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Old 10th May 2012, 14:55   #1
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Default J. Jill Robinson: More in Anger

More in Anger - J. Jill Robinson, Thomas Allen 2012

J. Jill Robinson’s More in Anger is a deceptive book. From its chintzy romantic cover to its cosy opening scenes as Opal King sews her wedding dress and veil and plans any number of parties and showers to celebrate her forthcoming nuptials, this novel seemed set to be a safe (and perhaps insipid) domestic drama. I had to check the back cover to make sure those endorsements really were from Yann Martel, Lisa Moore, Sandra Birdsell, Bonnie Burnard and Dianne Warren - a veritable who's who of Canadian fiction. I should have taken note of that wasp lurking menacingly on the cover - this is a powerful, unsentimental novel and all of those endorsements are fully merited.

Opening in 1915 with the wedding of Winnipeg resident Opal King to Scottish solicitor James ‘Mac’ Macauley, the novel moves through three generations of mothers and daughters, each blighted in different ways by the anger that they inherit from ‘Mac’. From put-upon Opal who is shocked first by her husband’s temper and then by her daughter Pearl’s coldness, the focus moves to self-indulgent Pearl who is unrelenting in her cruel treatment of her husband and children, all of whom she finds constant fault with; and then to Pearl’s daughter Vivien, who must also wrestle with her familial inheritance and a mother who is both endlessly critical and demanding of her. That Viv recognises the rage she holds within her offers some hope, but this isn’t a novel that offers any easy answers.

The strength of this novel lies in its characters, all of whom are three-dimensional, all of whom can be pitied, despised and empathised with in equal measure. Robinson has previously published three collections of short fiction, and in many ways this book reads like three linked novellas, each with its own distinct voice - from prim Opal who has all her dreams thwarted and becomes a bit-part player in her own life, via self-destructive Pearl who drives everyone away from her, to Vivien who tries to find an escape in alcohol and self-harming until the birth of her own daughter forces her to finally confront her demons. Robinson writes about families and the love that both binds them together and tears them apart with a psychological insight that can make you cringe with recognition. She doesn’t seem to think people change as such, but asks whether we can break ourselves free of these inherited traits and if - for all we can point to their origins in a “bad childhood” - they can be forgiven, or ever excused. It’s a compelling and often painful read. I do hope this novel gains the attention of the Giller Prize judges later in the year and can find publishers outside of Canada, as this is a book that deserves to be read.

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