Shani Mootoo's novel Polar Vortex is a domestic drama about the complexities of modern love
Shani Mootoo is a writer and visual artist who has been longlisted for both the Giller Prize and the Booker Prize. Her novels include her 1997 debut Cereus Blooms at Night and 2014's Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab.
Her latest, Polar Vortex, is about a love triangle between Priya, Alexandra and Prakash — and all the secrets, lies and half-truths that revolve around them.
Mootoo spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Polar Vortex.
Love is bliss?
"I was wondering about love stories and who enjoys them. What happens at a time when you're beginning a new love and it seems all so wonderful? There are truths hanging around that we don't tell each other at the beginning of a relationship.
What happens at a time when you're beginning a new love and it seems all so wonderful?
"Later on, when you start to have a more stable kind of relationship, what about the things that you didn't tell at first, things you might not want to tell because they could disrupt the bliss that you had started out with?
"That's how I ended up writing this particular story."
A literary challenge
"This novel comes out of a challenge that was posed by V.S. Naipaul several years ago. I was at a dinner at his sister's house in Trinidad and he asked me, 'Why don't you write what you don't know rather than always writing about home?' That became the purpose of my life for a while.
"I found that before I could write about this place that I am living in, I had to do a lot of photography of the minutiae. I'm not looking at the landscape like a tourist who sees the beautiful big vista and then drives on. I actually look at the tiny plants, the pebbles, the holes in the ground, all kinds of things like that. I tried to do that in Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, but in Polar Vortex I wanted to focus on it more.
I'm still trying to find that balance between my Trinidadianness and my Canadianness.
"Quite often, immigrants — particularly immigrants of colour — when they go into a new country, they congregate in cities.
"I've always been in love with landscape, cityscapes not so much. I wanted to learn these things intimately and writing about it was another way to try to find language.
"I'm still trying to find that balance between my Trinidadianness and my Canadianness. I'm hoping that will allow me to stop being the immigrant writer and be the Canadian writer."
"The past also creates us. It's a real project to try to shake off the negative aspects of ourselves. When we're under pressure, those aspects do come up.
"I find that fascinating, that you could live with someone for a long time and you could look into their eyes and have no idea what they really mean or are thinking. I find that frightening and exciting and interesting. It's very much what I wanted to explore in the novel — this idea of people who are so close, so supposedly loving, and yet there may be stories they are harbouring they never want you to know.
The past also creates us. It's a real project to try to shake off the negative aspects of ourselves.
"That's probably the way it is in all relationships. But there are aspects of myself that I don't want made public. I keep those under lock and key. Priya does that thing a little bit as well."
Shani Mootoo's comments have been edited for length and clarity.