Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit artist from Canada’s Arctic. She’s best known as a musician for her albums/ performances of throat singing, where she takes traditional Inuit throat singing and makes it her own; she has been nominated and won a number of Canadian music awards. In addition to music, Tagaq writes and her first work, Split Tooth, was published several years ago. It was long listed for the Giller Prize (Canada’s best known literary award) and for an Amazon best first novel award.
Split Tooth is a slim volume about life in Inuvik, one Canada’s northernmost cities where Inuit people make up the majority of residents. This book was interesting but not an easy read. I had a hard time discerning whether it was a memoir, a collection of connected short stories or a novel- and I think Tagaq intended that confusion. The subject matter content was also often not easy- addiction and alcoholism, sexual assault, depression and teenage pregnancy, interwoven with supernatural/ mythical elements.
Like her music, the word that came to me as I was reading was ‘spiky’- Tagaq is not here to comfort or coddle you. Her writing is lean and although she does give you some emotional insight into her characters, this isn’t that type of book. These characters aren’t walkovers or wafflers- like Taggaq they feel like all sharp angles. I’m not sure if anyone else read Robert Munsch’s dark children’s book, co-written with the Inuit author Michael Kusugak, A Promise is a Promise? Its about an Inuit girl who escapes from drowning by promising the creatures that live under the ocean that she will bring her brothers and sisters to the sea ice. It gave me nightmares as a child (there are long, green, weedy fingers that reach for her under the ice) and even as an adult it leaves me unsettled. Taggaq’s book feels like a grown up companion piece, not easy to shake.
I am glad I read this- it is different than what I usually gravitate to and gives insight into Canada’s north from someone who is from (and still lives) there. That said it’s not one I want to reread, and I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to- darker and weirder than the usual reading for my friends and family.
Counting this one as the ‘Bodies’ square for cbr14bingo, as the shape and scope of bodies form a major underlying theme – addiction possesses people’s bodies, bodies crowd together in warm spaces away from the winter cold, pregnancy reshapes a body and the spirits eventually possess bodies.