Books·Canadian

Polar Vortex

Polar Vortex is a novel by Shani Mootoo.

Shani Mootoo

Some secrets never die...

Priya and Alexandra have moved from the city to a picturesque countryside town. What Alex doesn't know is that in moving, Priya is running from her past — from a fraught relationship with an old friend, Prakash, who pursued her for many years, both online and off. Time has passed, however, and Priya, confident that her ties to Prakash have been successfully severed, decides it's once more safe to establish an online presence. In no time, Prakash discovers Priya online and contacts her. Impulsively, inexplicably, Priya invites him to visit her and Alex in the country, without ever having come clean with Alex about their relationship — or its tumultuous end. Prakash's sudden arrival at their home reveals cracks in Priya and Alex's relationship and brings into question Priya's true intentions.

Seductive and tension-filled, Polar Vortex is a story of secrets, deceptions, and revenge. It asks readers: Are we ever free from our pasts? Do we deserve to be? (From Book*hug Press)

Polar Vortex is on the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist.

Shani Mootoo is a writer and visual artist who has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her debut novel was 1997's Cereus Blooms at Night.

Giller Prize jury citation: "A keen meditation on the complexities of identity and desire, Polar Vortex is the unsettling examination of a failing marriage.  In a small, southern Ontario town, Priya impulsively invites an old suitor, Prakesh, to spend the night and his arrival triggers the fault lines in her relationship with Alexandra.  Conflicting wants and untold truths drag the past into the present.  Memories cascade and clash as Mootoo masterfully dismantles the stories the narrators tell themselves in language as unsparing as winter."

From the book

I stormed past her, out of the main part of the house and to my studio. At once I remembered the installation — three altarpieces made for a gallery exhibition that had taken place years before I knew Alex — based on that old recurring dream, the one I awoke to just a short while ago. Pieces of it — three dark brown beer bottles — are stored on a shelf, there for all to see. I'd removed the original labels from the bottles and made my own for each. Alex had once, a good while ago, held up one of the bottles and examined the label, but didn't pay it more than cursory attention. I had observed this but offered no explanation. The label on the bottle she held is a composite photograph of a bride and groom standing around a Hindu-like altar, a square box filled with dirt low on the ground. At the centre of the altar a fire burns brightly. The bride wears a red wedding sari. Behind them is a wall of red paper decorated with gold paisley. The marrying couple is arranged so they seem to be praying together, their eyes fixed on the fire in the altar. Prakash is the man in the photo. I dressed up and posed for the photo of the woman, but my face is hidden behind a veil.


From Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo ©2020. Published by Book*Hug.

Why Shani Mootoo wrote Polar Vortex

"Polar Vortex is about Priya, a Trinidadian Indian lesbian who came to Canada at a young age. She doesn't know what the possibilities are for her, living as a lesbian. What she knows, is that she will struggle with family. She is trying to figure out if it is possible to keep her family through marrying a man.

"I know a lot of people, particularly Trinidadian Indian men, who are gay but have married women. That is unfair to do to the woman. Some of the women know, but they're kind of trapped, or maybe there's good money involved.

In the end, love — to truly love and to truly be loved — that's authenticity. You want authenticity.- Shani Mootoo

"In the end, love — to truly love and to truly be loved — is authenticity. You want authenticity. That's what I was trying to get to with this book. Priya is living a life of constantly trying to figure these things out."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

Interviews with Shani Mootoo

Shani Mootoo on her new novel Polar Vortex, about the secrets, lies and half-truths at the heart of a love triangle. 18:02
Shani Mootoo and Kim Fu on exploring gender variance in fiction 17:40

Other books by Shani Mootoo

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now