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by Nancy Huston

Prodigy, a new novella by Giller-nominated author Nancy Huston, is a strange, lush little tale. Told from the points of view of half a dozen characters, it recounts the symbiosis of three women: Lara, a piano teacher whose talent never took her far enough; Sofia, her no-nonsense Russian mother; and Maya, Lara’s brilliantly gifted child, a joyful piano prodigy for whom her mother quite literally gives up everything. Prodigy is simple and beautiful, but its structure and brevity did leave me wanting more.

The setting is the south of France (Calgary-born Huston has made her home in France since 1973), where Lara and her husband, Robert, share a comfortable home with Sofia. The story begins with a warily pregnant Lara – childless, having already had several miscarriages – going into dangerously early labour. After giving birth to a sparrow-sized Maya, Lara keeps her daughter alive by, it would seem, sheer force of will. Sitting next to the hospital incubator for months, Lara becomes convinced that her daughter will be a prodigy – possessed of the magnificent talent she herself lacks – and that only she can nurture her.

Prodigy has an ethereal quality, a quiet foreboding. Maya herself is an innocent, a spirited, preternaturally gifted 10-year-old, but everyone around her watches her anxiously, and death seems to be in the air. A widower moves in next door, a sad, intelligent man obsessed with his dead wife and the lives of the saints, while his 14-year-old nephew befriends Maya and gently teaches her about life and death vis-à-vis insects. As Maya’s talent far eclipses her mother’s and death comes closer to home, the tautly pulled Lara snaps.

It’s a compelling story, vividly wrought. But the conceit of alternating points of view in short bursts, and the slight length, make Prodigy read something like a treatment for a screenplay – albeit a very good one.


Reviewer: Barbra Leslie

Publisher: McArthur & Company


Price: $24.95

Page Count: 144 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 1-55278-154-2

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 2000-9

Categories: Fiction: Novels