Book Review: Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words

Mouthing the WordsMouthing the Words by Camilla Gibb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Funny. I’ve had a couple of books that are taking me ages to read. But I found a copy of Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words in a crazy op shop on Redfern Street (for one dollar…), was intrigued and finished it in two days. Published in 2002, at a time when I was paying attention to new voices in Canadian fiction, I remember hearing good things about the book… so have been meaning to read it now for over a decade.

I enjoyed it. The best thing about the book is Thelma, spiky and funny and traumatised, the main character, and I did enjoy following her journey from childhood to adulthood. I liked the sense of movement, growth and possibility while not understating what she’d been through and the affects of her childhood sexual abuse.

It is a relatively slim book, and I found the characterizations of the minor characters a bit undeveloped. I wanted for them to be a bit more rounded or interesting; yet, perhaps it was a reflection of how the narrator related to the world too: at a distance. I was worried that some of the tropes of childhood sexual abuse were too familiar: anorexia, multiple personalities, a character who is abrasive as defence. I also nearly shouted at the page that with so much evidence of the abuse that no one except the narrator would mouth the words, and deal directly with what happened to her. It’s in the backdrop that the abusive father is sent away, is possibly jailed, is kept away from the daughter… but keeps coming back. That other people know what happened but can’t seem to say anything or provide support.

But the character of Thelma kept on becoming more original and interesting throughout the book: I was engaged with the way she started to form friendships and look into her sexuality and step outwards into the world. Meanwhile, the terrible effects of the abuse and society and her family’s inability to provide support or address the issue seem like they could be terribly true and I have the feeling this book will be staying with me for a while.

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