When Toronto author Camilla Gibb was on a book tour in Japan, she was asked: “How could you, a pretty young woman, talk about such terrible things?” As misguided as the question is—“that’s like asking a 19th-century female artist why she paints anything other than flowers,” says Gibb—the interviewers were understandably thrown by the author’s subject matter. Her first novel, Mouthing the Words, is about a little girl neglected by her mother and forced to act out her father’s sexual fantasies. In Gibb’s latest, The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life, a sister and brother team break from a psychotic father and a distant mother. While most literary dysfunctional families are nauseatingly familiar, Gibb’s fiction is fresh, funny and
not mired in the cult of victimhood.
Gibb was a social anthropologist who quit academia and fled to a trailer park to write Mouthing the Words (1999). It won the City of Toronto Book Award and caught fire in the U.K., where Gibb, 34, was named to the Orange Prize list of authors to watch. Yet, Gibb didn’t feel like a writer until she finished her second novel. “It was important that I wrote [Petty Details] in an apartment,” she says. “You can start thinking terrible associations, like I can only write if I live in a trailer park, if I only eat beans in a can, if I’m single.” For her next novel she’s breaking more moulds. “It’s still from a child’s perspective, but it’s a North African epic,” she says, “with very loving parents.” Her Japanese fans will be pleased. SHANDA DEZIEL
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