Mouthing the Words
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Mouthing the Words

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  393 ratings  ·  44 reviews

Thelma is six years old. Life at home is unsettling and disturbing; her father's games are not enjoyable and her mother dotes on Willy, the favoured child. When her parents move to Canada, Thelma smuggles her imaginary friends with her in her suitcase.



By turns harrowing and wonderfully funny, Mouthing the Words tells Thelma's story of sexual abuse, anorexia, borderline m

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Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published (first published 1999)
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Claire Arnold
Nov 12, 2007 Claire Arnold rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: have-read
Sharp, witty & darkly humourous, this book is a fantastic read. I read it in a day & found the characters easy to relate to. The imagery is extremely realistic without being overpowering & is exceptionally delicate.
Melinda
From the look of this book, I was expecting casual young adult fiction, but it was neither a casual story nor YA lit. Relatively short, at only 238 pages, the novel was intense, serious with subtle touches of humor, and beautifully written. Gibb covers some intense subject matter, such as the sexual abuse and mental illness of the protagonist, and handles it adeptly — the protagonist’s emotional state is convincingly bleak, but without turning the novel into a suffocating wasteland.

Some quotes:

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Stephanie (Stepping out of the Page)
This book was excellent. It was original, intriguing and interesting, dealing with several difficult subjects without becoming too 'heavy' or feeling too tragic. This book isn't your average 'tragic life story' - it's more. It's easy to get lost inside Thelma's rather complex mind, explore her mental state and the thoughts that this brings her. It's not boring and although you may look back and think some of the things in the book are almost unbelievable, it feels completely realistic. The prota...more
Andy Quan
Funny. I've had a couple of books that are taking me ages to read. But I found a copy of Camilla Gibb's Mouthing the Words in a crazy op shop on Redfern Street (for one dollar...), was intrigued and finished it in two days. Published in 2002, at a time when I was paying attention to new voices in Canadian fiction, I remember hearing good things about the book... so have been meaning to read it now for over a decade.

I enjoyed it. The best thing about the book is Thelma, spiky and funny and traum...more
Ann
Thelma's story hurt me. Physically. I had a sharp pain in my midsection when I read about her torture at the hands of her father.

He was a monster. But her mother was the Karla Homolka of the story, without being formally acknowledged as such.

It is no wonder that Thelma went off the rails. Convincingly, unsurprisingly, and luckily for me, as a reader, she also survived and rediscovered life, from a new perspective.

The help, both professional and personal, she had recovering lightened the dark h...more
Emma
It took me a chapter or two to fully entangle myself in this book (more because of my personal head space than anything else, I think) but once I was in, I was in. Simultaneously tender and brutal, Mouthing the Words is perhaps one of the most resonant survivor journeys I have ever seen represented in the written form.

I particularly appreciated the fragmented and darkly chaotic passages describing Thelma's experiences with her father and with her subsequent illness as a young woman. The style of...more
Tiffany
I bought this book from a second-hand store in Paris. I'm French-Canadian but my French has become rusty over the years, so I've dedicated myself to reading more books in what is supposed to be my first language. And where better to start than Paris?

But I can't really review this book. This is the first French title I read in eight years, so I don't yet feel qualified to comment on its translation due to my eroded French. It's not that I didn't get it, as I'm still quite fluent. It's just those...more
Hazel McHaffie
A clever and compelling read. An insightful and compassionate story of a Thelma, whose real and imaginary worlds are totally blurred. It deals sensitively with abuse and mental disorder and anorexia, and Gibb makes you really care about the welfare of this tortured girl. She doesn't wrap everything up neatly but leaves you with a sense of calm in spite of the harrowing experiences Thelma has survived.
Larissa
by turns witty, painful, heartbreaking, and beautiful, this book was a quick and refreshing read (i read it in a couple of hours). the author brings us into such an intimate world that shows how mental health, abuse, family issues, etc. can all intersect, and thelma becomes a character that comes to life at all ages and in all forms. really wonderfully written and beautifully felt.
Ellen
Hard reading, although not generally through things that are explicitly stated or described. Hard because the book depicts the emotions and coping mechanisms and slow unravelling of a child who's being sexually abused by her father (with her mother's knowledge) and who cannot find a way to escape.

