Demi-Gods

Eliza Robertson. Hamish Hamilton, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-670-06827-2
Robertson’s vivid but somewhat choppy debut novel (following her short story collection, Wallflowers) is set in the 1950s, and moves between a summer cabin on a British Columbia island and California. When nine-year old Willa’s mother’s new lover’s two sons come from California to visit Salt Spring Island, Willa and her sister Joan’s lives are transformed. Joan, 12, is immediately attracted to and later pairs off with the older brother, Kenneth, who is about 15 at the start of the novel, while 11-year old Patrick captivates and sometimes repels Willa. Willa’s attraction to Patrick leads him to wield a special and somewhat sinister power over her, and as they grow up, the sexual tension and silent power struggles engulf not just this pair but also the adults. One of the novel’s strengths is that it doesn’t see teenage sexuality as something to be feared; it beautifully captures the mixture of excitement, enjoyment, and alarm that accompanies discovery and sets it against a series of sunwashed, Instamatic-filtered summers. Robertson’s short fiction has won a Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and her strengths at that length appear here too: wonderful cinematic detail, precise character observation, and pithy insights into the strong relationship between the two sisters. But novels require something more, and this one falls short of feeling cohesive, with too many characters coming across as shadowy or sketchy. The various episodes, sometimes separated by years, are not convincing enough to work as fragments of a whole. Agent: Karolina Sutton, Curtis Brown. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2017
Release date: 09/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 240 pages - 978-1-63557-070-0
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