Breaking and Entering by Don Gillmor

A middle-aged woman, feeling stuck in her life – a marriage that seems to be floundering and she doesn’t care that much, a son at McGill who hasn’t shared any part of his life with them in years, a mother with dementia and a sister who lives hundreds of miles away that won’t stop issuing her opinions on how their mother is being cared for – finds a new hobby: lock-picking. Beatrice needs something, anything, to make her feel like she has something that’s interesting and new. And it turns out she’s pretty good at lock-picking. Breaking and Entering by Don Gillmor is a character study of a frustrated woman, in a dead-end, trying to figure out what’s next and what she should do amid the shifting contours of her life. It’s an oddly distant novel, somewhat detached from Bea and her thoughts, even though we spend most of the novel inside her head.

“If you like deep, focused character novels, then this is for you.”

If you like deep, focused character novels, then this is for you. Not a ton happens, some relationship friction, some friendship friction, and some sadness focused on a dying parent. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Bea’s life or story, other than she starts breaking into houses. These houses aren’t random choices: Bea often follows people and finds out where they live, before choosing to break in. She doesn’t steal, she just likes to observe and learn about these people’s lives. Gillmor’s writing is strongest in the passages where Bea is sneaking around these empty houses, peeling apart the lives of the occupants. This distant, almost clinical tone of these passages conveys the tension of these scenes incredibly well.

Bea is a character who doesn’t seem to have thought much about herself and her life, and even in this novel, she’s not terribly self-aware. It’s a true examination, if a gentle one, of how many of us who are white and privileged navigate the world and often thoughtlessly, cruelly judge others. Bea often passes off a cruel thought to herself, before doing the nice, polite white person thing. It’s a very true depiction of the nice middle-class white person – who isn’t so terribly nice or thoughtful at all.

I liked Breaking and Entering, likely because it was such a quiet story. It’s a good read, sort of odd but interesting enough to keep you going, if only to see what Bea ends up doing with her hobby of lock-picking, or where the fragile relationships in her life are going. There are no sweeping lessons, or earth-shattering truths in this book, which is sometimes what you need. Bea is a mirror for many of us, and sometimes the mirror can be uncomfortable. Regardless, I spent a pleasant afternoon reading this book and exploring other people’s lives with Bea.

Don Gillmor is the author of To the River, which won the Governor General’s Award for nonfiction. He is the author of three novels, Long Change, Mount Pleasant, and Kanata, a two-volume history of Canada, Canada: A People’s History, and nine books for children, two of which were nominated for the Governor General’s Award. He was a senior editor at The Walrus, and his journalism has appeared in Rolling StoneGQThe WalrusSaturday NightToronto Life, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star. He has won twelve National Magazine Awards and numerous other honours. He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Aug. 15 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771965231
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771965231