A Large Harmonium

29 February 2012

A Large Harmonium
by Sue Sorensen
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Michelle Shaw
$19.95 ISBN 9781550504606

Sue Sorensen’s debut novel introduces us to forty-two year old English lecturer Janey as she navigates her way through life as a mother, wife and academic.

Janey, aka Dr Janet Erlicksen, is deeply in love with her music lecturer husband, the sexy Hector, and frequently bewildered by her adored toddler, the strong-willed Little Max. Although she’s fairly proficient at juggling the demands of the academic year, less academic pursuits have a disconcerting habit of distracting her, such as the urge to write a murder mystery with her mother-in-law as the victim when she should instead be deciding on a viable research topic.

Sorensen deftly introduces us to the multi-faceted characters that fill Janey’s world including Hector’s best friend Jam, a charming French horn virtuoso who travels around Canada playing with various brass quartets and sleeping with women in all ten provinces… he’s still working on the territories. Then there’s the grim Beatrice Haight, one of Janey’s fellow lecturers, who is organizing a conference on twenty-first century notions of decadence (the thought sends Janey into gales of laughter) and the “fabulous” Blanche Grimm, a new lecturer in Women’s Studies, who captivates the irrepressible Jam. There’s also babysitter extraordinaire, the amazing René and comfortable and reassuring Jake, Janey’s minister and confidant, who helps her to try to make sense of everything.

The academic world in which Janey lives is clearly familiar to Sorensen, who is a professor of English literature at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. Although on the surface the novel is a fairly straightforward story about a year in the life of Janey Erlicksen (the book is divided into months), Sorensen’s artistry is revealed in her ability to draw us completely into Janey’s world. There’s never a jarring shudder of a voice out of character. Sorensen knows her characters intimately and is attentive to the numerous tiny details that bring her characters to life.

A Large Harmonium is well-crafted, witty and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.


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