Selected for Canada Reads 2011
Angie Abdou’s second book, her first novel, The Bone Cage, is an intimate look at two Olympians preparing for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. There have been countless books written about the “major” sports, but in this novel Abdou takes a chance and focuses on two relatively lesser known sports, wrestling and distance swimming. The two central characters, Digger and Sadie, were an absolute pleasure to spend this journey with. The characters develop so well, the supporting cast is just as memorable as the mains, the sports jargon is kept to a layman’s level, and the story takes you on lots of twists and turns while blending the humour of life and heart-wrenching dramatics that pull you back to reality. I am very happy that this book survived the Canada Reads cut from the top 40 to the top 5. The Bone Cage is a sports story that can be enjoyed by the least sporty among us.
The first half or so of the novel consists of chapters with alternating third person points-of-view, either from Sadie’s or Digger’s perspective. Eventually, through an innocent meeting at the University of Calgary weight room, their paths intersect and their lives forever altered. The chapters still alternate perspective but many of them contain both characters. The author times their meeting perfectly. I find a lot of times in novels with this narrative technique it takes too long for the central characters to meet. Abdou’s narrative is flawless; the pacing is absolutely brilliant and there is a perfect amount of detail.
As I mentioned before, the supporting cast is amazing. You have the coaches, the families, and the competitors; my favorite character in the book is Fly. A hyperactive wrestler who has appointed himself to the position of Digger’s assistant once his own Olympic dreams are shattered, Fly has the ability to bring levity and sanity to the most tense or out-of-control situation. The wrestling coach, Saul, also has a number of classic one-liners, my favorite being his trademark “eargasm” motion.
This novel examines a lot of complex themes. These athletes are like artists. They train and train, practice and practice, until they reach the pinnacle of their craft. Throughout the story the characters are faced with their identity: is it their sport that defines them or are they something more than this athlete? What happens to a person when all they know ends or is taken away from them? Is there life after sport?
I feel like my review might be selling this book a little bit short, but that is simply because I do not want to give away any details that could in any way spoil the read. Each and every page is filled with such mature and polished writing. Angie Abdou manages to avoid the typical tropes and pitfalls of genre fiction; I don’t look at The Bone Cage as a sports novel, this is a work of literature that just happens to have sports as its cornerstone.
I think The Bone Cage will be listed alongside other great CanLit pieces with sports at their core (Night Work, King Leary, Shoeless Joe) and will be looked at as one of the quintessential novels of last five years. The story is sharply original; it is told with passion; the dialog is extremely well written, quite a feat for a first time novelist; and the characters are memorable. The book’s panelist at Canada Reads 2011, Georges Laraque, will be a good defender. As a former NHLer and an active member of the political world he has everything that would be needed to passionately discuss this novel. This book is my pick to win Canada Reads 2011. Angie Abdou’s next novel, The Canterbury Trail, will be released in February and I can’t wait to read it.