Eric's Reviews > Annabel

Annabel by Kathleen Winter
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's review
May 07, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read in April, 2012

The book was the best novel I have ever read. I normally don't like fiction but this is the first novel that ever made me cry while I was reading. It resonated with me on so many aspects:

•I have been struggling with my sexuality for a very long time. Except for one major difference, which is that Wayne is a hermaphrodite and I am a physically "normal" male, I was astonished at the number of similarities between Wayne and me:
••I have always felt like a female soul out of sync with my body. Ever since I was growing up, my family and relatives often insisted that I should act more like a boy and that I was like a girl.
••Mom and my two older sisters were the only people I was close to who were always more understanding and who never enforced to me the need to behave like a boy, as my dad and relatives and even classmates did to me. Also, after years of repressing my true self and adopting behaviours that I hoped would make me seem more like what people would expect of me as a male, I feel as though much of my innate self and femininity have been altered and repressed, and even some parts seem to have been forgotten forever, such that now I feel neither male nor female.
••The only true friends I naturally made from kindergarten to early elementary (grade 3) were females, except, starting around grade 4, I ended up starting to deliberately barricade myself from both females and males, after being tired of being teased for hanging out with girls and being girly; this has been part of my ongoing "project" to adopt manly traits and cut out my innate female-like behaviours, which included hanging out with females. So I have stayed without any friend ever since, and I have been very lonely, though now it's not as bad because I seem to have become inured to it after more than a decade with no single friend (I'm approaching 24 in a few months).
••I had several moments when other person(s) suspected if I liked some other girl(s) in a sexual way when in fact I liked them just as a girl would like another girl or when I just had nothing to do with such girls except for some school or extracurricular purposes. Dad seems to be deliberately doing a lot of this even though I have hinted several times that I don't like girls sexually. He frequently mentions when I will have a girlfriend and my marriage and so on, possibly seeming to believe that there is no such thing as LGBT and denying who I really am.
••People struggling with the problem of the sort that Wayne and I are struggling with seem to unusual that no one seems to be able to help much. Similar but not identical to Wayne's experience, I have previously gone to a psychiatric ward where I met some doctors and several interns, with whom I just felt helpless, like wasting my and their time. It's just unfair why such sexual minorities have to go through this and are born like that in the first place.
••I too have been longing to be secure in terms of sexuality just like the majority of people: “He wished at that moment that his whole life had not been a secret, that lots of people were like him, instead of his being alone in a world where everyone was secure in their place as either woman or man. His aloneness was what made him feel ashamed, and he did not know why it had to be so.”
••“Victoria Huskins looked him in the eye. She did not linger on his hair or his clothing or his makeup. 'So you are selling meat from a van.' She had not asked him about his appearance. They were a thousand miles from Croydon Harbour. She waited for him to tell her more but did not appear to be curious about his maleness or femaleness.” I too have experience dealing with situations where I was uneasy with how the other person(s) would notice or think about my certain traits and behaviours with regard to sexuality. Wayne worried about the makeup when he was meeting Victoria Huskins, but in my case, there are several things, including many subtle behaviours that are difficult to put into words, and also my voice. i.e. It may seem silly but I use a more feminine voice with my family or people to whom I can be myself, and the masculine or lower-pitched voice with strangers or acquaintances.

•This novel seems very timely, so much so that I felt very surprised and thought of the ideas about the curious invisible forces of the universe, like the law of attraction, as if the universe has some kind of a plan for people who live in harmony with its tendencies (as by leaving enough space in daily life for spontaneity, open-mindedness, self-reflection, and so on). A few days before I attended the early April 2012 bookclub to find out that Winter's novel will be the next novel for the meeting in early May (which happened yesterday), I had disclosed my sexuality problem (kind of “coming out") for the first time to one of my second oldest sister in late March, during which I mentioned the possibility of an existence of a female or male soul and how I seem to have been born with a female soul. That's when she revealed a family secret that my parents have been hiding from me for almost 24 years: My mom was pregnant with a third daughter in ~1986, but due to a harsh opposition from dad and his side of the family who badly wanted a son (which is rather understandable from my culture's viewpoint, because he was the oldest son in his whole family and the culture put a great importance on the continuation of family's surname), mom ended up aborting the third daughter under threats of divorce. My very oldest sister had directly witnessed the incident and remember it from conscious memory because she was about 6 years old at the time. But how my second oldest sister found out about this is even more interesting; she was only around two years old at the time and had absolutely no conscious memory of it. But then she told me that, during her early 20s, she had a dream about it; when she woke up, she broached this to parents out of suspicion and my parents admitted it. When I first heard this, I was really shocked and couldn't believe this so I shortly confirmed this with my oldest sister and later with mom. Dad still is unaware that I know this.

•Somewhat related to the immediately above is the idea of medical or spiritual mysteries, specifically reincarnation. I am suspecting that I might be that aborted female soul, though this is only a speculation. I am not religious in any sense, but I read in Buddhist literature that being born is a great opportunity for any soul and that being aborted leaves a great trauma on the soul, such that when the soul is reincarnated after an abortion, the soul is born with disadvantages than if it were given the opportunity to grow without being born. I indeed seem to have been born with a trauma, because I had a lot of fear of anything and everything new, and especially was scared of going to the barbershop because I was extremely fearful of scissors and other metal tools (which might have reminded me of similar tools used in abortion).

