unease, others feel release and joy.

2) Did you base any elements of Annabel on any anecdotes from family or friends? Or is it a work based on research?

A: This book is, like other work of mine, a combination of material I have experienced, overheard, researched or imagined. What I am aiming for is emotional truth told through realistic detail, with fantastical elements that allow the story to open up and glitter.

3) How was the Canada Reads experience for you?

A: It feels unnatural for me to take part in competition, especially in the arts, and while I appreciate that the book reaches new readers through the CBC program, I’m probably like many artists when I question the extreme conflict mentality behind the process. I love all the writers and all the books and do not like to see one book rise above the others at the expense or insult of authors and their hard work and imagination. But I think the CBC and listeners understand this on some level, and that everyone is trying to honour all the work.

4) Are you working on anything new right now? (I think I know the answer but I like to hear it in your own words.)

A: I’m in the copy-editing stages with a non fiction northern journey memoir called Boundless, to be published by (House of) Anansi in Canada and Jonathan Cape in the UK/Australia/NZ – German rights have also been sold. I’ve been working with editor John Metcalf at Biblioasis on a new story collection titled The Freedom in American Songs. Both books are to come out in September 2014.

5)  Who are some of your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

A: I love the American writer Gretel Ehrlich and her crystalline writing about her northern circumpolar travels. I’m reading Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard right now, and Diana Athill’s memoir Towards the End. I love the letters of Katherine Mansfield and I read a lot of non fiction and poetry about how the natural world intersects with human imagination and spirit. Current fiction writers I love include my brother Michael Winter and my friend Alice Zorn.

6) Your brother Michael Winter is a talented writer as well. Was reading and writing encouraged in your household growing up? Is there any sibling rivalry between the two of you in terms of your writing?

A: My father taught us to read before we went to school, and there was poetry in the house from that time on. We were taken to the library as soon as we could string the word c-a-t together and I remember sitting all summer long on the front step reading library books. I still love the crinkle of plastic library book covers and the “thunk!” of the rubber ink pad stamping the return date. Michael and I have always egged each other on and I think he is one of the most vivid and experimental and exciting writers on the go right now.

7) How do you like living in Montreal? Does its vibrant cultural scene help you with your artistic endeavors?

A: I adore Montreal. I love the river, the balconies, the shops full of persimmons and almonds and unidentifiable delicacies, and the neighbourhoods where you can hear French from pockets of its own variance originating all over the globe.

8) You seem to have a presence on some of the social media platforms like Facebook. Does being on those platforms help you with your writing?

A: I get bits of news and friendly exchanges with other writers that would be hard to come by if I were squirreled away without the web, but of course one has to nip certain things in the bud.

9) You seem to do a bit of traveling. Does that help you with your writing at all?

A: Yes, it always helps to gain perspective through a change of scene, and I always observe and make sketches and take notes wherever I go,for future stories.

10) There are a lot of people who seem to be writing fiction right now just for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?

A: I have no idea what that means. The first draft is a kind of personal enjoyment, but all the drafts after it are torture.

*****

Link to Kathleen Winter’s website

Link to House of Anansi page for Annabel