Monday, November 22, 2010 |
The book: Angie Abdou's remarkable debut novel The Bone Cage takes readers deep into the gruelling, often solitary world of amateur athletics. Neither a classic sports novel, nor a simple coming-of-age story, The Bone Cage offers a unique spin on both beloved genres. Read more >>
The author: The fierce drive of a former competitive swimmer and the imagination of a gifted fiction writer: these are the qualities that author and creative writing instructor Angie Abdou brought to her compelling first novel, The Bone Cage. Read more >>
The panelist: During his 11-year career in the National Hockey League, Georges Laraque was one of the most feared enforcers in the game. But off-ice, this talented tough guy has put his muscle behind a wide range of social causes, from relief efforts in Haiti to animal welfare. Read more >>
On the Canada Reads blog:
Cheering for The Bone Cage?
Check out Angie's live chat transcript below:
November 28, 2010Hi, I'm Barb, an associate producer at Canada Reads, and I'm really pumped -- because I believe that The Bone Cage can own the Canada Reads podium!
I've been passionate about sports ever since I was a kid -- as a participant and a spectator -- and I've loved books and writing too. It's made me a bit of an oddity in both worlds. In some ways, I'm very much a "jock," but many of the friends I play sports with aren't much into reading (unless it's the sports pages). And most of my bookish friends respect my appetite for exercise but can't quite relate when I get totally obsessed with, say, watching World Cup soccer matches for hours on end. Physical culture and the arts are two pastimes that have mostly remained separate spheres for me.
That's why The Bone Cage resonates so strongly. It's a vivid, compelling look at two elite athletes training for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. And with former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque backing it in the debates, I figure we have a winning team. Game on!
Will you be championing The Bone Cage this Canada Reads season? Why or why not?
December 5, 2010
I love sports and I'm an Olympics junkie, having soaked up the glory moments of winning performances and sat stunned and teary-eyed at heartbreaking failures. (Let's face it, the Games are the Puccini operas of the sporting world.)
But wrestling and swimming are two sports I have had absolutely no experience of and (to be honest) no real interest in. At least, not until I began reading The Bone Cage.
One of the book bloggers who praised The Bone Cage commented on how immersive it was (thanks, @treeleaning!). She wrote, "I could see, hear, feel, and smell this book... Abdou's description of a wrestling match was superb. I could see and hear the grunts and squeaks and the grappling and bodies slapping on the mats as if I were present in the arena." (Check out the full review here.) To me, that's the best aspect of the novel. It's difficult to write about exertion -- its combination of pain and rush -- without getting abstract, but Angie Abdou renders the experience in such vivid detail that the reader knows bodily what it feels like.
But hey, I don't want to give the impression that you have to be into sports to enjoy this book. Outside the wrestling ring and the swimming pool, Digger and Sadie face the kind of challenges we all do in dealing with family, lovers and close friends. They're not "heroic." They have complicated relationships, ups and downs, frailties -- and they're not always likeable. But they're totally believable as characters, and the more I read about them, the more I wanted to know what would happen to them.
Now, isn't that the sign of a story with a strong grip?
What were your first impressions of The Bone Cage?
I'm a voracious reader, but I don't keep books around unless they're real favourites -- so many books, so little shelf space. In effect, the titles that make the cut are my "essential reads." Note the plural: I'd hate to have to narrow it down to just one.
So how do I make a case for a single novel being essential for the whole country? To me, it comes down to this: a book deserves a spot on the national bookshelves if it tells a story that hasn't been told before and/or offers a unique viewpoint. Take that book off the shelf, and it leaves a gap in our collective cultural imagination.
The Bone Cage takes readers into a world that hasn't been previously explored in CanLit fiction. Every couple of years, the Olympics roll around and our foremost amateur athletes -- who have toiled in obscurity, for the most part -- stride into the media spotlight, carrying the hopes of the whole country on their shoulders. If they make the podium, we share their moment of glory. But the years of training, the injuries, the physical and psychological toll -- the back story -- remain hidden. And if they don't win a medal they bear the weight of the country's disappointment, and are quickly forgotten. The Bone Cage gives us the back story, in vivid and compelling detail. That's what makes it an essential read.
Is The Bone Cage an "essential" read for you? Why or why not?
December 19, 2010Consider: Canadians love the Olympics. (Check out all how many people are wearing those red mittens, eh!) According to the media consortium (CTV, Rogers, et. al.) with rights to the Vancouver games, coverage scored the top five most-watched events in Canadian television history and logged 251 million page-views online over the 16 days of competition. So a story about two athletes and their path to (potentially) the podium is sure to hit home with many readers across the country.
