Steamy sex, global labour issues, feminist politics: Angie Abdou's new novel, Between, takes on a bit of everything and doesn't shy away from the nasty bits (or the naughty bits!). Already receiving great reviews, Between is sure to delight Abdou's many fans (of previous books including Canada Reads finalist The Bone Cage) and bring her some new ones too. In this 49th Shelf exclusive, she dishes about the inspiration for Between, its portrayal of motherhood, what she's been reading lately, and just how exactly she "researched" the scenes of her novel that take place at Jamaica's infamous Hedonism resort.
49th Shelf: For me, the linchpin of your novel is the line, "The world is not made for women. Not in the Philippines. Not here. Maybe not anywhere." How do you think Between is informed by this idea?
Angie Abdou: Yes. I'm inspired by Unless, by Carol Shields, and its assertion that the work of feminism is not done. In an interview, Shields expressed her worry about young women no longer self-identifying as feminists. It is a worry that I share. Between grows out of that anxiety.
To give this same anxiety a less literary context, a friend with young children recently complained "It's still f*cking 1950 around here but now we have jobs too." Again—the work of feminism is not done. Of course our struggles in North America are not the same as the struggles of someone like Ligaya in the third world. Nonetheless, it is worth acknowledging that disparity exists here, too. I was pleased when Stacey May Fowles, in her Quill and Quire review, called Between a "glaringly feminist narrative."
49th Shelf: The novel has two perspectives: Vero, a Canadian woman, and the employer of Ligaya, who is a Filipino nanny and takes on the second perspective. Did you always envision writing the novel in these two voices? Were you ever intimidated by the task of writing someone whose culture and language is different from your own?
AA: I had this structure and these two voices from the beginning. My previous novel, The Canterbury Trail, had a lot of characters and many narrative voices. I wanted to go back to the structure I used in The Bone Cage, two alternating perspectives, for a more fast-paced read. I also, for this project, needed the perspectives of both the nanny and the North American mother.
Definitely, I recognized the challenge of writing Ligaya, but I was inspired by Lawrence Hill, who says he writes best when he writes farthest from his own perspective. I wanted to explore that. At the same time, I worked very hard to "get it right," mainly by interviewing as many Filipina nannies as I could ... about everything.
49th Shelf: In order to put the spark back in their marriage, Vero and her husband take a trip to the infamous Hedonism Resort in Jamaica. What kind of, ahem, research did you do for this part of the novel?
AA: Ha! Trevor Cole warned me I should be prepared to answer this question. You're the first to ask it. You're also the first to interview me. So, my husband and I eloped in Jamaica, just down the beach from Hedonism. I don't know if I can blame my writerly curiosity, but I couldn't resist checking it out. What kind of place? What kind of people? We got a day pass and I spent one very bizarre evening with my writer's eyeballs popping right out of my writer's head.
49th Shelf: Between is your third novel. The Bone Cage was about the world of competitive sport, The Canterbury Trail about wild life in the wilds, and now this book takes on a domestic setting. Was this a departure for you? What do you see as the connecting line through all of your books?
AA: Alistair MacLeod said to write about what worries you, and that's my through line. For Anything Boys Can Do, I had recently divorced and was worried about issues around infidelity and betrayal, so I wrote about those. While writing The Bone Cage, which is (in my mind) about post-Olympic depression, I was worried about my youngest brother, an Olympic wrestler who was coming to the end of a career that had defined him to that point. Through The Canterbury Trail, I explored my worries about our relationship to the environment and the small-town identity politics that influence that relationship in the kind of place I live. Then I had kids—and now I worry about EVERYTHING! Many of those worries make their way into Between.
One could also say Between is a sport novel, like The Bone Cage and The Canterbury Trail. Hot yoga and road biking both play a big role.
49th Shelf: There are lots of books about motherhood. In your novel, what did you strive for in your depiction of Vero's experience? How did you want her to be different from fictional mothers you've encountered before?
AA: That's a good question. If I would have said to myself "I'm writing a book about motherhood," I couldn't have done it. As you say, the world doesn't maybe need another book about motherhood. I set out, instead, to write about foreign domestic labour, particularly Filipina nannies. The world, as far as I could tell, did not even have ONE of those. I like to find a clear space for myself like that when I initiate a project. Then, of course, once I start writing, a novel is about many things (including, in this case, motherhood).
With Vero, I strived for that very contemporary experience of being wildly overcommitted and distracted and stretched thin. She's been led to believe she can have it all—a career, kids, a passionate marriage, a healthy lifestyle. It's too much. When I read your collection, The M Word, I wondered if I would have felt the need to write Vero if I'd read those essays first. The message in the two books is similar, I think.
49th Shelf: And oh, Angie, what great Canadian books are you reading this days??
AA: My recent favourites are All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews, and Between Gods, by Alison Pick and, for something completely different, The War on Science, by Chris Turner. I'm at the Sunshine Festival of Written Arts now [Ed.'s note: this was August] and have just picked up Bill Gaston's Juliet Was a Surprise, Claire Cameron's The Bear, and Charles Foran's Planet Lolita. I plan to devour them on this week's canoe camping trip, but now I'm about to go for a seaside run with Claire Cameron herself. Life is grand.
Angie Abdou has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Calgary and teaches full-time at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Her latest novel is Between. Her first novel, The Bone Cage, was a finalist in CBC's 2011 Canada Reads. She is also author of The Canterbury Trail and Anything Boys Can Do. Angie lives in skiing mecca Fernie, British Columbia, with her husband and two young children.
Comments herecomments powered by Disqus