Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Literary

Summer Cannibals

by (author) Melanie Hobson

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2018
Literary, Contemporary Women, Family Life
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2018
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
A bold and gripping literary debut about three very different sisters who return to their family home to face imminent tragedy and their tumultuous pasts.

Summoned to their magnificent family home on the shores of Lake Ontario--a paradisiacal mansion perched on an escarpment above the city--three adult sisters, George, Jax, and Pippa, come together in what seems like an act of family solidarity. Pregnant and unwell, the youngest, Pippa, has left her husband and four young children in New Zealand and returned home to heal. But home to this family means secrets, desire, and vengeance--and feasting on the sexual appetites and weaknesses of others. Each daughter has her own particular taste and overlaying everything are their parents, with unquenchable desires and cravings of their own.
     As the affluent family endures four intense days in one another's company, old fissures reappear. When long-buried truths finally come to light, the sisters and their parents must face the unthinkable consequences of their actions.
     Summer Cannibals is a riveting, psychological story of lust, betrayal, and family from a dazzling new voice in Canadian fiction.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Contributor Notes

MELANIE HOBSON holds a BA Honours in Classical Studies from McMaster University, was a Michener Fellow in the MFA at the University of Miami, and a Kingsbury Fellow in the PhD Program at Florida State University. She now lives in Florida with her husband and two children. Summer Cannibals is her first novel.

Excerpt: Summer Cannibals (by (author) Melanie Hobson)



The house had its way of holding them. Their father liked to tell how he’d bought it with a credit card—a cash advance to make up the ten percent needed for the deposit—and it seemed as equally and gloriously ridiculous, that this should all be theirs. That first day, after the papers were signed, the sisters had run laughing and shrieking through the house with its three floors, two staircases, seven bedrooms and all the rest— living, dining, family, library, kitchen, butler’s pantry, bath- rooms, hallways, passageways and entryways. They explored and claimed rooms and then just as quickly relinquished them as they found another and another, shouting that they were lost, crying out that they’d found “the best thing ever,” bare feet thud- ding up and down, up and down, across and over. Doors slammed. Drawers were pulled open and locks fiddled with. The old laundry chute was discovered and heads were put through the small doors on each landing that let into it as they prodded each other, but none of them were brave enough to go to the chute’s terminus in the basement. That rough stonewalled basement the original builders had dynamited from the solid limestone of the escarpment the house was perched on. Beyond the house’s walls, at the base of that cliff, was the city—gridded to the enormous lake like a mesh to keep the jutting land, and all it supported, from tumbling down.
     I can’t hear the children, their father had said, looking at his wife triumphantly. This house swallows them.
     They were leaning on the metal fence at the cliff’s edge, the whole world spread out in front of them, and anyone would think these parents too young to have all this. That something was wrong; a mistake. But they knew that this was nothing less than what they deserved: the five acres of parkland which they would turn into exquisite gardens to surround the grand house with a landscape to match it in size and manner—this had always been owed to them. They were a couple whom people referred to as ‘handsome’ and it suited them because they resonated good breeding and all that went with it: high birth, property, education, bloodlines you could trace back to royalty. They were handsome and they knew it to be true, and theirs was a world that rewarded such things. David and Margaret Blackford were exactly where they were meant to be—at the dead end of a private lane you could drive by without noticing because the newer, smaller houses of the neighbourhood acted like a palisade of brick and mortar to keep the riff-raff out. The lane’s three big houses were dealt in along the cliff’s edge, a vestige from a time when it had all been fields and the founding families of that region had built their houses on the escarpment’s very brow. This view had always been worth braving the winter gales that howled up off the lake and even then, in the early century, the occupants knew the defensible value of a horizon.
     At the lane’s entrance, where it met the ordinary street, was a bulging masonry wall behind which was a cloistered convent: a rundown mysterious place their father forbade them from entering. Even the name of the convent terrified: Sisters of the Precious Blood. Their father, who rarely noticed what his girls whispered about and even more rarely took an interest in it, had—with that single restriction—made the place irresistible. In the years to come, one of the nuns would take daily walks up and down the lane from the convent to the family’s driveway and back again, having taken a vow of silence and contemplation. And the girls would tempt her, with their father’s encouragement, because he saw the nun’s appearance at his property line for what it was: a trespass. They would lounge near the gate on their bicycles and then speed out to intercept, shouting hellos, riding circles, going no-hands, skidding their tires, trying to get her to respond. Doing everything short of touching her as she walked in an eddy of robes like a villain from a comic book, her presence making the vampire crypts and legions of undead seem more likely than ever. And when the sun would go down the girls would scramble to shut their bedroom windows, even on the hottest nights, afraid she’d come for them. As if she were the greatest threat to their security, their little paradise. The only person they had to fear.
     Their driveway, where the nun turned, was defined by two stone pillars which were knocked over regularly by the garbage truck and snowplow. The drivers piled the wreckage back up at new and eccentric angles in a sneering indictment of this fancy house with its crude gateposts that deserved to be bulldozed because maybe then the rich bastards would put up something appropriate, like electric gates with a keypad to come and go. A code they’d have to be trusted with. It was only the cases of beer at Christmastime—put out on the porch steps to freeze overnight—that stopped them from leaving the blocks where they fell. Instead of a metal gate, the girls’ father used an old sawhorse to block the property’s entrance from the regular snoopers who liked to just barely roll their cars along the lane and down the long drive as though this were their right—to take in the acres of gardens and the orchestrated countryside at a crawl, stopping to exclaim over new blooms or a shrub’s lush foliage when their selfsame shrub back at their modest home was still bare. As if that was treason. Just another betrayal to add to their list of grievances against these upstarts who took and kept everything for themselves. The gawkers would stop at the house and look around contemptuously before turning to inch back out, trawling for every shred of evidence to justify their position that here, without question, was the rot underpinning the nation’s decay.
     The girls’ father believed that the simple wooden sawhorse he placed at the gate, with his own hands, was a denial of that judgment that wealth begat indolence because there was something practical and self-reliant about that barrier. And it fit perfectly, he would say, with the Georgian style of the house which echoed gentle country living and turnstiles, fox hunts and steeplechases, noblesse oblige, even though (their mother would remark) this was Hamilton, Canada—a town founded in the monstrous flick- ering shadows of the steel mills on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. A place where at night, deep in the east end, you could see the climbing flames firing the stack that spewed soot onto the narrow red brick houses in the adjacent streets, coating them, Blakean. This was Hamilton, a workers’ town.
     They were sisters: Georgina, Jacqueline and Philippa. Adults
now, and with families of their own, but the youngest, Pippa, was sick. Eight months pregnant with her fifth, she’d left her hus-band and four children in New Zealand and was coming here. The others were coming home too. More than three decades had passed since they’d run through the house on that first day, and there’d been days—too many to count—when the house had sat hard and unloved within its ruffle of green grass and hedge and flower. When the sky was dull and grey and the windows reflected bleakness, all flat and giving nothing back, and it seemed a place of such uncompromising severity that its stone walls would let nothing in or out. And then some mornings, it would rise with the sun and display the warmth inherent in its blocks and the glass would gleam and the garden, that lush profusion, would reflect inward to the rooms and fill the house with life. Figures would move from window to window as though it were a dance and they partnered with the air. And it was on those days that the world was right and days were measured in increments of joy. It was all there was and would ever be. It was family.