If there's one trait that's widely considered "Canadian," it's fairness -- and the narrative of The Bone Cage is the epitome of gender equity, since it's split between male (wrestler) and female (swimmer) viewpoints.
Thematic elements with a Canuck flavour: "road trips, ski chalets, hot tubbing, beer drinking, all = Canadian mountain culture..." (thanks for pointing that out on Twitter, @ruthseeley).
And hey, don't we all love an underdog? The other books on this year's list have already won awards and accolades, and they've all got a major publisher behind them. The Bone Cage is published by a small press, and when it first came out a few years ago, it didn't get the national attention it truly deserves. How about showing some love for a quiet, unassuming novel with genuine heart?
That's Canadian to the core.
Do you feel that The Bone Cage is a "Canadian" book? Why or why not?
January 8, 2011
The Bone Cage shifts back and forth between two main protagonists, swimmer Sadie and wrestler Tom (a.k.a. Digger). Both are sympathetic, totally believable characters, and I found myself really rooting for them on their respective Olympic journeys.
It's tough to choose between them -- so I won't! Instead, I'll opt for a secondary character who really stood out for me. Fly is one of the wrestlers who trains with Digger. Fun-loving and full of quips, he got his nickname partly because of his "constant buzzing." (Digger tells him at one point, "The only thing on steroids is your mouth.")
Fly isn't necessarily the kind of guy I'd take to in real life: he seems like a bit of a slob and he's often stuffing his face (it's not a good idea to read this book when you're hungry, by the way).
But as a character, he's a dynamo. He's the team's (and the book's) comic relief, a foil for the ultra-focused intensity of his fellow athletes. And in fact, though Fly is mostly a joker, he's also a symbol of the rigours of wrestling: we first get to know him when he ends up hospitalized after trying to sweat off enough weight to qualify for competition in his weight category.
He's no Olympian, but his personality is a winner for entertainment value. Chalk that up to Angie Abdou's ability to make even minor characters memorable.
Who is your favourite character in The Bone Cage?
January 15, 2011
What, I have to choose just one??
The fact is that Angie Abdou excels at taking the reader inside an athlete's experience, body and mind, whether it's Sadie in the pool or Digger on the wrestling mat. The perfect example: her vivid, visceral description of Digger's match against a rival who defeated him for a spot in the previous Olympics: it's payback time! The scene is a suspenseful account of "five minutes to determine whether Digger is ever going to be an Olympian. Or not." It also helps the reader to appreciate that the sport is not just about brute force; it requires strategy and cunning.
As a reader you feel what Digger is feeling, and follow his thoughts and the swing of his emotions. The way the match unfolds, it seems like an irresistible force (Digger) is pitted against an immovable object (Harrison), and it's not clear until the very end who will come out on top. Here's a sample of Angie's play-by-play:
"Digger jams the hard part of his right hand -- the bone along the thumb and heel -- just above Harrison's rib cage. Forcing his hands into Harrison's ribs with all his strength, he lets his breath out in a grunt, squeezing and squeezing. His legs dig into the mat; his thigh muscles throb. He presses and he presses, can feel the air going out of Harrison...Still, Digger doesn't loosen his grip; he squeezes tighter, feeling the blood throbbing in his own forehead."
I love sports -- but given this kind of scenario, I'm happy to experience wrestling only vicariously!
Which scene in The Bone Cage is your favourite?
January 22, 2011
The last novel from a CanLit icon, a standout in the graphic novel genre, a best-selling darling of book clubbers and a political satire that won the Stephen Leacock Award. I have to admit that The Bone Cage is an underdog in this company -- but hey, who would have thought that dark horse Nikolski would come out on top in last year's debates?
Formidable opponents all, but I think The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis is the front runner. As a relatively light and likable read, it probably won't attract a lot of flak from the other panelists -- and if their own pick gets eliminated, it's the kind of "compromise candidate" that may well sail through to the end.
And it's got fast-talking CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi as its booster. He definitely knows how to marshal an argument.
Georges, we've got a fight on our hands!
Which book do you think will be The Bone Cage's biggest competition?
January 29, 2011
Georges, mon ami,
In the cut and thrust of the Canada Reads debates, anything can happen and nothing is a sure thing. (That's part of the fun, isn't it?)
But if I have to give you one piece of advice for defending The Bone Cage, it would be somewhat antithetical to the enforcer role that you played for years in the NHL, when you were expected to be intimidating: play nice, at least at the start. Size up the competition, don't wade in with the haymakers. If you come out swinging hard at the other books, you risk alienating your fellow panelists and having them, in retaliation, gang up on The Bone Cage.
Oh, and remember to keep your elbows up at all times -- you never know when someone's going to lash out with a cheap shot.
I know you've got game -- so go out and give it all you've got!
What advice would you offer Georges Laraque?