*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Author: Dionne Brand
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Theory begins as its narrator sets out, like many a graduate student, to write a wildly ambitious thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics–a revolutionary work that its author believes will synthesize and thereby transform the world. While our narrator tries to complete this magnum opus, three lovers enter the story, one after the other, each transforming the endeavour. Each galvanizing love affair (representing, in turn, the heart, the head, and the spirit) upends and reorients the narrator’s life and, inevitably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, with results both humorous and poignant.
Theory follows an unnamed narrator through the process of writing a dissertation–a process that is regularly derailed and redirected through three poignant love affairs that shape the narrator’s life experiences. Written in an elegant and intelligent prose, this story is thoughtful and beautiful. Through memory’s eye, this story observes these amorous relationships through a retroactive lens, scrutinizing the effects each lover had on the narrator and the writing process. Each lover is representative of the the heart, the head, and the spirit. The narrator’s journey with each of them allows for growth and transformation. With each all-consuming experience comes new-found knowledge, inspiration, and change.
This book challenges concepts of gender and gender identity. It does not outright define the gender or orientation of the narrator, but we are given clues throughout. There is a void that effectually creates a blank canvas for the mind to question and expand with each relationship. This story turns the construct of gender on its head, establishing the narrator as neither masculine or feminine. The narrator just is. The voice speaks to the human experience, valuing the expansion of the mind and the pleasure of the body over all else. There is much ambiguity to be had, and in this, the door is flung open for the reader to set critical analysis aside and just experience as the narrator does.
This book is one of the more challenging reads I’ve encountered in a long while. The narrator is critical, ambling, and verbose, but I felt a sort of kinship as the story unfolded. This book does require a lot of focus and some time. It’s not quick or easy to read, but it is beautiful and it offers an interesting analysis of academia, romance, and gender that is intriguing and intense.