Kathy Page wins big — at last
Kathy Page has often been the bridesmaid, not the bride.
November 13th, 2018
Finally, the Salt Spring Island author has been awarded the $50,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for Dear Evelyn, a novel also recognized as a Kirkus Best Book of 2018.
Previously, after Page was longlisted for the Giller Prize in 2014 for her story collection, Paradise & Elsewhere, she was longlisted for her follow-up collection, The Two of Us (Biblioasis) in 2016. The Story of My Face was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002. Alphabet was a Governor General’s Award finalist in 2005. The Find was shortlisted for the ReLit Award in 2011.
Page’s themes have been identified as loss, survival and transformation: “the magic by which a bad hand becomes a good chance.”
Kathy Page was born and lived much of her life in London, England. She has taught fiction writing in universities in the UK, Finland and Estonia, and held residencies in schools and a variety of other institutions/ communities, including a fishing village and a men’s prison. In 2001, she and her family moved to Salt Spring Island. Page has also written extensively for radio and television and her short fiction is widely anthologised in the UK.
Her fifth novel, The Story of My Face, distributed in Canada by McArthur & Co., concerns a woman who reassesses her life while studying the origins of an unusual sect in Finland.
Alphabet (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004) is about a convicted murderer in Thatcher’s Britain, barely out of his teens, who comes to terms with guilt and seeks possible redemption through newfound literacy. [See review]
Frankie Styne & the Silver Man (Methuen, 1992; Phoenix/Printorium 2008) is about the relationship between an obsessive loner who writes gruesome killer novels and his two new next-door neighbours, a new mother with a highly unusual infant named Jim. When the novelist Frank hatches a real-life plot, the lives of the mother Liz and her very strange child are transformed.
In Kathy Page’s seventh novel, and the first to be set in Canada, The Find (McArthur & Co $24.95), paleontologist Anna Silowski makes an extraordinary discovery in a remote part of British Columbia, but at the same time, the tensions below the surface of her successful career are exposed. She finds herself unexpectedly dependent on a high school drop-out, Scott Macleod, as she recruits him to help on the excavation of ‘the find’ and project teeters on the edge of disaster. “Her life would have been a lot simpler if she had not liked men, if she had been a nun, or gay. Or both.” The Find was partially inspired by the beautiful skeleton of an elasmosaur that hangs from the ceiling of the Courtenay & District Museum.
Whereas Kathy Page’s story collection, Paradise & Elsewhere, delves into myth and the darker territory of parable and fable, The Two of Us contains stories about pairs, couples, dyads–mainly intense one-on-one relationships whether it’s a hairdresser and a client, a mother and her baby, or a girl and a fox. Her duos are all united by a primal desire for intimacy.
“My father’s passion for books, my mother’s habit of exaggeration, and the general craziness of our household are probably all behind my compulsion to write,” she recalls on her website. “As a child, I loved everything school had to offer: writing, science, art. I studied English Literature at university and graduated in 1979. Although I had won writing competitions as a child (a bizarre children’s cruise around the Adriatic, a bus trip around Europe), it was only after university, and very gradually, that I began to write seriously, supporting myself by means of temporary jobs and then a training as carpenter and joiner.”
Ormsby Review article, May 2018
The Two of Us
by Kathy Page
Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2016.
$19.95 / 9781771960991
Reviewed by Paul Headrick
Now chair of the Creative Writing and Journalism program at Vancouver Island University, Kathy Page lives on Salt Spring Island with her husband and two children.
Herein reviewer Paul Headrick praises Page as “a master who seems to have tapped into ancient troubles bubbling up in our struggling world.”; – Ed.
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.
“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.
PAGE WINS AT LAST!
Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page, a longtime Biblioasis author, has been awarded the $50,000 2018 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, in addition to recognition as a Kirkus Best Book of 2018!
“I couldn’t be happier for Kathy tonight,” said Dan Wells of Biblioasis. “She’s long been one of our best writers and it means so much that the Writers’ Trust jury has acknowledged this wonderful, deeply personal look at how love can change us, then change us again.”
Dear Evelyn is available at Biblioasis Bookstore
(1520 Wyandotte St E) for $19.95!
Born between the wars on a working-class London street, Harry Miles wins a scholarship and a chance to escape his station, but discovers instead that poetry is what offers him real direction. While searching for more of it he meets Evelyn Hill on the steps of Battersea Library. The two fall in love as the world prepares once again for war, but their capacity to care for each other over the ensuing decades becomes increasingly tested. Twisting and startling, harrowing and deeply tender, Dear Evelyn explores how two very different people come together to shape and reshape each other over a lifetime. It is a compelling and unconventional love story that will leave its mark on any reader who has ever loved.
Prize jurists Ann Y.K. Choi, Mireille Silcoff, and Robert Wiersma said in their citation: “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 skillfully crafting endearing characters that surprise and delight, Page has created a poignant literary work of art. The result is a timeless page-turning masterpiece.”
In Kirkus, where Dear Evelyn‘s Best Book distinction lands on the same list as luminaries as Tommy Orange and Ottessa Moshfegh, their starred review said the novel “Quietly hums with emotional charge. The war years, with Harry fighting in North Africa and Evelyn struggling with a young child at home, are especially vivid, but this watchful, empathetic chronicle retains sensitivity through the less obviously eventful decades of home-building and child-rearing….Page’s watchful and very British tale remains devoted to both and forgiving to the end. A searching, and touching, depiction of the places where married lives merge and the places where they never do.”
