A smart, sensual and witty novel about what happens when love and intellect are set on a collision course. This compact tour de force affirms Dionne Brand's place as one of Canada's most dazzling and influential artists.
Theory begins as its narrator sets out, like many a graduate student, to write a wildly ambitious thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics--a revolutionary work that its author believes will synthesize and thereby transform the world.
While our narrator tries to complete this magnum opus, three lovers enter the story, one after the other, each transforming the endeavour: first, there is beautiful and sensual Selah, who scoffs at the narrator's constant tinkering with academic abstractions; then altruistic and passionate Yara, who rescues every lost soul who crosses her path; and finally, spiritual occultist Odalys, who values magic and superstition over the heady intellectual and cultural circles the narrator aspires to inhabit. Each galvanizing love affair (representing, in turn, the heart, the head and the spirit) upends and reorients the narrator's life and, inevitably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, with results both humorous and poignant.
By effortlessly telling this short, intense tale in the voice of an unnamed, ungendered (and brilliantly unreliable) narrator, Dionne Brand makes a bold statement not only about love and personhood, but about race and gender--and what can and cannot be articulated in prose when the forces that inhabit the space between words are greater than words themselves.
A gorgeous, profoundly moving, word- and note-perfect novel of ideas that only a great artist at the height of her powers could write.
DIONNE BRAND's literary credentials are legion. Her latest novel, Theory, won the 2019 OCM BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Literature, and was a Globe and Mail Best Book. Her latest poetry collection, The Blue Clerk, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won the Trillium Book Prize. Her collection Ossuaries won the Griffin Poetry Prize, and other collections have won the Governor General's Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Among her novels, In Another Place, Not Here was selected as a NYT Book Review Notable Book and a Best Book by the Globe and Mail; At the Full and Change of the Moon was selected a Best Book by the LA Times; and What We All Long For won the Toronto Book Award. In 2006, Brand was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the world of books and writing, and from 2009 to 2012 she served as Toronto's Poet Laureate. In 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada. Brand is a Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. She lives in Toronto.
WINNER OF THE 2019 TORONTO BOOK AWARDS
WINNER IN THE FICTION CATEGORY: 2019 OCM BOCAS PRIZE FOR CARIBBEAN LITERATURE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 OCM BOCAS PRIZE FOR CARIBBEAN LITERATURE (all genres)
“Full of wry humour and biting critique, Theory is a masterful work from a writer who still knows how to have fun.” —The Globe and Mail
“Dionne Brand’s ingenious meditation on academic angst is a heady, pleasure-filled ride.” —Susan G. Cole, NOW
"What Brand does so adeptly in this book is reveal how the many layers of power and personality destroy romantic partnerships, stress familial bonds and muzzle intellectual potential. . . . Theory is a book for those who are intrigued by how a brilliant thinker approaches lost love, unmet potential and unreliable narration. But if none of that appeals to you, Brand’s gorgeous prose and sly humour will definitely win you over.” —Toronto Star
“Theory is a novel for the ages, a pirouetting inquiry into how we struggle, weep, deny, and love our way towards each other and into the arms of knowledge. Full of wit and unsettling acuity, driven by intellectual and physical passions, Dionne Brand’s new novel is a masterpiece.” —Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing, winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize
"Theory marks Dionne Brand’s latest accomplishment in exquisitely attuning both thought and language to the sublime of everyday life. ‘There’s no reference for what I want to do,’ the narrator states; and herein begins a bold new story . . . By turns wry, passionate, and sensuously intellectual, Theory is a book of singular power from one of our greatest living writers.” —David Chariandy, author of Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
“After reading this book I realized that a novel can trace and map the inner markings inside one’s mind. A beautiful book that forever changed the way I approach writing, reading, and teaching.” —Chelene Knight, author of Dear Current Occupant, CBC Books
“In this novel of ideas, Dionne Brand dazzles with smart, jazz-like storytelling and the utterly engrossing voice of its narrator. Theory delivers a potent dose of meticulous attention to both humour and the seriousness of its subject, so that Toronto comes to each page anew. What many will recognize as love is turned into a dissertation, and by turns, the other way around. This protagonist is playful, cunning, honest, and self-aware and the book surprises from cover to cover. With this wry, beautiful, profoundly philosophical novel, Brand accomplishes something reserved for the most masterful writers of our time.” —Toronto Book Awards jury citation
“[Theory] exhibits the formal complexity and daring of all of [Brand’s] work; the novel feels no need to declare race and gender and instead situates the narrator fully in her intellectual and social worlds. The book centers on a narrator named Teoria who is trying to complete a doctoral dissertation of vaunting ambition. “My aim at the time,” she says, “was to write the bomb of a thesis that would blow up the buildings,” her research exploding the insistently white, straight, and male institutions of academia. The narrator, comically and perhaps inevitably, fails at such revolutionary goals, distracted by a series of lovers and undone by her own inconsistencies. Funny, wild, and completely lacking in pretension, Theory takes huge formal risks, reimagining the novel of ideas for our own moment, challenging and enchanting the reader at the same time.” —Windham-Campbell Literary Prize jury citation