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Dear Evelyn awarded the Rogers Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction 2018

Dear Evelyn  is  the winner of the 2018 Rogers  Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

The jury citation reads:

“Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn tells the tender and unsettling story of working-class Londoner Harry Miles and the ambitious Evelyn Hill who fall in love as the world around them goes to war. What initially begins as a familiar wartime love story morphs into a startling tale of time’s impact on love and family, as well as one’s complex search for  personal meaning and truth. By integrating themes that are universally understood by readers and skilfully crafting endearing characters that surprise and delight, kathy page has created a poignant literary work of art. The result is a timeless page-turning masterpiece.”

Information about the Rogers Writers’ Trust Prize

VIDEO:  Dear Evelyn Writers’ Trust video

VIDEO starting  minute 59: Presentation of the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize and “speechless speech” from Kathy Page

VIDEO: BT interview the morning after the awards

Macleans: Here’s the the prize for facing parents and siblings head-on

Kathy Page, Elizabeth Hay among Writers’ Trust winners

Quill and Quire

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page reviewed in Guardian UK

Elizabeth Lowry reviews Dear Evelyn in The Guardian: “Page’s eighth novel is many things: a love story, a coming-of-age story, and a brilliantly evocative sketch of Britain in the 20th century…..

Its picture of Evelyn herself is authentically troubling, a study of a woman in the grip of terrible compulsions. The warning signs are there from the start, in her panicky housekeeping (“things were much better after she’d spoken with Harry about the accumulation of books and the fussy, old-fashioned effect it gave a room, especially since his book jackets did not match”), her rigid washing and vacuuming schedules, her obsession with hunting down missing pillowcases. Later she is prone to sudden explosions and to punitive silences that last for days: “There was a line between strong-minded and outrageous that Evelyn now crossed with increasing frequency.” Harry, going into contortions to pacify her, says that while “he could bend, she could not”, but Page is after a darker truth. Under the cover of a domestic history, she has ambushed us with a chilling account of a disordered personality. Evelyn, trapped in her trophy house, is every bit as much a casualty of her time and place as her browbeaten husband. Page’s measured, intelligent novel treads nimbly around this bleak terrain.”

Full text here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/12/dear-evelyn-kathy-page-review

 

Evelyn, Harry and the Sick Rose

From the Ormsby Review:  Dear Evelyn, the 8th novel by Kathy Page of Salt Spring Island, concerns the courtship, love, and marriage of Harry Miles and Evelyn Hill from the tumultuous early days of the Second World War to their deaths decades later. I know of no contemporary writer who deals so convincingly with love,” writes Paul Headrick “Page consistently dramatizes the ways in which the feelings of intimate couples are puzzling mixtures of hope, lust, genuine caring, resentment, politics, and much else.”

Full text here  (does reveal plot)

The Two of Us: “the works of a master who seems to have tapped into ancient troubles bubbling up in our struggling world.”

The Two of Us

by Kathy Page

Reviewed by Paul Headrick in The Ormsbury Review

From Gallant to Kafka

In “The House on Manor Close,” the opening story of this collection, a woman recalls her childhood with an older sister who was obsessed with birds: “I began to think that when she grew up she would become not an ornithologist but an actual bird.” Her fanciful speculation isn’t actually implausible, for in Page’s work we can be in the territory of Mavis Gallant at one moment and Franz Kafka or even Ovid the next. Her characters manage to inhabit the subtly psychological world of literary modernism while also belonging to the unpredictable, shifting landscapes of much older literary genres.

Page’s previous book, Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis, 2014), an astonishing collection of contemporary folk-fairy tales, brought this ancient/modern element into relief, but it’s present as well in these stories, which are more realistic, at least on the surface.

Several that begin the collection are about elderly parents and their adult children. The parents need help that their offspring mostly fail to provide, burdened as they are by old, generosity-killing resentments. “Why are we like this,” asks the narrator of “Snowshill,” after a failed outing intended to cheer her enfeebled father and passive-aggressive mother. “Why can’t we all see how little time there is left?” The grudging reconciliation that follows seems dependent on shared self-deception.

In “The House on Manor Close” the mother exercises a weird tyranny, in part by feeding each of her three daughters differently, rewarding and punishing with dishes they like or despise. When her girls grow up and leave, alienated and angry, she and her husband indulge their passion for gardening, succeeding with plants as they never could with their girls: plants have potentials but not wills. The individual troubles here are entirely convincing while at the same time evoking the force of archetypal generational conflicts.

“Different Lips,” one of the strongest of these enthralling stories, is a variation on The Beauty and the Beast tale, which Page has explored before with startling effect in her novels. The character needing redemption in “Different Lips” is Beauty, not Beast. Jessica is a self-centred, damaged young woman who long has traded on her looks but who finally discovers herself desperate, out of money and friends. She travels across town to see an old lover whom she knows still yearns for her, and she hopes for sex, her only way of making connections.

