Giller Reading Day 2: Tell by Frances Itani

Untitled design-4Can I be honest for a second? Yes, of course I can. This is my blog. I wasn’t too excited to read this book. I took one look at the cover and thought… “WWI story. I’ve read a thousand of those novels before. I’m good.”  But because I vowed to read all the Giller nominated books this year, I opened it up and then I felt like an utter fool by page 10. This book had spirit and heart and I couldn’t put it down. I guess what they say is true, Do. Not. Judge. A. Book. By. Its. Cover.

I’ve never visited Deseronto, Ontario before, but I do know that it’s close to Belleville. I’ve seen pictures, but that’s about it. So when I picked up Tell by Frances Itani, I felt like I was stepping into a small, rural town with a hockey rink and a broken spirit. Unbeknownst to me when I started reading, this story is the continuation of Itani’s novel DeafeningTell is the story of the aftermath of WWI, what happens when the war is over in 1919 and everyone is home and forced to put the (broken) pieces back together. We meet Kenan, a young man, home from the war and wounded in body and in spirit who has become a shut in. His wife Tress is unsure of what to do and how to help mend her broken husband.  Tress explains her husbands condition to her Aunt Maggie by saying,

Everything he does has to have order – some internal pattern I don’t understand. He was never like that before he left for the war. Now he gets upset easily if his sense of routine is disrupted or altered.

Tress finds comfort by visiting her Aunt Maggie and Uncle Am. Luckily Am has always had a soft spot for young Kenan and when he catches him roaming out at night hoping to appear invisible, he knows this young man is in need of a friend. Spending many nights skating on an isolated ice rink, both Am and Kenan are fighting internal demons. Because it turns out that Kenan and Tress aren’t the only ones having marital and mental issues, Aunt Maggie and Uncle Am have been fighting their own uphill battle. Their once solid and comfortable marriage is at jeopardy when Lukas, a Music Director moves to town and takes a real shining to Maggie. While Am is hoping to hold onto the familiar, Maggie is drawn to the uncertainty and unknown that is Lukas.

Sometimes wounds aren’t always visible but they can cut deep and they can change the mental state of a person. After WWI, the town of Deseronto, Ontario was never the same and Frances Itani was able to break it all apart and then tie it back together in a not so tidy, but satisfying bow. Itani’s writing is lyrical, expressive and I can’t recommend it enough to each and every one of you. This book is my top 3 of books I’d like to see win the Giller Prize on November 10th!

Be sure to come back to the blog tomorrow when I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. 

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner will be announced on CBC Television on Monday, November 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).

Want to celebrate this literary evening in style? I urge you to head out to your local Giller Light Bash. Parties will be taking place across the country in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax. Be sure to check out

7 thoughts on “Giller Reading Day 2: Tell by Frances Itani

  1. Naomi says:

    Oh, so glad you liked this one! The premise of this one appeals to me more than the others (but I know that doesn’t always mean it will be good). I want to put this on hold right away, but I haven’t read Deafening yet, and I’m wondering if it would be better to read it first.

  2. Carole Besharah says:

    OH! I did not know that “this story is the continuation of Itani’s novel Deafening.” Now, I NEED to read this one too. Deafening was a harrowing page-turner. Cheers!

  3. The Paperback Princess says:

    I feel this way about WWII books but often I still end up reading them and find something redeeming. Such was the case with All the Light We Cannot See. You’ve definitely piqued my interest – I don’t have the same era fatigue where WWI is concerned.

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