Editorial Reviews

Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

“Melanie Hobson writes with the dark energy and twisted exuberance reminiscent of her most celebrated predecessors—Atwood, Murdoch, Oates, and so many others plumbing the raw, violent depths of toxic families. Her mesmerizing characters are semi-feral, trapped and struggling under the terrible weight of what a man can do to a girl, a daughter, a wife. Summer Cannibals seems perfectly written for the world today, our blind greedy stumble from thing to thing.”—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

"Summer Cannibals is a story of domestic mayhem, where hidden angers spur tensions that manifest in the most unlikely ways. I was on the edge of my seat until the very end when, with the force of a tsunami, everything that’s been built comes crashing down, to devastating effect."—Yasuko Thanh, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize-winning author of Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains
“Dark, risky and as gorgeous as the ocean at midnight, Hobson’s exquisitely written debut gathers a fractured grown family together for six dangerous days of lust, longing, sex, secrets and stunning betrayals. The story may be set in the languid days of summer, but My God, it’s a terrific scorcher.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times Bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Cruel Beautiful World

“An elegant, sexy story of four scarred but undaunted women and one seriously monstrous patriarch, Summer Cannibals simmers languidly up to an explosive finale which reminds us, in an unforgettable manner, that no institution in our lives is more powerful or perilous than our families. Melanie Hobson’s indelible voice somehow conveys both boundless compassion for human frailty and wit as lethal as a straight razor held at the base of the throat. Family dysfunction at its finest."—Ed Tarkington, author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart 

“There is a quality to Melanie Hobson’s writing that reminds me of Brideshead Revisited or certain John Cheever stories; a quality of languid lyricism and moral corruption that I found immediately arresting. The story of three sisters carrying out both subtle and shocking acts of deceit and desire (And oh, Pippa!) is something to be savored like a gin and tonic on a summer afternoon by the lake. But a storm is rolling in and the water, moments ago so inviting and glorious, begins to grow dark. Is it safe? Should you dive in? Summer Cannibals announces the arrival of a great talent that book clubs and reviewers alike will adore.”—Matt Bondurant, author of The Night Swimmer and The Wettest County in the World
Summer Cannibals feels decidedly feminist. Hobson provides the perspectives of the women, each of whom struggles to survive despite old wounds… Men’s insatiable appetites – for sex, for glory, for control – and the resulting destruction of the women around them are showcased so brilliantly and intimately.” —Quill & Quire
Summer Cannibals is sharply observed, its realism contrasted with gothic, even surreal touches. Hobson tells her tale of a family coming together and apart with psychological insight and acerbic wit, a combination that recalls some of the toxic families in novels by Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates.” —Tampa Bay Times

Related lists