•Today's world seems to be severely lacking in compassion, kindness, unconditional love, understanding, valuing of individuality or uniqueness and instead putting much greater importance on the physical or material over the invisible or less tangible. The world is fraught with tendencies like conformity, discouragement of individuality, and other earthy inclinations like judgmentality, closedmindedness, unimaginativeness, labelling and categorization of people as if people were mere static things, materialism, excessive focus on other people's perception of ourselves (as manifest in the use of the makeup), vanity, arrogance, unwillingness to see people for who they are. I also thought that the hardships of Wayne were extended to sexuality problems in general. “Wayne saw that the faces, bodies, clothes, and shoes of the men and women who passed him had been divided and thinned. The male or female in them had been both diluted and exaggerated. They were one, extremely so, or they were the other. The women trailed tapered gloves behind them and walked in ludicrous heels, while the men, with their fuzzy sideburns and brown briefcases, looked boring as little beagles out for the same rabbit. You define a tree and you do not see what it is; it becomes its name. It is the same with woman and man. Everywhere Wayne looked there was one or the other, male or female, abandoned by the other.”

•Treadway's decision to give up the revenge of Wayne's ill treatment by Derek, as well as Donna's bullying of others, reminded me of the idea that the earth seems to be some kind of a purgatory, or how Aldous Huxley said that the earth may be another planet's hell, where everyone has his or her own sufferings and accordingly we all need compassion, regardless of who we are.



Here are some things I was wondering about:

•I was curious whether Wayne's peeling feet is one of Winter's trying to suggest that he is a reincarnated Annabel, with the other two hints being Wayne's recurring dream of being a girl and Thomasina's frequently seeing or calling him as Annabel. The way I see it is that Annabel drowned to death and if a person is in water long enough, the skin peels off. At first, I did not quite understand the significance of this peeling feet but now I think I do, but I would like to make sure. I googled about Annabel's peeling feet but couldn't find anything related to it and several reviews I have read at Goodreads had no mention of it, possibly because it may be a relatively minor aspect compared with other things in the novel.

•With regards to characters, my most favourite has to be Thomasina, who is very compassionate, understanding, human, kind, insightful and wary or critical of the earth's materialistic tendencies. I dislike how Treadway is like my own dad, in that he is closedminded and practices self-denial (at least initially for Treadway), trying to categorize Wayne’s difficulties as a “mental” problem. I didn't like Donna either but I thought I would exhibit some of her characteristics if I were born in fully female body in the first place: desire for popularity, interest in occult, arrogance, and deriving pleasure from others' pain.

•Some members of the bookclub wondered about the meaning of the bridge where Wayne and Wally hung around. One member suggested that it might stand for the reconciliation of Wayne's male and female parts, but is that it?
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09/27/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Jessica I didn't mark any passages as I was reading this, so I like that you pull out two of the more resounding quotes for me:

--“He wished at that moment that his whole life had not been a secret, that lots of people were like him, instead of his being alone in a world where everyone was secure in their place as either woman or man. His aloneness was what made him feel ashamed, and he did not know why it had to be so.”--

I think this speaks to the inherent shame that LGBTQ people feel. Kids are able to pick up on differences from a young age and the idea that being different somehow equates to being less than, or that being different is something to be ashamed of. More openess, more honesty (that Thomasina was constantly encouraging) at a young age can only help children that are born queer or gender-variant.

--“Wayne saw that the faces, bodies, clothes, and shoes of the men and women who passed him had been divided and thinned. The male or female in them had been both diluted and exaggerated. They were one, extremely so, or they were the other. The women trailed tapered gloves behind them and walked in ludicrous heels, while the men, with their fuzzy sideburns and brown briefcases, looked boring as little beagles out for the same rabbit. You define a tree and you do not see what it is; it becomes its name. It is the same with woman and man. Everywhere Wayne looked there was one or the other, male or female, abandoned by the other.”--

What a brilliant way to point out the extremes in our culture of how important appearances are to some people and how important the idea of being ultra-feminine or ultra-masculine is to some. Many have the idea that you're not really a woman unless you have an extremely feminine appearance, or the idea for men that certain things have the ability to detract from your masculinity. I think you see this concept even in drag queens who completely over-exaggerate female attributes to the point of appearing clownish. I think anyone can learn from that statement, "Everywhere Wayne looked there was one or the other, male or female, abandoned by the other." It's somewhat heartbreaking - the idea that we are abandoning parts of ourselves, discarding that which society deems does not fit with the decided definition of our gender.


message 2: by Spotsalots (new) - added it

Spotsalots Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary on a beautiful book.


Larry Bassett The fact that people have a mixture of both feminine and masculine, with the center being different for each person, seems so obvious. I love the choreographed backhoes.


message 4: by Mj (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mj What an open, thoughtful and heartfelt review.

I agree that the father was initially harsh and in denial. I chalked much of that up to his personality and circumstances (not fully knowledgeable or aware of hermaphrodites or attuned to his own or others’ feelings and emotions.) By the end I thought he truly shifted (at least as much as he was capable of) - displaying true love for his son and full acceptance. I wish the same for you and your father.


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