Skip to main content
book review

The Globe and Mail

When we first meet 14-year-old Freddy Duchamp in the opening pages of Kari Maaren's award-winning debut novel Weave a Circle Round, life isn't going awfully well. It's not bad enough that she and her brilliant younger sister, Mel, have to live with their geeky, "hulking giant" of a stepbrother Roland. It's not bad enough that their newly remarried mother has all but disappeared into her new relationship. It's not bad enough that her long-time friends have, over the course of summer vacation, suddenly grown up and largely abandoned her.

No, worst of all are the new neighbours.

Freddy and her siblings meet 14-year-old Josiah and the eccentric Cuerva Lachance when the newcomers crash the van transporting their furniture and household goods into a tree out front of the mysterious house around the corner. Josiah is quick to correct Freddy when she mistakes Lachance for his mother; the nature of their relationship is much more complicated than that and underlies the bulk of the book. A more pressing question for the reader, however, is the relationship Lachance has with the mysterious woman in the prologue (set four years earlier). On a park bench, that mysterious woman gave Freddy an unusual key, making her (Freddy) swear not to tell her (the mysterious woman) that she (the mysterious woman) gave it to her (Freddy). It's all very confusing, and while we're pretty sure that woman and Lachance are one and the same, it's not quite as straightforward as that.

The confusion and unanswered questions are just part of the fun of Weave a Circle Round, a novel that challenges and delights at every turn.

Maaren, who also writes comics, is something of a fixture on the Toronto speculative-fiction scene. She has a PhD in English literature, with a focus on Middle English romance and a keen interest in fairy tales, and she teaches at Ryerson University. Her writing is rooted in both of these threads: fandom and rigorous academic grounding. As a result, Weave a Circle Round may be the first novel to include multiple references to Doctor Who while also using Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kublai Khan as a crucial plot point.

Weave a Circle Round steadfastly occupies the shakiest of terrain: It's a fantasy novel that is aware of fantasy novels and manages to create something new and powerful out of familiar tropes and approaches. The story feels familiar – Lachance, for example, could have walked fully formed out of A Wrinkle in Time – but there's a deliberateness to it.

It may seem an odd thing to say about a novel that includes time travel, but one of the key strengths of Weave a Circle Round is its realistic treatment of its characters. That verisimilitude – which extends to the three main adolescent characters – serves to anchor a story which, in virtually every other way, careens almost out of control. It's the sort of novel that makes one bark out a laugh at its sheer audacity.

Michael Redhill has won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel 'Bellevue Square,' about a woman on the hunt for her doppelganger. The Toronto author says it would have been foolish to imagine he could win the award.

The Canadian Press