Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I have been travelling back and forth to Canada quite a bit these past few years, and every time I do, I try to come back with a book by an indigenous author – books that are often difficult or impossible to obtain on this side of the Atlantic.

My latest acquisition is the Giller shortlisted Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, and this is the first of a planned trilogy of books about the Trickster, Wee’git, the shape-shifting Raven of Haisla stories, the bad example who teaches children the rules by breaking every one of them.

This is no traditional folk tale, though. Robinson places Wee’git firmly in the modern world. Kitimat, where the author lives and the book is set, was a town dominated by the Eurocan pulp and paper mill – a company that was at once a big employer and a big polluter. So when the mill closed, despite the harm it had done to the land, it sent a seismic shock through the community.

It is in this world that Jared is growing up. His parents have split up. His father is unemployed. His mother is on drugs and his dog has just died. Jared wants to get through Grade 10 and keep his family safe, but nothing is ever quite that simple. Especially when (as one of his grandmothers insists) your father just might be Wee’git.

Just because this book has a teenage protagonist and deals in magic, don’t imagine this is a YA novel, or that it bears any resemblance to Harry Potter. The book explodes into swear words (including the c-word) within the first couple of pages. Drugs, alcohol and violence fuel a good part of the action. And the magic it deals in (from talking ravens to eco-warrior otters) is neither good nor evil, but dark and unquestionably dangerous.

For a good part of the book it is unclear – to Jared or to the reader - whether the strange things that keep happening are the result of magic or the product of too many drugs. Just when you think you’ve got to grips with it, the novel twists and turns and throws up more surprises. What is clear – despite what appears to be his wildly dysfunctional upbringing – is both Jared’s kindness and his intelligence. You care about what happens to him because he cares so much about those around him (even when it hardly seems to be reciprocated).

This is a wild trip of a novel, and not for the faint-hearted. I look forward to getting my hands on the next part of the trilogy when it comes out!

This excellent interview with Eden Robinson from Prism Magazine explains at lot of the background to the novel – the Haisla stories that shape it, and the social and ecological conditions in the troubled communities it describes.

The interview also finishes with a fabulous list of Canadian indigenous women authors I shall be adding to my wish list for my next visit.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Augustown by Kei Miller, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Disposable People by Ezekel Alan

Avoid If You Dislike: Swearing, drugs, alcohol and violence mixed with magic

Perfect Accompaniment: Spaghetti and moose meatballs

Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming-of-Age Novel

Available on Amazon

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