As it is on the Orange Prize shortlist 2011, Annabel was another novel I had to read as part of my role as an Orange Prize youth judge. It is the powerful story of a hermaphrodite born in 1968 into the remote north-east coast of Canada. Although the baby’s parents decide to go through surgery and raise the child as a boy named Wayne, as Wayne grows up his stifled shadow-self – a girl he thinks of as Annabel – begins to cry out.
Kathleen Winter captures the loneliness of the stark environment beautifully – a loneliness which is mirrored in Wayne, who must navigate the difficulty of hiding the woman inside him. Although Wayne has some support, nobody really understands him.
In an attempt to label him, to slot him into society’s rigid norms, a whole half of who Wayne is is suppressed. The compassionate novel raises issues concerning not only gender, but of individuality and belonging: Winter questions our perception of what ‘normal’ is, and the effects of our categorical culture.
The novel is beautifully written: understated but all the more moving because of that. Winter does not indulge the characters with sympathy but tells their story in a delicate manner which allows the reader to understand their situation all the better.