A thrillingly elegant yet raw evocation of a woman clawing her way to a creative life, inspired by the story of surrealist artist Leonora Carrington.
We grant men a right to solitude. Why can’t we do the same for women?
Born into a wealthy family in northern England and sent to boarding school to be educated by nuns, Ivory Frame rebels. She escapes to inter-war Paris, where she finds herself through art, and falls in with the most brilliantly bohemian set: the surrealists.
Torn between an intense love affair with a married Russian painter and her soaring ambition to create, Ivory’s life is violently interrupted by the Second World War. She flees from Europe, leaving behind her friends, her art, and her love.
Now over ninety, Ivory labours defiantly in the frozen north on her last, greatest work—a vast account of animal languages—alone except for her sharp research assistant, Skeet.
And then unexpected news from the past arrives: this magnificently fervent, complex woman is told that she has a grandchild, despite never having had a child of her own.
“The Dictionary of Animal Languages is such a special book, suffused with an almost painterly intelligence. Sopinka's characters experience the world with an intensity we associate with children and visionaries. Watching them navigate the difficulties of the humdrum and the glamorous both is a distinctive, if unsettling, pleasure.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of American Innovations and Atmospheric Disturbances
“A stunning novel with quiet, prayerful prose to take your breath away. Sopinka flawlessly inhabits the rich inner world of her characters as if she could shed her own skin. Powerful in a soft way, like the static electricity before a storm.”
—Laura Graveline, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
“With stunning prose, lavish details, deep wisdom, and emotional precision, reading this book is like falling in love—my interest in everything else was lost.”
—Claire Cameron, author of The Last Neanderthal
“Elements in the book build and shift, weaving together to create a vivid and powerfully human reckoning of a life, of aging and loss, of a century of conflict, and of the relationship between the natural and the industrial world.”
“made me push past my own expectations of literature”
—Nichole Perkins, The 2019 Tournament of Books
“[T]he language of Sopinka’s Dictionary…makes me feel I’m walking through lush dreamscapes from an art museum’s walls.”
—Rion Amilcar Scott, The 2019 Tournament of Books
“[R]ead it in two sittings, and completely enjoyed myself…the depth to which I could slip into Ivory’s point of view, the rhythms of her emotional responses, was a dealmaker for me. And the fact that the story’s way of evincing feeling and thought felt more evoked than stated—there was just so much in this novel that held me.
—Rosecrans Baldwin, The 2019 Tournament of Books
“Sopinka isn’t just a terrific writer, she’s a great thinker. Her writing has particular sway and grace when she writes about the natural world.”
—Christy Heron-Clark, The 2019 Tournament of Books
- RSL Ondaatje Prize
- Kobo Emerging Writer Prize