Review: Demigods

Demi gods

A coming of age novel set in 1950s Canada. When their mother marries Eugene, Willa and her older sister Joan are thrown together with his sons, Kenneth and Patrick, the ‘demigods’ of the title.

Their mother spends her days drinking and smoking, arguing with Eugene while the girls are left to their own devices. Joan and Kenneth quickly pair off leaving Willa with Patrick. There’s an unspoken attraction between them, but it’s laced with bullying and cruelty. In the first scene Patrick makes Willa go out in a leaking boat and she’s badly stung by jellyfish, but she colludes in hiding what has happened. The novel then focuses on key episodes as they grow up and meet, each time the erotic attraction becoming more intense, until it goes beyond experimental cruelty and lives are at risk. By the end, the demigods are brought down to size.

We see the fragility of children growing up with parents who are damaged or who have mental health problems, and in this wonderful debut novel Eliza Robertson achieves the intensity and focus of the short story  (a form she has already mastered). Towards the end there is arguably a drop in energy, but this is a new and exciting voice in fiction. ‘Demigods’ is a compelling novel written with extraordinary freshness and originality.

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