The Shape I Gave You

The Shape I Gave You

Book - 2006
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The night before she leaves to give a recital in another city, Ulrike Huguenot, a young pianist, arrives at her Berlin apartment planning to spend a relaxing evening there. Instead, she finds, stuffed in her mailbox, an unexpected and unwelcome letter. It is from Beatrice Mann, a Canadian sculptor, a friend of her father, Gustave, and also, Ulrike believes, his lover. What could this woman possibly have to say to her? And why now, seven years after her father's death? "I'm writing to you because my daughter has died," begins Beatrice's extraordinary letter of confession. Her only child, Ines, has been killed at the age of eighteen, and Beatrice has closed herself in her Toronto studio. Unable to speak openly with her grieving husband, Isaac, she turns to Ulrike, a young woman she barely knows. While she retells, and possibly reshapes, the past -- her obsession with the exacting and complex Gustave, and her relationship with her elusive, now vanished, daughter -- Isaac sets out on a journey of his own. As Ulrike reads about Beatrice's life and Gustave's role in it, she reluctantly revisits the world of her own memories and starts to see her present in an altered light. In The Shape I Gave You, acclaimed novelist and poet Martha Baillie explores the complex relationships between parents and children, men and women, to create a novel of spare elegance that gives piercing insight into the nature of confession and how we choose who to ask for absolution.
Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2006.
ISBN: 9780676977486
Branch Call Number: FICTION BAI


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Jun 06, 2018

Each of Baillie's books seems to employ some unique structural device; these are not, in my view gimmicks, just Martha Baillie's creative mind at work. In this case, most of the book consists of a very long letter. If that puts you off as a potential reader, I'm very sorry to have mentioned it because this is a very fine book indeed. It's the most challenging of her books that I've read so far, certainly the most emotionally intense, boldest and most compelling. It also highlights once again Baillie's wonderful facility with language.
Here Baillie explores the complexity and ambiguity of the human heart. Beatrice's extended letter reveals a state of desperation that can no longer tolerate remaining quiet. Writing and sending it is an outrageous act. Is it a confession? A plea for forgiveness? A means of lashing out against everything that didn't work out? It's all of that and more; and essentially an attempt at self-discovery. In places, it's so visceral that I began to wonder how much of her own persona Baillie was revealing.
This is a writer who always exceeds expectations.

May 15, 2008

Featured in the Bookers Bookstore Books and Brunch event April 23, 2008.

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