Heartbreaking, eloquent, too easy to read really. An enigma.
liz
Kind of a fantastic exploration of a young woman's mental state, while growing up through early adulthood, as a result of her father's sexual abuse. On the one hand, she's quite self-aware, but at the same time she has a lot of denial about what, exactly, happens to her in the outside world. And it never really struck me as contrived.

I have always taken comfort in thoughts like these, all the childlike thoughts you have to make sense of your place in the world. In the thought that the real you...more
Beth
I read this book five years ago and though I thought it was okay back then, it's one of those books that's really stuck with me over the years and I wish more people would read it. Basically, it is the story a Thelma, a young girl from a dysfunctional home who is emotionally neglected by her mother and sexually abused by her father. In order to cope she invents personalities, imaginary friends, though later descends into anorexia, self-mutilation, etc. The tale is told, believe it or not, with h...more
Alan
It might seem strange to use an adjective like "beautiful" in describing " Mouthing the Words". After all the subject matter of child abuse and subsequent melt-down is hardly the stuff of beauty. Yet it is the word that comes to mind when I consider Camilla Gibbs' book. This is a beautifully crafted study of the consequences of abuse as told by the main character, Thelma. What is so appealing about this book is its human touch. It never strays form the personal experience of Thelma and therein l...more
Kelly
I found it hard to get use to the writer's style. I had to go back and reread things at first until I caught her rhythm. Also, there were a few times when I wasn't sure if things actually happened or were just a part of the characters psychosis. The book started off stronger than it ended. Her childhood was interesting, but her mental illness got a bit to out-there for me in the last half. I'll have to find you a good review to post since I can't seem to do it justice...
Dora Okeyo
This book offers an inside preview into the life of a girl who is abused by her Father and who in her own way wants to get over the fact that things are not right and she wants to make a meaning out of her life.
I was disturbed and most of the times felt uncomfortable reading this book because it just didn't feel right for a child to endure so much- but then such things do happen and Camilla Gibb uses words to show how awful such things are and also how one can rise above them.
Andria Mulet
This book was excellent. It was intense, serious with a few touches of humor, and beautifully written. Ms. Gibb covers difficult subjects without becoming too heavy or feeling too tragic. I finished it in a few days and found myself chuckling at some points and heartbroken at some points. Ms. Gibb manages to hold your emotion and humour despite all of the subjects, including homosexuality, suicide, abuse and mental illness. I would definitely recommend this book.
Brooke
This is the story of Thelma, an English girl who is mentally abused by both parents and sexually abused by her father. Told in the first person, the book shows how Thelma copes with the cruelties of her childhood and how this affects her later in life. Sometimes tragic, sometimes quirky, this is a touching book about coping with a terrible childhood and the scars it can cause. I didn't know what to expect with this book, but I thought it was well written and engaging.
Elia
This is one of the best books I have ever read from a childs point of view. We move through the protagonists stellar and quite imagination, her absences, her reworkings of reality as she tries to cope with the horror of family...
Though I read it so long ago it has always held me. Check out anything else by Gibb.
The Petty Details of So and So's Life is also great especially for capturing a complex and heart full brother and sister relationship.
Christina
Somewhere on the cover it likened this to The Bell Jar. Although the subject matter of mental illness is a haunting reality for woman everywhere this did not capture it quite as well as The Bell Jar, for me. The language felt immature (I might even classify this as a young adult book), but I suppose that was appropriate considering the mental/emotional state of the narrator.
Mark Nunn
I'm not sure where I picked this book up from, don't think it was mine. But I am very glad I did.

