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 intoxicating 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
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‘Not only a dictionary of animal language, but also an atlas of the human heart, Heidi Sopinka's gorgeous debut novel maps the difficult territory between history and memory, love and loss.’
Johanna Skibsrud, author of The Sentimentalists
‘The Dictionary of Animal Languages shifts between past and present, across beautifully-rendered landscapes and soundscapes. In the foreground in sharp focus, an inner world, the story of a woman’s life, a life spent in rebellion from society, domesticity, and definition. Sensual and sensory, this is a story about the strength of the human spirit and it is about bodies, desire, and irrevocable loss, told in prose that is fresh, urgent and lyrical. A passionate and compelling debut.’
Anna Thomasson, author of A Curious Friendship
‘[A] brilliant book.’
In The Moment
‘A rich, painterly novel, a space where image and sound and the powers of the written word meet and mingle.’
Brixton Review of Books
‘Masterfully written in expressive prose, The Dictionary of Animal Languages is a tale of an artist’s life outlining love and loss and the surprises, both good and bad, that were thrown in her path. It is full of keen observations which are almost meditative, perhaps an indication of the artist’s ability to appreciate beauty and small details, especially in nature, which give continued meaning to life even when events turn tragic.’
Carina Mcnally, Irish Examiner
‘[P]atient readers will find, as I did, that a bit of mystery about what exactly happened is just enough bait to keep them going until they’ve gotten to know Ivory so well that the last third or so of the book is emotionally devastating in the best way. This book is a powerful and brilliantly constructed story about loss, love, and communication of all types.’
Annie Smith, Utah Valley University Library, Edelweiss
‘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, Edelweiss