I am not a runner. I am a non-runner.
I don’t jog, I don’t run.
I do run around with my kids, but I guess that doesn’t really count. Or rather, I count it as running but any runner would scoff at it! So it is not-running.
So why did Girl Runner call out to me? It might have been the cover. Yes I am shallow like that.
Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, who represents Canada at the 1928 Olympics, when women’s athletics debuted, and she takes home the 800m gold.
We first meet Aggie at the nursing home, aged 104, surrounded by smells of bleach and diapers. No one knows that she was an athlete, a pioneer, once a celebrity.
“What astonishes me is how little remains. What proof? A rattling shoe box of scorched medals and no one to claim them.”
But along come two young people, complete strangers, who check her out of the nursing home. Aggie doesn’t really have the strength to protest and really, she is intrigued by her newfound adventure and her little escape from the nursing home.
And in between, back and forth, Aggie’s story unfolds. It doesn’t run chronologically, which makes sense as Aggie is 104 years old, and I imagine it must be what a 104-year-old mind must be like, a mention of something sets off a memory, a hint of a remembrance of something from the past and the memory begins to form and the story is told.
As a young girl, living on a farm, always running, running so fast it’s like she’s flying. As a teenaged factory worker, she joins an athletic club, at a time when women running is an oddity, a rarity, dodging rotten fruit and stones pelted at her as she runs on the streets and back alleys.
Aggie is brave and young, and such a runner. But she takes that halo of celebrityhood a little too seriously and falters.
Girl Runner is a book that may be mistaken for a book about running. It might be taken for a book about the Olympics. It is about a girl who runs. But it is not just about the running. It is the dreams and hopes and failures, an account of a life lived in the early 1900s, of a woman overcoming the odds. But Snyder does shine a light on running with some very lovely turns of phrases. And it makes this non-runner wonder, is there something I am missing here by not-running?
“When I am running I inhabit and exit my body in the same moment. I bear witness to the harshest of physical sensations, even while I feel myself flying free and away ”
But this is a book about a Girl Runner. Who takes running seriously at a time when girls weren’t supposed to run, let alone race at the Olympics.
Living in a time when girls play soccer and basketball, both for fun and professionally, it is hard to imagine that women weren’t allowed to race at the Olympics, and that after the 1928 Summer Olympics, the women’s 800m race was dropped as the IOC felt that the distance was too great for female runners (it was only reintroduced in 1960!).
I didn’t expect to come out of this book feeling awed and inspired. It is a work of fiction after all.
I still don’t run.
But there is always hope.
Carrie Snyder’s Girl Runner is shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Her previous book, The Juliet Stories, was shortlisted for the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award and named one of the Globe and Mail‘s Top 100 Books of the Year. Her first book, the short story collection Hair Hat, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award for Short Fiction. A mother of four, Carrie lives with her family in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours
Check out the other tour stops:
Tuesday, February 3rd: Bookshelf Fantasies
Wednesday, February 4th: BookNAround
Thursday, February 5th: Broken Teepee
Monday, February 9th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, February 10th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, February 11th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, February 12th: missris
Monday, February 16th: The Discerning Reader
Wednesday, February 18th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, February 19th: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, February 24th: Fuelled by Fiction
Wednesday, February 25th: Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, February 26th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Friday, February 27th: A Bookish Affair
TBD: Bee Splendid