Mouthing the Words: A Novel

Mouthing the Words: A Novel

by Camilla Gibb


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"Moving and comic at once. . . . Hallucinatory, hilarious, and haunting."— Boston Globe

By turns harrowing and hilarious, this adroitly narrated winner of the Toronto Book Award re-creates the world in the imagination of Thelma. It's a world in which she can escape some of her more painful childhood realities, like those games her father likes to make her play, where he's the boss and she the naughty secretary. And her mother so fiercely favors her younger brother, the cherubic Willy, that Thelma finds herself perpetually in emotional exile. No wonder Thelma asks practically every adult she meets to adopt her.

Along Thelma's bumpy way from a rural English village to Canada to a law degree at Oxford, she meets many potential parents and even makes some friends, but it is with the companions of her fertile imagination—with the scaredy-baby Janawee, moody and timid Ginniger, and big, strong, stoic Heroin—that Thelma finds comfort. With them, too, she loses an already tenuous connection to reality, though ultimately Thelma's spirit and humor prove to be as indomitable as her wit.

"Prickly, unsentimental. . .a portrait of terrible comic humanity."— New York Times Book Review

"Mesmerizing. . . . Lush, visceral prose . . . rings with an authority rarely found in first novels."— Washington Post Book World

"A novel of astonishing power . . . . An instantaneous classic."— Baltimore Sun

"Elegant . . . sings with an almost Victorian delicacy and sophistication."—San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786709663
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 02/20/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 0.57(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)

About the Author

Camilla Gibb is the author of three novels, numerous short stories, articles and reviews. She was nominated for Canada's highest literary honour, the Giller Prize, and has won the City of Toronto Book Award and the CBC Canadian Literary Award for short fiction. Her books have been published in 19 countries and translated into 15 languages and she was named by the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize as one of 21 writers to watch in the new century.

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Mouthing the Words 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
deliriumslibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't love this book as much as when I bought it my first day in Toronto, but it still impresses me with its urgency, twisted humour and utter believability.
Severn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simply, 'Mouthing The Words' resonates. I would wager that even for those readers who hadn't shared similar experiences as the protagonist, Thelma, Gibb's writing is such that Thelma's journey is accessible and understandable - even through the madness.The focus is removed from the events of the abuse itself, and instead the reader watches Thelma develope her own defence mechanisms - imaginary friends/split personalities, numbness and dissociation to name a few (all psychologically normative responses to severe trauma). Watching the development of these defences as they emerge through her childhood is fascinating, disturbing and extremely poignant.In Thelma's early adulthood these mechanisms collapse into a harrowing period of full-fledged mental illness and Gibb's skill really comes through. People who suffer from such illnesses find it hard to recognise themselves as ill, and, true to this, Thelma moves gracefully through a sanely-crazy reality. One gets the feeling that she is thinking clearer than ever before throughout this time. I imagine that is a hard perspective to write from, and Gibb has mastered it.Unlike too many novels that deal with tragedy or trauma through melancholic pathos, 'Mouthing The Words' is written with a literary integrity that entitles Thelma to transcend a one-sided, crippled object of pity. Instead she is alternately funny, naive, cold, loving and always utterly screwed.As the title suggests much of the imagery centres around Thelma and silence - external and internal silences, frustrated communication, mouths as sexual weapons, words as tools. This imagery forms the skeleton of the text and in my opinion subtly pulls the novel together.Whether Thelma's experiences engender either sympathy or empathy I can't recommend this novel enough.
bibliobibuli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mouthing the Words is a powerfully engaging and highly readable novel about growing up in a dysfuctional family.Thelma is five when the story opens. The family live in a village called Little Slaughter where they are ostracized as outsiders by the neighbours. Thelma's mother, Corinna, a former model, wants little to do with her daughter and relegates her "to the realm of the rather inconvenient", preferring to shower affection on her younger brother, the result of an affair with an Edinburgh solicitor.Thelma is sexually abused by her alcholic father, Douglas, and made to play games of naughty secretaries and bosses. Unable to communicate this terrible secret to anyone outside the family, Thelma invents three invisible friends each representing an aspect of herself, who help her to cope. She longs, in vain, for another adult to adopt her.The family move to Canada where things worsen, her parents eventually separating. There is a friendship with the hippyish family next door, and an all too brief period of happiness when her mother takes a Punjabi student as a lover, the first adult who really reaches out to the love-starved Thelma.Thelma is institutionalised with anorexia - starvation is the only way she can physically prevent herself from becoming an adult woman, but recovers to win a scholarship to Oxford to study law. Although she proves to be a brilliant student, she rapidly descends into serious mental illness and self-mutilation.Gibb is able to portray a descent into madness better than almost any other author I've come across (with perhaps the exception of Bessie Head in Maru) and her depiction of the psychological effects of abuse is extremely convincing. And we're right there to cheer on Thelma's slow journey to reclaim herself, and to be able to own her own words.Sounds like a misery read? Far from it. The material is dark, but Gibbs has a lightness of touch and a humour (some parts are extremely funny!) that pulls the book back from being heartbreakingly sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mouthing the Words was an incredible read, disturbing at times and humorous at others I couldn't put it down. This book was moving and isn't one that I will soon forget.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. It depicted the feelings of a child in an unjust world in such a powerful and empathic way. Camilla Gibb has the ability to 'catch us up' in this child's life with her evocative and creative language. We really connect to this child. I highly recommend it. Mary A.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Camilla Gibb takes a fresh, humourous, and powerfully provocative look into relationships and the human spirit. This book is a delightful departure from the forumla best sellers. I highly recommend this book - but be prepared for a heavy dose of hardcore, in-your-face, reality. Enojoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mouthing the Words is the story of Thelma Barley, a girl growing up in more than unfortunate circumstances. Her family is beyond dysfunctional with a bitter, self absorbed mother and an abusive father. But instead of falling victim to these circumstances Thelma has found a place to escape. Able to retreat into her imagination in a moments notice she is comforted by her imaginary friends and her ability to morph into inanimate objects. She has found a safe place where her father's games of 'naughty secretary' and her mother's resentment can't get in. As with all safe places, her imaginary world becomes a bit of crutch. She begins to retreat even in anticipation of fear and pain. Somehow she manages to make it to young adulthood where she learns, as odd as she is, that she too has a place in the real world. This is one of those rare books that you must read in one sitting. You should commit an entire day and experience Thelma's life with her. You'll feel like you've lived another lifetime and you'll know what it feels like to be her. The key to this book is that it's not another sad, depressing, painful abuse survival story. It's a story about a unique girl who lives through sadly common circumstances. But it's her that makes this book special. It's her sense of humour, her passion, her spirit and her imagination. You will laugh outloud and cry the next minute. And then when it's all over you will be a better person for having read it. No kidding.