A funny and cruel reversal greets her, no redemption at all, as her former lover’s lips are grotesquely swollen from an allergic reaction. After their wretched encounter, she struggles to make a last attempt to reach out to him and to save herself. The narrator pauses to describe the scene that Jessica passes:

The cheap restaurants and pubs nearby were filling up. People spilled out on to improvised terraces or else just leaned on walls, glass in hand. A few parents pushed slack-faced, sleeping children homewards, the older siblings, occupied with bright coloured drinks and ice creams, trailing behind.

The carefully chosen words — “cheap,” “improvised,” “slack-faced,” “trailing” — establish a continuity between the alienated main character and the failed world she inhabits, winning the reader’s recognition and deep assent in a way that contributes to the power of Page’s work.

The exceptions in these stories, the characters who are able to love, still feel a pull toward self-interest, but they choose to resist. In “The Right Thing to Say,” Don and Marla wait to discover whether she has inherited an incurable disease and to decide, if the news is bad, whether she will have an abortion. Don knows that he will also need to decide whether he is even capable of staying with Marla. The story echoes a fine Page novel, The Find (McArthur & Co., 2011), in which a couple faces a similar revelation.

In both cases, in the manner of the most gripping of folk tales, the tension-filled situations dramatize a choice that on some level we all must make, with the same ultimate consequences. (The story also gracefully alludes to Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” and it’s a mark of Page’s accomplishment that this move doesn’t seem at all audacious.) Don’s eventual response, which forms the resolution of “The Right Thing to Say,” is a brilliantly fitting surprise.

Kathy Page

“Open Water,” the final story of The Two of Us and the longest, creates both the most realistically detailed world and the most impressive dramatization of the way that for Page realism and myth are one. Mitch, a swimming coach, gets a big break — out of nowhere, Tara, a prodigy. Mitch must proceed cautiously in order not to put off the girl’s parents, who are unenthusiastic about the extreme time commitment required by competitive swimming. He also needs to be cautious when Tara, on the verge of elite success, considers quitting swimming altogether.

Once again the story is about parents and children. In some ways Tara becomes closer to Mitch than to her mother and father, who are preoccupied with their other children, and with their own conflict — they separate when Tara is in her teens. We learn through flashback of Mitch’s childhood and his own mother and father, familiarly self-absorbed. “‘It’s tough having parents who ignore what you are,’” Mitch tells his wife when recounting his past.

The decision that Mitch helplessly awaits — Tara’s decision — isn’t as life-and-death as the impending news in “The Right Thing to Say,” but still it’s elemental, as the story consistently draws the reader’s attention back to the importance of water and the image of a person moving through it. “‘What the hell is it about?’” Tara’s mother asks Mitch of her daughter’s swimming life. “‘Being in the water,’” Mitch replies.

Earlier, Mitch recalls his lonely childhood at a boarding school that was precisely wrong for him, and the moment when he discovered the school’s unused swimming pool: “He remembers how his heart lifted, how he almost cried when he saw it. Just the sight of the water, the thought of being immersed.”

So Tara’s choice takes on that special Page quality: will she live on land or in water, choose realism or myth? How will Mitch, her proxy father, straddling both of these worlds, respond? With exquisite timing the answer confronts us with the immense stakes for Mitch and for all of Page’s characters in these stories, the works of a master who seems to have tapped into ancient troubles bubbling up in our struggling world.

 

Link to original review:

#297 From Gallant to Kafka

 

Alphabet

What will she be like? he thinks. I don’t know.
Who will I become? Ditto. A leap in the dark…

“…a wonderful book, peculiar, intense, revealing, challenging, exhausting and above all riveting…I kept saying to myself, how could she know this?” Guardian (UK) columnist Erwin James (author of A Life Inside)

Simon Austen is serving a life sentence for murder. Intelligent but illiterate, charming but also damaged and manipulative, he admits to what he’s done but his motives are far from clear, even to himself.

Then Simon learns to read and write. From his high security prison he begins an illicit correspondence with a series of women. The more he learns – about them and about himself – the higher the stakes become. Simon finds himself on a perilous and unpredictable journey as he stumbles towards self-knowledge and redemption.

Alphabet is not just highly readable, but one of the strongest, most eloquent, most tightly constructed novels of  the year…It is a measure of the quiet artistry of Alphabet that, out of material that would have been at home in the blackest of black comedies, Kathy Page has celebrated, with rare deftness, the resilience of the human heart.” Sunday Telegraph

“Sometimes novelists go too far – and sometimes they manage to demonstrate that too far is the place they needed to go.” Time Out

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, UK, in July 2004 UK; released October 2004 in Canada by McArthur & Company. Finalist for a Governor General’s Award in 2005.  First published in the USA by Biblioasis, 2014.

Alphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate Hargreaves“A moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go.” Kirkus starred review

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kathy-page/alphabet-page/

Reviews and Comments

Purchase Alphabet from Munro’s Books

Continue reading Alphabet

Frankie does time travel

450px-Street_of_terraced_housingI  began work on Frankie Styne and the Silver Man in Norwich, in 1990, and it was inspired by both my  interest in  monsters and my living situation at the time: a terraced house, as it is called in England (row housing), with very thin walls.  Most of these houses were built in the late nineteenth century as housing for railway workers and other working class people. Little thought was given to privacy, and  just a single course of bricks and a  skin of plaster  divides one home from the next. I could hear  a great deal  of my neighbours’ lives – and they mine, no doubt, though I was fairly quiet, due to writing so much. It was sometimes hard to reconcile what I had overheard with  our polite exchanges in the street or over the fence. I began with the  characters,  and they, especially former runaway Liz and her baby Jim,  came quickly to life.

I plotted out the basics  of the story on  flip chart paper. Once I began to write (on my  Amstrad PC with its grey screen and blurry green type)  the story unfolded at a fair pace.  I was soon deeply into  themes that have always interested me: how people  use language to connect (or don’t), how the mainstream culture deals with outsiders, what makes us human,  the complications of sexuality, how we depend on stories to make sense of our lives,  and so on.  I  had a lot of fun writing  Frankie Styne. It’s a literary novel,  but there are elements of horror and touches of speculative fiction throughout, and, to my mind at least, large doses of a dark humour.  I write in both a realistic and a  more fantastic mode, and in this novel, I was able to combine both. I was also able to pay homage to Mary Shelley and, less directly, Fay Weldon,  two literary heroines of mine.  Frankie Styne came out in the UK in 1992 to great reviews, but quickly vanished in the publishing upheavals of the time. I always wished it had had more of a life and  so I was both  delighted and just a little apprehensive  when, over twenty years later,  Bilbioasis proposed to publish it for the first time  in Canada and the USA.

This meant that I had to read it. Reading my own books is something I, like many authors,  tend to avoid.  By the time a novel is complete, I  virtually know the text by heart and am heartily sick of it.  The passing of time helped with this. I read Frankie Styne and the Silver Man, and  even though (or perhaps because)  I am in by now in many ways a different person to the one who wrote it, I did enjoy it.  Still,  I had to ask myself whether  it was it still relevant, and did it matter that the characters use landlines and watch  television, that a crucial scene would have been  different if  Viagra had  been invented, and so on? How much to revise?  I’d written this novel,  which features a mother and baby, before having children of my own,  and while it  was mostly well imagined, there were places where I had things to add, and there were  several  important scenes I wanted to improve, but I left the era and as it was, and  decided I was not the best judge of the book’s continued relevance.

Early reviews, see below, have answered that question.  I’m delighted that Frankie Styne and the Silver Man  is  now finding  such enthusiastic twenty-first century Canadian and American readers.

frankiestyneARCcoversmallFrankie Styne and the Silver Man is dark and funny, painful and uplifting, marvellously satirical but never cynical, and thoroughly invested with good faith. Kathy Page is a marvel. This is the very best book that I’ve read in ages, and if I read another half as good in the next few months, that will constitute an extraordinary literary year…     Read more: http://picklemethis.com/2016/02/10/frankie-styne-and-the-silver-man-by-kathy-page/

“Page (Alphabet, 2014, etc.) builds layers of meaning into her exquisite writing. Her favored themes are here—the stark dichotomies of life, the power of language, the way the social system tries and fails to help people, and how saving grace can come from unseen places.” Kirkus starred reveiw

“Frankie Styne and the Silver Man by Kathy Page is a fantastic novel. Character driven, claustrophobic, and deeply weird, it has a haunting, discomfiting quality that lingers with a reader….”   Read more: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2016/02/08/kathy-pages-frankie-styne-excellent-oddball.html

frankiestyneARCcoversmallFrankie Styne offers a terrific showcase of Page’s singular style (with its attractive high-low mixture of genres), quirky unexpected invention, and attention to the nuances of psychology. Mere words on a page, her creations linger in the mind long after the reading’s done….” Read more: Frankie Styne in Vancouver Sun

“Five years before The Post-Modern Prometheus aired, Page published her own twist on the Frankenstein story in her native Britain (Page moved to B.C’s Salt Spring Island in 2001), now published in Canada for the first time. In her novel, Page draws on similar pulp material – monsters; aliens; an unhappy, childless marriage – and takes her characters to equally dark places. What’s different is how Page’s monsters display a more complex relationship between inner and outer ugliness and find redemption in responsibility….  Frankie Styne still holds up almost 25 years later.”  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-new-fiction-from-gemma-files-kathy-page-and-more/article28743088/

frankiestyneARCcoversmall“Kathy Page’s imaginative and crisply written  Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is one of the creepiest novels I have ever read.” Largehearted Boy

“An amazing and unique read from beginning to end, Frankie Styne & the Silver Man by Kathy Page is a deftly crafted work of truly memorable literary fiction that is especially recommended for community and academic library Contemporary Fiction collections.” Midwest Book Review Bookwatch