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New Novel from Candas Jane Dorsey Influenced by Boyle Street

Candas Jane Dorsey’s novel, The Adventures of Isabel, was published by ECW Press on October 20th. Promoting a new book during a pandemic is proving to be a challenge for the Boyle Street resident. However, Dorsey has been doing online Zoom events, as well as turning to social media to get the word out about her work.

And word got out swiftly. The Adventures of Isabel has received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, as well as great reviews in the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Review of Books, and Kirkus. The book is heading for an international readership, with German rights sold to Suhrkamp Verlag and UK rights to Pushkin Press.

The Adventures of Isabel is a postmodern mystery set on the gritty streets of an unnamed Canadian city. When a downsized social worker helps a good friend deal with the murder of her beloved granddaughter, she and her cat are thrust into a world full of sex, lies, and betrayal. She faces these challenges with intelligence and witty humour. However, what at first appeared to be a simple street killing, is just the surface of what is actually a complex and dark set of criminal schemes.

At the novel’s centre is a queer, nameless, amateur detective. The story is set to the framework of the Ogden Nash poem, from which the novel gets its title. “The nameless protagonist developed fairly early, partly as a nod to many nameless detectives back through 80 or 90 years of the modern noir mystery novel. I really can’t remember when I added the overarching frame of the children’s poem, but it seemed to fit the tone. Nash was always rather sly about mixing the adult edge even into his children’s poems,” says Dorsey.

Boyle Street, where Dorsey has been a resident for 18 years, had a definite influence on her work. In fact, local readers will recognize the city in which novel is set as Edmonton. Many of the locations are either loosely based on or can be found in the Boyle Street/McCauley area.

“I love living here and I respect my neighbours a lot,” she says. “Our lives are sometimes very different but we are able to support each other in our own ways, and that’s the essential part of community right there. In these books, as soon as the lead character lived in the city core, certain elements of her life were going to be determined by her neighbourhood, no matter what.”

Parts of this article were published in the 2020 Fall/Winter online issue of Prairie Books NOW.

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