The first contender has been eliminated in the 2015 Rossland Reads.
The Birth House by Ami McKay, defended by Lise Levesque, was the first novel to be eliminated at Thursday night’s debate in a very close vote.
Audiences votes resulted in a three-way tie — thought moderator Jennifer Ellis wouldn’t reveal which book was spared — and it was up to the debaters to decide which of the four contenders would be down for the count.
Penny Johnson, who was defending Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, voted against The Birth House, as did Maddie Snelgrove, who was defending This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.
Jane Therriault, who was defending Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, voted against Three Day Road, as she felt that book was her stiffest competition.
Levesque, who will still return for future debates despite her book being eliminated, voted against This One Summer.
The final vote came after a rigorous, but mostly friendly debate.
In the first round debaters were asked which books they felt were the most historically accurate, and whether or not historical accuracy was important in fiction.
The debaters didn’t think it was, but that didn’t stop Johnson from opening the round by firing a volley at The Birth House, which she said relied on too many coincidences in its plot.
In the second round, debaters were actually encouraged to compliment one another’s books by listing two of their favourite characters, one of which had to be from a book other than their own. They were also supposed to choose the two characters, again one not from their own book, who they thought were the most well drawn.
Johnson chose Elijah as the most well-drawn character from Three Day Road because of the way Boyden captured his transformation into a wendigo.
After journeying to Europe with his best friend Xavier to fight in the First World War, the young Cree man briefly adopts a British accent, but drops it as he becomes addicted to morphine. Asked what she made of this part of the book, Johnson said, “The morphine has got to him for so long now, he almost feels like he’s a god, so he doesn’t have to take on that image any longer …, he doesn’t have to take on any persona any longer but his own.”
Johnson chose Miss Babineau, the old midwife who leaves her practice to the main character of the book, as her second pick for most well-drawn character. Levesque also chose Miss Babineau not only as her favourite character from her own book, but also the most well-drawn.
One of the major conflicts in The Birth House is between traditional approaches to birth and remedies as administered by women and institutional forms of health care as administered by men. This conflict plays out between Miss Babineau and a new doctor who has moved to the area, but also between the doctor and the main character Dora Rare, who the doctor diagnosis with and treats for hysteria.
Asked what she made of that conflict, Levesque said, “It just really speaks to how men historically control women and how important it is that we remember the mistakes of the past to really ensure that women have a say over their bodies. You can’t let men decided how or what women’s health is going to look like, it really has to be decided by women.”
The third round was the bare-knuckle round where debaters only had 30 seconds to answer Ellis’s questions. She asked the debaters whether their books dealt with larger conflicts or smaller, internal conflicts, and then asked which book handled conflict the least well.
Both Therriault and Levesque nominated This One Summer as the book that didn’t handle conflict well. Therriault because she didn’t feel the conflict was wrapped up, and Levesque because she didn’t feel the conflict every really took off.
Johnson again aimed her sights at The Birth House, saying that the conflict in the book didn’t work because while Dora Rare is meant to be a strong character and stand up for herself, she capitulates too easily to an unwanted marriage.
The Cellist of the Sarajevo features the larger conflict of the siege of Sarajevo, but also the smaller conflicts of each character. Asked which character’s conflicts she felt were the most interesting, Therriault chose the young female sniper, Arrow.
“She changed her name. She did not want to identify herself as a sniper to the woman that she truly was in her heart,” said Therriault.
At the end of the third round the debaters began discussing conflict in This One Summer, which led to a discussion of the way the graphic novel uses imagery to convey emotion and conflict.
Asked about the imagery in the book, Snelgrove said, “I really loved the detail and the imagery that went into a lot of the smaller images, but the full spread — so the two page ones — were the ones that really struck me. Where there was almost rarely any text on the page, it was just the image. So there were a few scenes of Rose swimming through the water, and there’s not much colour, it’s just the image of her and then the blank page you imagine to be the water.”
The next debate will be held Thursday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at New Edition Cafe and Books. If you missed the first debate, you can listen to the podcast on the Rossland Library’s website.