I am always on the lookout for great Canadian novels. I like to support Canadian authors and enjoy reading a book that takes place in a location I can picture. When I first picked up Web of Angels, I didn’t realize Nattel was Canadian (born in Montreal) or that the novel was set in Toronto, so as I began reading I was happily surprised.
The story of the book revolves around a mother, Sharon, whose son’s girlfriend’s sister, Heather, commits suicide while nine months pregnant. Sharon has dissociative identity disorder (DID), or multiple personality disorder, and has kept this a secret from everyone her entire life. The novel’s real strength is its portrayal of the disorder as Sharon’s struggles to keep her secret. It becomes increasingly harder for her to control her multiple selves and switches often due to the stress of the suicide and ensuing revelations about Heather’s family.
Although I have little experience with or understanding of DID, I feel that Nattel’s portrayal of Sharon and her multiple selves (Alec, Lyssa, Callisto, Ally) was exceptional. The book delved into her relationships with her husband and children and how they were affected, both before they knew and after. Nattel explored the differences in these relationships when each of her personalities was in control. It felt like you were reading a different character when she switches between selves and it was interesting to see which situations each self dealt with (as some were better in certain situations that other). What I found the most heartwarming was that no matter who was “forward”, no matter how old or what gender, they cared for Sharon’s family, particularly her three kids, and would have protected them with their life.
I found that Nattel dealt with controversial and sensitive subject matters (both DID and child abuse) with great tact. In my review of Our Daily Bread, I praised Lauren Davis’ ability to broach the topic of incest and sexual abuse with mostly implied situations and great tact – Nattel is just as sensitive, with just as difficult a topic.
The book does require quite a bit of attention to start with, as the abundance of characters, especially the multiple selves of Sharon, complicate things until you get to know them all. I don’t want to give too much away, and I did thoroughly enjoy the novel, but I found the “twist” concerning Cathy and Sharon a bit too convenient, but acknowledge it was necessary for plot development. I also found that considering the dark subject matter and the current state of our justice system, the ending was a bit too “happily ever after” for the story.
Despite its flaws, and maybe even because of them, I feel that this would make a great book club pick, especially for Canadian book clubs. It is a well-written and thought-provoking novel that is part contemporary fiction, part drama, part thriller and a little educational (for those who know nothing of DID). The characters are intricate, but not perfect, and the subject matter provides lots of interesting topics for debate and discussion. I am not sure calling Web of Angels a page-turner would be accurate (to me), but it definitely draws you into its world, urging you to continue. Overall I would give Web of Angels 4 out of 5 stars, and would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy novels with controversial issues and drama.