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This Body

by Tessa McWatt

“How does it feel to be an echo?” is the question that both drives and thwarts Victoria Blayne, the protagonist of Tessa McWatt’s third novel. This Body is a story of self-reckoning, an exploration of the choices we make to swaddle ourselves against hurt and how these choices both help and harm us.

Born and raised in Guyana, Victoria flees her homeland for Toronto because “the government was no better than her relations at truth.” In fact, Victoria’s not so good at truth-telling herself, especially when it comes to facing up to the departures in her past. While in Toronto, she falls deeply in love with Kola, a refugee from Kenya who harbours his own share of secrets. Six years into their relationship, Kola disappears, and Victoria carries this loss forward as she emigrates once again, to London, and immerses herself in the only sensual experiences she can bear: those involving the purchase and preparation of food.

Victoria is 61 when the novel opens, working as a baker with her sometime lover Lenny, and trying hard to adjust to motherhood – her sister has recently been killed in a car accident, leaving an eight-year-old boy, Derek, in her care. This first section of three – in which Victoria and Derek circle each other cagily, shocked by grief and uncertain of their roles – tends toward the self-conscious and overwrought. Victoria often thinks in convoluted metaphors that detract from the authenticity of her voice and make it difficult to sympathize fully with her predicament.

It is in the latter two sections, when she meets and begins to fall for Alexander, the father of one of Derek’s classmates, that she finally becomes less a collection of abstractions and more a cohesive, credible character. The love affair – courtship and consummation – also brings momentum and intrigue to the plot. Both Victoria and Alexander are 55-plus, passionate, complicated, careworn people, and this makes for some very poignant and truthful scenes. Especially successful is McWatt’s evocation of a trip the reconstituted family takes to France. Here she summons up not only a solid sense of place, but also the very real tensions swirling among the aging lovebirds and surly preteens.


Reviewer: Heather Birrell

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 328 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-200565-4

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 2004-8

Categories: Fiction: Novels