Most of the time, my journalistic writing exercises might be 500 to 1,000 words in length, so I can’t conceive of writing a novel. Two women from the Valley have published entire novels this year. I can only admire them.
Zanne Handley’s novel is titled Pilgrimage. A piece of historical fiction, it is about literal, spiritual and emotional journeys that might have occurred 500 years ago in countries around the Mediterranean.
Handley is a teacher at Bridgetown Regional High School and she loves to write. There is no question Pilgrimage was derived from her own conversion to Islam, her travels and a history degree from Acadia.
It revolves around Sa’iid, the son of a French cloth merchant in Tunisia, who converts to Islam. He ends up travelling by foot with a French girl. Mariange is miserable in her village in the Pyrenees, so they are both escaping the confines of their birthplaces.
The pair are unlikely companions, and that is what captures a reader’s attention. A romance between the pair is inevitable, but few of us could imagine the territory they pass through.
Handley, a mother of two, utilized a post-modern feminist sensibility while conceiving what confronts Mariange in Tunis, who is a brave and estimable young heroine.
Wanda Campbell’s novel, Hat Girl, is a first after she produced five books of image-filled poetry. The plot revolves around a young chef from Toronto, Pertice McIlveen, who inherits a tiny house on Gannet Island, an island like Grand Manan. The stranger intent on giving her the property loves hats.
Although Pertice doesn’t know it, she is ready for adventure. She becomes the Hat Girl, working hard during the tourist season and discovering life alongside the Bay of Fundy.
Although she has an inexplicable penchant for Ernest Hemingway’s bull fighting novel, Pertice knows little about fishing or isolated environments. Eventually, this plucky young heroine catches the eye of two brothers, both Gannet Island natives.
I was kind of surprised that Campbell, who teaches creative writing at Acadia University, steered clear of ‘capital L literature’ and wrote a novel that has a focus for female readers. Pertice’s adventures made for an enjoyable book. It was amusing to read about life on an island not far from here. The winner of the H.R. Percy Prize in the 33rd Atlantic Writing Competition, Hat Girl is a book I recommend.
There is no question that both Pilgrimage and Hat Girl are works of fiction informed by the gender of their authors. Written by women with a willingness to stretch their writing boundaries, both novels make for worthwhile reading.