Kathy Pageis the author of ten previous books, two of which, Paradise & Elsewhere (2014) and The Two of Us (2016), were nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Other works include Alphabet, a Governor General’s Award finalist in 2005, and The Story of My Face, long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002, and Frankie Styne and the Silver Man. Born in the UK, she moved to Salt Spring Island with her family in 2001, and now divides her time between writing and teaching at Vancouver Island University.
PRAISE FOR DEAR EVELYN
“Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn is a novel in the shape of a life…[true] to most human experiences of love…Page has laid bare the lives of her characters, making no claim to their significance to anyone but each other, and in doing so has demonstrated that the ordinary is infinitely precious.”
—Times Literary Supplement
“Personal and intimate in focus, preoccupied with the minutiae of love and the domestic. What this painstaking and painful account of a marriage – from passionate beginning to resentful, grubby end – relies on, as much as its period detail, is its precise ruminations on the nature of affection and resentment, and on how love can persist in the face of cruelty…This becomes a novel of sadness about love and its waste, and about the humiliation of aging. It made me cry my eyes out.”
—The Globe and Mail
“No work of fiction has ever moved me to tears. These pages so emotionally swept me away that, at one particularly heartbreaking point, the book felt so alive that it might wound me, and I launched the thing across the room. Dear Evelyn trembles with what Walter Benjamin might call an “aura” of authenticity, deeply felt and rooted in the author’s obvious love for literature and her family. The result is a profoundly moving novel that captures the deep melancholy and fundamental loneliness of the human condition with startling emotional acuity.”
—Literary Review of Canada
“A love story, a coming-of-age story, and a brilliantly evocative sketch of Britain in the 20th century…[a] measured, intelligent novel.”
“Page’s finely wrought story – by turns tender, acid, and poignant – reminds us that marriage is a condition as infinitely variable as the individuals who enter into it…gains dimension and complexity as additional details accumulate through Page’s deft use of flashbacks and prolepsis; her precise and graceful prose gives the emerging picture nuance and shading…Page’s touching novel makes the ordinary extraordinary.”
—Quill & Quire (starred review)
“An ambitious, and highly literary, historical fiction outing…The writing is remarkable, masterfully weaving together the personal and the political. The backdrop of global conflict infuses the story with urgency, drama, and the exotic appeal of foreign travel, while the intimate manoeuverings of the characters oscillate between tenderness and profound despair.”
“A smartly written portrait of a marriage that is true to life, has depth and detail, and is sometimes sweet and sometimes painful…the characters linger long afterwards and are likely to leave readers with either a tear in their eye or a lump in the throat.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“The detail, the nuance, and the vitality of the scenes, while disconcerting, is also supremely detailed but never overwhelming with pages of minutia…Harry and Evelyn come together for an instant, repel one another over this or that, strive to find their better selves and their compassion and their once rich love; and then, with a harsh word or passing mood, they’re back to marital warfare. It’s a heartbreaking depiction, if only because it’s so enduring: these two are bound by family, by obligation, by history, and even by a steady if off-kilter and declining love.”
“Page charts the emotional shifts that take place over the course of their marriage, from first flush of love to old age, with subtlety and sensitivity.”
“Though a familiar tale, it’s sharply drawn and told with an alertness to cliche …[T]he concluding scenes, while sadly inevitable, are quietly devastating.”
—Daily Mail Online
“I know of no contemporary writer who deals so convincingly with love. 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…ambitious and profoundly resonant.”
—The Ormsby Review
“[Page] has flown largely under the radar of publishing journalism while also writing damned good books…Page is a magician at evoking a sense of past-ness, and her characterisation is extraordinarily skillful and tender: both Evelyn and her husband Harry can be extremely difficult, but the reader understands and feels for them both. Exceptional work.”
“A richly textured story that feels authentic to each period, without ever getting bogged down in too many details or historical facts … Relayed with compassion, and incisive writing.”
—Gulf Islands Driftwood
CITY/TOWN: Salt Spring Island
DATE OF BIRTH: 8th April 1958
PLACE OF BIRTH: London, England
ARRIVAL IN CANADA: 2001
EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: university lecturer; writer in residence at a variety of institutions
AWARDS: The Traveller Writing Prize; Bridport Short Fiction Prize
The Two of Us (Bibloasis 2016)
Paradise and Elsewhere (Bibloasis 2014) 18.95 978-1-927428-59-7 (trade paper)
In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body (Brindle & Glass 2012. Co-editor.
The Find (McArthur @ Co. 2010)
Alphabet (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004). 0 75381 861 2
The Story of My Face (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2002)
Frankie Styne and the Silver Man (Methuen, 1992; Phoenix/Printorium 2008)
As In Music (Methuen, 1990; Phoenix/Printorium 2008) — stories
Island Paradise (Methuen/Minerva, 1989)
The Unborn Dream of Clara Riley (Virago, 1987)
Back in the First Person (Virago, 1986)
[BCBW 2018 / Alan Twigg] “Fiction”
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