Book review and contest: Emberton, by Peter Norman

Would you like to win a copy of Emberton, the brand new debut novel from Canadian poet Peter Norman? Read our review below, then send your name and full mailing address to [email protected] with the subject line “Emberton contest” by April 9 to enter the draw. (Contest open to EAC Toronto branch members only.)

embertonReview by Sara Torvik

“What if people could capture and hoard language? What would it mean if that physical material were drained from the world and stored up in a cave underground?”

These are some of the questions that led to the creation of Emberton, the debut novel from Canadian poet and author Peter Norman (published by Douglas & McIntyre). In Emberton, Norman takes these questions and fleshes them out in a compelling story full of mystery, horror, and humour.

The novel tells the story of Lance Blunt who, despite appearing to be a normal young man, has a secret he has been carrying his whole life: he cannot read. This secret has hindered Lance’s life and relationships, and has kept him dependent on his parents, who have made every effort to help Lance with his disability, to no avail. Lance has gotten by working at his father’s furniture store as a salesman, but once his father falls ill and dies from cancer, the same fate his mother met years earlier, Lance is left to fend for himself.

Hope comes in the form of an anonymous letter, stating that Lance will find the cure for his “particular difficulty” at the production office of Emberton Dictionary if he comes in for a job interview. Lance goes to the interview, excited at the prospect of a new job and eager to seek out this nameless person who may finally be able to help him, but what he soon discovers is that Emberton Dictionary is not at all what it appears. Strange noises, co-workers that seem to vanish without a trace, and a host of other eerie and inexplicable phenomena make Lance’s days at Emberton anything but ordinary. On top of that, it seems that nobody else in the office is aware of these peculiar goings-on, or at least, they aren’t willing to acknowledge it.

That is, until Lance meets Elena. Elena is an etymologist at Emberton and she too has sensed that something just isn’t quite right within its walls. Lance and Elena join forces to uncover the secret of what really goes on at Emberton Dictionary—but someone (or something) is working against them and has the power to change the very ways in which people communicate.

The thing I loved most about Emberton was how it mixed so many different elements together to form a truly unique and engaging story. The way that Peter Norman managed to take an ordinary, mundane place like a dictionary publishing office and turn it into a setting for mysterious evil forces speaks to what a truly creative and gifted writer he is.

The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. The dialogue is often witty and had me chuckling out loud on more than one occasion. Norman is better known for his poetry, but Emberton proves that he definitely has what it takes to be a novelist as well. Fans of horror and mystery will certainly love this book, but it also transcends those genres. Emberton is a novel that should appeal to anyone who just loves language and a good story.

Sara Torvik is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Toronto. She studied journalism at SAIT in Calgary, and at Ryerson University in Toronto.

This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.

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