A Complicated Kindness

By Mattisson, Jane | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2007 | Go to article overview

A Complicated Kindness


Mattisson, Jane, British Journal of Canadian Studies


M. Toews, A Complicated Kindness (London: Faber and Faber, 2005) 246pp. Paper. £6.99. ISBN 0-5712-2400-8.

A Complicated Kindness, first published in 2004, is the winner of four awards, including the Governor-General's Award for Fiction in 2005. It is a coming-of-age novel. The narrator, sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel, describes life in the fictional East Village, modelled on the Mennonite village of Steinbach, Manitoba (Toews's place of birth). Nomi is stifled by the customs and traditions of the village, which she regards as narrow-minded. Her response is to rebel (she drops out of school, shaves her head and smokes pot). When the novel opens, her mother and elder sister have already fled, driven away by the religious rigidity of the community. Nomi's father, Ray, has decided to stay but he seems lost in his own sadness and gradually withdraws into eccentricity. Will both Nomi and Ray utlimately be driven away too? The novel provides no answer; to remain is to suffer, to leave is to enter an unknown world.

Toews has emphasised that her novel is not to be read as a denunciation of the Mennonite faith. …

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