Annabel 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.
Atlantic Books: London 9781838952440 211 pages Hardback