Stories nest inside stories in this very bookish novel about the writerly process and about the places where literary ambition collides with erotic desire. A character named JM opens the book with her lucid dream, then introduces Janet, who is a happy prisoner of the story coming to life in her imagination. Meet Jay and Leland, Janet and Mister Sunshine, JM, and the man whose teeth don’t match.
The structure of the novel is complex, layered, and interwoven. There are several narrators, stories within stories, and writers making things up and fantasizing while living real (albeit fictional) lives. There are literary allusions galore and cameo appearances by thinly disguised famous authors. It can all get a little crazy, so McCaig has provided a few support materials: an infographic that maps out the different characters, and relationships and authorships, a fairly detailed table of contents, a few postscripts, and a couple of appendices. Watch for symbols that indicate that the narrator has lapsed into fantasy and for when she returns to her “real” life, such as it is. While there is some undermining of traditional literary conventions, there is nothing lost in McCaig’s exploration of the relationship between literature and life. The novel is humorous, and sometimes really funny; it is also a smart and warm and moving read.
“An Honest Woman is an immensely gutsy novel that works to both undermine and expand its own story through an entertaining and teasing literary puzzle. While its narrative is bold enough in places to be shocking, at the same time it is bitingly true in its depiction of the interior life, in all its grief, banality and sexual frustration, of a single working mother raising her nearly grown sons. This is an intelligent and, especially, a brilliantly written novel.” — Sharon Butala
“This astonishing novel combines fantasy with a pellucid dissection of the seductions of writing, reading, and the imagination. An Honest Woman explores the inconveniences of lust, the confusion between fiction and life, and the gap between experience and irony. Brilliantly acerbic, this erotic romp through the literary and quotidian world is astutely meta-fictional, utterly compelling, and ultimately irresistible.” — Aritha van Herk
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