It's a very well executed description of a journey from an abusive childhood, though a fractured mental state, self harm, anorexia and multiple personality disorder. All with a very dry wit that allows these subjects to be explored without becoming depressing.
Anastasia
This was a moving, powerful book about a woman's attempt to cope with abusive parenting and sexual abuse. I found only bits of it funny and would not characterize it as a funny novel despite various descriptions of it as "darkly comic" and "by turns hilarious." It started off a little bumpy and ended kind of abruptly but the story was solid and worth reading.
Bradley
This really was just ok for me. VERY similar to "The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life" - but I think Petty Details does it much better. My personal preference for Gibb's books would be:
1) Sweetness in the Belly
2) Petty Details of So-and-So's Life
3) The Beauty of Humanity Movement
4) Mouthing the Words

Love you long time, Camilla Gibb.
carina
Oh so well written, so in your face, so hard-as-rock reality that it can hardly be put down. This book is compared (rightfully so) to the film Girl, Interrupted. My first impression of Camilla Gibb, and as such, I was stunned, it took my breath away. But not for the feint of heart, this is no escapist novel, nothing pretty here.
Jes
This book was breathtaking, and written so poetically. But at the same time it was frightening because I completely identified it. The only thing that irritated me was how it just suddenly stopped, but I guess it was the right ending, because that's how life is. There are never any happy endings. Just endings.
Deodand
I felt like I've read this book before in another form - a fiction about surviving rape and other childhood horrors. But Gibb put an interesting spin on it when she added dark humor to the mix.

The characters felt a bit stocked sometimes, but there was excellent momentum at the end of the story.
Kate
This is subtle. Or maybe it's not subtle. It's the story of a woman and how she went mad and how she became sane. I think I'd give this book 4.5 stars. At first, I thought it read like a children's story, but the language convinced me it wasn't one. A fascinating read.
Julie
Haunting, as exemplified in the front illustration; one of the sharpest bites of black humor in her novels to date. She eases off into more somber tones for her more recent works. For a first novel, it is worth hunting down for final copies as it is out-of-print.
Ayelet Waldman
I haven't really appreciated the "incest novel" genre for a long time. Dorothy Allison and Jane Smiley wrote astonishing books, and enough was enough as far as I was concerned. But I did read this all the way through, and did come to appreciate it as a good read.
Annette Olsen
I was really disappointed in this book. Camilla Gibb is a skilled writer but I never could connect to the characters in this novel and ended up feeling like I had waded through a bunch of muck but never arrived at the hoped for destination.
Kathy
I really liked this novel. It's not as good as "Sweetness in the Belly", but Gibb has a knack for bringing marginal characters to life. The protagonist is damaged and funny at the same time...someone I'd want as my friend.
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What's The Name o...: Story about an abused girl [s] 4 61 Jan 09, 2013 07:33PM  
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71991
From the author's web site:

"Camilla Gibb, born in 1968, is the author of three novels, Mouthing the Words, The Petty Details of So-and-so's Life and Sweetness in the Belly, as well as numerous short stories, articles and reviews.

She was the winner of the Trillium Book Award in 2006, a Scotiabank Giller Prize short list nominee in 2005, winner of the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000 and the reci...more
More about Camilla Gibb...
Sweetness in the Belly The Beauty of Humanity Movement The Petty Details of So-and-so's  Life The Penguin Book of Memoir The Journey Prize Stories 21: The Best of Canada's New Writers

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“Clench clench these strong teeth in this strong mouth. My mouth. Of my body. In my house. My mouth? Chapped lips swollen and bloody? Dream dreaming wide and thunder? My mouth! My God! This is me speaking. Not mouthing. Not typing and twitching. Not writing a suicide note the length of a novel that will never be finished. I hear voices now but I know they are not the voices of fathers or lovers, or mothers or angels or demons, but the sounds of my own private wars echoing the battles of women before me and near me. No wonder I do not make people comfortable. I am a mirror. I have far too many things to say. (p. 237-238)” 10 likes
“She asked me if Christmas was a particularly tense time and whether my father had ever hit my mother while trimming the tree. I couldn't remember anything like that happening, and although it seemed possible, I was suspicious when she asked me if my father had ever thrust the silver star at my mother to deliberately pierce her hand. I said "no" and she said "the bastard" and we both looked a little confused. (p. 9)” 1 likes
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