Scribe sent me a novel by Heidi Sopinka which is to be published in April, inspired by the life of Leonora Carrington. 'The Dictionary of Animal Languages' is about history and histories. It sweeps through the twentieth century and across continents with the lightest of impressionist touches. In the foreground in sharp focus, an inner world, the story of a woman’s life, a life spent in rebellion from society, domesticity and definition. Sopinka’s novel shifts across beautifully-rendered landscapes and soundscapes, the intimate narrative oscillating back and forth between Ivory Frame’s past and her present, working like memory, with an ever-increasing urgency until at last they collide in a breathless conclusion.
It is also about the characters who have peopled her life and their stories are seamlessly interwoven with her own. She collects their lives, memorialises them, just as she observes and records the sounds of the natural world, seeking to capture what George Eliot calls ‘that roar which lies on the other side of silence’. The novel pulses with beating wings and the violent cries of animals, here is nature, and indeed human nature, red in tooth and claw. Sensual and sensory, this is a story about the strength of the human spirit and it is about bodies, desire and irrevocable loss, told in prose that is fresh, urgent and lyrical. A passionate and compelling debut.