Michelle Sinclair’s first novel, Almost Visible, begins with an ending. Bárbara, in a prison cell in an undisclosed location, gives birth to the daughter she will never see again. In the pathos of this opening, we realize that this will be a story of realities, not easy solutions.
This is the story of Tess, a young woman who moves from Nova Scotia to Montreal to find a fresh start in life. Jana, a childhood acquaintance, invites Tess to share her apartment and attempts to mentor her in her job hunt and social life. Jana is socially adept, insightful, and vibrant; Tess is not. Her job hunt is not focused or thorough, but eventually, she takes a volunteer position coordinating schedules with Meals on Wheels. One day, it falls to Tess to deliver a meal to Mr. Hewitt, a blind and very cynical older man who lives alone in an apartment crowded with memorabilia. While he is in the kitchen, she explores his belongs and finds his journal; on an impulse, she takes it with her.
In the journal, Tess discovers a love story set against a backdrop of political repression in an unnamed Latin-American country. The journal’s narrator, Andrés, is in love with Bárbara, a young woman with a passion for social justice. Andrés’ political expression is shaped by his feelings for Bárbara, and as her political commitment intensifies, he follows her lead. Andrés’ best friend is Martin, whose father is firmly on the political right; Martin notices and disapproves of the changes in Andrés. The tension is set.
Within the journal, there are moments of joy and beauty, like the wedding celebration hosted by Kiki and Carlos in the shantytown. This couple has suffered all loss, which has only increased their passion for life. There are also moments of grief, as when Bárbara and Andrés discover the rubble of the shantytown when they return. The social-political conflict unfolds on a very intimate level.
As Tess immerses herself in the journal, she becomes increasingly detached from her new life; her interest in Mr. Hewitt, the bitter and withdrawn keeper of the journal, becomes obsession: “…what happens when you’re stuck in someone else’s story? …I mean, when you mistake their story for your own, and you can’t move away, or move on?” she asks Jana.
Later, during Mr. Hewitt’s hospitalization, Tess begins to bond with him. He notices birds; he speaks of trust. They walk together and talk together. She ponders the journal story, yearning to know its completion. Her fascination drives her, and she becomes lost in her new friend’s story while increasingly alienated from her own life.
Almost Visible explores the depths of brokenness in the human condition but also embraces its dreams and hopes. Both Tess and her new friend hold truths in their pasts that surface one layer at a time. There are profound surprises as all secrets rise to the surface, and ultimately, each must discover, embrace, and live with the truths that haunt their lives.
There is an intensity in Michelle Sinclair’s writing – depth of insight into each character, each setting, and each moment – that draws the reader into the worlds of her story. Andrés reflects on his mother’s boring life: “Routine had become a crutch to help my mother through the days. I wonder whether routine keeps us away from something essential.” The transition into winter in Montreal is apt: “From one day to the next, a frosted cloak descends on the city. The city struggles to maintain its rhythm and sensuality, while people dig out their parkas and toques from their closets.” She captures a windy day at the wharf exactly: “Flags or sails flapped in the wind, banging out a rhythm.” She brings life to her characters and settings, and she tells their story with integrity.
Almost Visible is a powerful study in themes of cultural and personal memory that engages the reader with honest characterizations, vivid settings, and effective imagery. Every word, every moment, has a place in her writing. This makes for excellent reading.
Michelle Sinclair worked for two decades on policy related to human rights issues. She is fortunate to have lived, studied or worked in Australia, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Switzerland and the United States. She lives in Ottawa with her family. Almost Visible is her first novel.
- Publisher : Baraka Books; 1st edition (Sept. 1 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771862947
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771862943
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