I have read (and enjoyed!) most of Zoe Whittall’s novels, but I almost passed on The Best Kind of People, because the premise of ‘school teacher accused of sexual abuse of students’ is one I’ve seen more than enough of for a lifetime. But, the book was short-listed for the Giller Prize this year, and I decided to give it a shot.
I am so glad I did!
Whittall’s treatment of this subject matter, which is simultaneously extremely sensitive and (in my opinion) massively overused in all forms of fiction, is nothing short of ground-breaking. At no point does the novel give in to the prurience so often present in these kinds of stories – we never hear any details about the sexual misconduct in question. Instead, The Best Kind of People centres itself around the experiences of the family of the man accused, in particular his sixteen-year-old daughter Sadie (who is only a few years older than the girls her father is accused of assaulting) and his wife Joan, neither of whom can reconcile the accusations with the man they know and love.
Ultimately, the novel is a masterful examination of the ways in which our society responds to these kinds of crimes, particularly when the perpetrator is respected person with a great deal of privilege. Sadie and Joan find themselves variously vilified, ostracized and supported by various community members – including support from people they wish would stay well away from them – all while desperately trying to sort through their own feelings, and what it will mean for their lives if their respective father and husband is indeed guilty.
This is a deeply emotional novel, full of well-drawn, complex and realistic characters. Well worth a read!
If you’ve already read and loved The Best Kind of People, check out some other great books from Canadian women, or take a look at other Scotiabank Giller Prize nominees and winners.
These are the Grimm fairytales as pulled from various sources, both well-loved and obscure, edited by Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass. It’s probably a given that the fairytales we absorb as children don’t generally sound quite the same when we hear them again as adults (although that probably also has something to do with Disney and the variations of some tales, especially the most popular such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, that abound), and while you might already know some of the gory originals to the stories you know and love – the removal of various parts of the feet in Cinderella, for one, is pretty well-circulated – Pullman does an excellent job choosing and editing the tales that he chooses to include in this volume.
Pullman states from the start that he has taken liberties with some of the tales, leaving others in their original state, and he lets you know after each of the fairytales which ones have been revised from their original state and which have been preserved in whole, and, most importantly, why. He also makes a good point: fairytales were, and remain in part, a part of oral tradition, and as such the performer of the tale makes their own changes to parts of the story, whether it be the plot or the details, in order to tailor it to their way of storytelling – so why not change what doesn’t seem to be working, as an editor, to make even better fairytales for the reader? Continue reading
Karen Armstrong does a good job of summarizing the history of the development of religion & state succinctly in each chapter, linking each of the histories to each other in terms of patterns in government. What really struck me throughout was how effectively autocratic governments have fared throughout the ages – well, they would, not having to go through all the other layers of government in order to get things done, but still! In addition to this, the seeming inability to remove religion from society completely was quite interesting to see: the nation took the place of traditional belief systems, and instead of fighting for those beliefs, people would fight for the sake of their nation. It almost seems like the issue isn’t so much religion in its inspiration of violent devotion so much as humans at large, to be honest. Continue reading