Everything Affects Everyone by Shawna Lemay

Shawna Lemay’s spellbinding novel Everything Affects Everyone begins with Xaviere preparing to attend her friend Daphne’s funeral. After Daphne’s sudden death, Xaviere learned that Daphne—a friend from college who remained curious throughout her brief life—has bequeathed to her a collection of cassette tapes. The tapes contain the recording of Daphne’s interview with a photographer whom Xaviere has never heard of: Irene Guernsey (also deceased). On the tapes, Irene—an artist living a reclusive life in an isolated house outside Edmonton surrounded by wilderness, who rarely exhibited her work and never gave interviews—opens up to Daphne about an unsettling, otherworldly experience. Xaviere, stunned and fascinated by a dialogue that veers in unexpected, bewildering directions, finds herself drawn to their conversation in a profound, life-altering manner as Irene describes her efforts to photograph angels’ wings. Further research into Irene Guernsey and her work compels Xaviere to move into Irene’s house, and as this portion of the novel reaches its conclusion, Xaviere finds herself transformed by what she experiences.

The book’s latter sections take place after the passage of 20 years. We meet Sophie Angela Duras, a scholar who also feels a connection to Irene’s work, which is still not well known but has emerged somewhat from complete obscurity. Sophie has devised a project that involves listening in on conversations among people viewing works of art. She stations herself in a room at the Art Gallery of Alberta where some of Irene’s photos are on display and writes down what she overhears. But everything changes when one of Irene’s angel photos is stolen—someone simply carries the photo in its frame out the front door. The brazen theft galvanizes public interest in the exhibit and in Irene, to the extent that Irene’s life and work come to the attention of a famous filmmaker. Further conversations between intelligent, creative women follow, driven by questions around Irene’s aesthetic methods and motivations.

Suspense and tension in Lemay’s novel are not generated by the kind of event-driven narrative with which we are familiar. Rather, the impetus to keep turning pages is propelled by a relentless and sometimes playful flow of philosophical notions, theories and conjectures about what Irene was up to, and what the images themselves are telling us regarding unseen (perhaps unseeable and unknowable) aspects of our temporal existence. 

Everything Affects Everyone is an unexpected delight, a novel that defies many of the conventions of narrative fiction and leaves the brain humming with ideas about the nature of art, the mystery of creativity, the role of the artist in society and the need to stretch boundaries and continually challenge the status quo. Everything Affects Everyone inspires as well, by reminding us that, for many of us, art and life are intimately intertwined.

Shawna Lemay is the author of The Flower Can Always Be Changing (shortlisted for the 2019 Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction) and the novel, Rumi and the Red Handbag which made Harper’s Bazaar’s #THELIST. She has also written multiple books of poetry, a book of essays, and the experimental novel HiveAll the God-Sized Fruit, her first book, won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Calm Things: Essays was shortlisted for the Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction. She lives in Edmonton.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Palimpsest Press (Oct. 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 250 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989287840
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989287842

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.

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