Consent by Annabel Lyon: Who gives permission and who is to blame?

Cover image for Consent by Annabel LyonAnnabel Lyon’s Consent has been on my radar for some time thanks to Naomi and Marcie’s coverage of the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, always a prize worth keeping an eye on. Both Naomi’s Consumed by Ink and Marcie’s Buried in Print are excellent blogs to follow if you’re interested in Canadian fiction although not nearly enough of the books they cover make it on to UK publishers’ lists. Giller Prize longlisted books usually do, though, I’m glad to say. Lyon’s novel explores the idea of consent through the stories of two women, each very different form the other, both linked by the actions of one man.

Outside, late September’s gold spangled the trees. The sky was that high, pale, honest blue of the last fine days before the fall rains set in

Sara grows up watching her mother coping with the special needs of her sister Mattie, struggling after their father dies suddenly. Sara is a promising student with a secret ambition to go into fashion, so entranced by clothes that she starves herself to buy the infamous but stunning dress last worn by a model who had been raped and murdered. When their mother dies, Sara, now a celebrated ethicist, sets Mattie up so that she can live in their childhood home alone. Her visits become fewer and fewer until one day she finds Mattie has married Robert, their mother’s handyman. Appalled, Sara sets about undoing this union in which Mattie appears so happy but her efforts prove disastrous. Meanwhile, Saskia grows up in the shadow of her beautiful, bipolar twin. Jenny inhabits the party world of the well-connected interior designer, a constant source of worry to her wealthy parents, while Saskia doggedly continues with her literature studies. It’s Saskia who’s expected to decide Jenny’s fate when an accident leaves her in a coma. When, she discovers the provocative text which precipitated her twin’s accident, she begins to investigate who sent it leading her to Sara, both of them struggling with loss, grief and self-blame.

Actually, they were both hard: angry and unforgiving. Actually, they were both soft, tender with pain and childlike with incomprehension 

Lyon’s novel is a sophisticated, thought provoking exploration of the meaning of consent, and with it, culpability, wrapped up in a smart piece of suspenseful storytelling. Shifting perspectives back and forth between Sara and Saskia, Lyon skilfully sketches in their complicated backgrounds, their relationships with their sisters, their loves, friendships and desires while inching them closer together. Her writing is coolly precise, gripping and sometimes quite beautiful in its descriptions. Her characters are sharply observed and carefully nuanced – the plausible Robert could very easily have been portrayed as a two-dimensional monstrous predator. A very impressive piece of fiction whose denouement is a clever one, satisfying and cinematic in its delivery, which leaves its readers with much to think about. It’s the first novel I’ve read by Lyon but I’m delighted to find she has a pleasingly lengthy backlist to explore.

If you’d like to see Naomi and Marcie’s reviews of Consent, they’re here and here.

Atlantic Books: London 9781838952440 211 pages Hardback

16 thoughts on “Consent by Annabel Lyon: Who gives permission and who is to blame?”

  1. Consumed by Ink and Buried by Print I think they were called, sound really interesting. If I start following more blogs, I should look to those. Consent sounds brilliant. In thanks…

  2. Naomi and Marcie do write about some fascinating books. This novel seems like a thought provoking story for our times and one that might spark some interesting discussion for a book group.

  3. I’m so glad you liked this. Thought-provoking indeed! I did not see that ending coming. And I remember that second quote so well – it’s bang on.
    Consent is also my first time reading Lyon, although I’ve had The Golden Mean on my shelf for ages…
    Thanks so much for linking to our reviews and for the kind words about our blogs! *blush*

      1. Yes, they were. The Golden Mean is about Aristotle and Alexander while The Sweet Girl is a sort of sequel to it about Aristotle’s daughter. Both very good though this sounds entirely different!

  4. Just carrying on from your previous comment, this novel of hers is actually the outlier (along with her first small-press publication of short stories from the ’90s) in being contemporary. I think I’ve heard somewhere that she set herself a challenge in writing it. But even if you’re not necessarily into historical fiction, her earlier novels have been tremendously popular with readers who aren’t into it either. I’ve read The Sweet Girl and it is impressive (actually, I preferred it to this one) although not QUITE so plotty.

    And I echo Naomi’s gratitude in having so enthusiastically recommended our bookchat: very kind. I’m sorry that not more of the books are immediately available, but glad that you are able, on occasion, to locate some of them internationally.

    1. Despite not being a ‘natural’ historical fiction reader I often do enjoy it when I give it a try and Lyon’s writing is so good.

      All absolutely deserved! Sometimes I get lucky and when the Scotiabank Giller titles crop up I know there’s a fighting chance they’ll make it over here.

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