The Break by Katherena Vermette
Leaving Stella to her angst, the novel dips into the heads of multiple characters before we piece together what happened. Dipping into the conflicted lives of a policeman, a teenager on the run from a detention centre and several members across three generations of an extended family, I almost gave up – although the family tree did help me orientate myself a little.
When I could finally settle into the story, it proved an interesting introduction to the Canadian Métis (hitherto completely unknown to me) and the racism they encounter, even from partners if those partners are white. While having built their lives in the city, they still feel the pull of “the bush” further north, where a lot of the menfolk have retreated. It’s not a spoiler to say that the novel ends with a sweat lodge cleansing ritual.
Before that point, the novel explores the strength and support between women as they gather around the bedside of the assault victim, but also their wounds (and not only from the attack) and their violence. Highly praised by Margaret Atwood, Katherena Vermette’s debut is published in the UK by Atlantic, who provided my review copy.
Ferocity by Nicola Lagioia translated by Antony Shugaar
Not the best introduction to the Salveminis although, unlike many of the VIPs in this part of southern Italy, the reader only has to encounter them on the page. The father, Vittorio, has risen from nothing to head of a powerful construction empire, and he hasn’t done it by sticking to the rules. Although none of his four children are employed by the company, they’re all embroiled in its misdeeds. If the business goes under, so will they.
Ruggero, the eldest, owes his position as deputy head of a prestigious cancer research and treatment institution to his father, and is expected to use it in the interests of the family firm. Clara, although married, uses her sexuality – and I couldn’t work out how willingly, although perhaps not very since it involved a lot of cocaine – to compromise older men. It falls to Michele, the emotionally neglected product of one of Vittorio’s extramarital liaisons, to act as the moral compass although, initially, he has limited power to use it. As a child, he attempted to burn the house down. As an adult, partly estranged from the family, he starts investigating the death of the only member of the family seemed to care for him.
Winner of the 2015 Strega Prize, and praised for its “linguistic brilliance”, I actually found it overly long and overwritten, necessitating repeated checking back for whether a reference was to be taken literally or metaphorically. This 2017 translation from the Italian is published by Europa editions, who provided my review copy. Although I might still be unclear as to what exactly happened to Clara, it’s always interesting to read about dysfunctional families, and about corruption in the construction industry, so soon after At Dusk.
If you’re looking for some family crises more in keeping with the season, click on the image below for my post on 8 fictional Christmases from a couple of years ago – but do come back as I have another cracker to pull with you!
If you’ve been here before, you’ll probably recognise the dark blue cover immediately above. But do you know the figure to the left? She’s Lisa Burton, a robot radio geek created by Craig Boyack, and she’s recently interviewed Steve, the creepy central character of my second novel, Underneath. Do listen in if you’ve time!
 It's a radio show, but it appears in text on Craig's blog.