Canadian Literature takes a look at Autobiography of Childhood

Autobiography of Childhood can, as I indicated at the outset, be read as a return to, and renovation and resituation of Woolf’s work. The novel resembles The Waves in its attention to the interlocking lives of six characters, and also, structurally, in the brief interlude sections that Queyras uses to divide the main sections of her text. In her attempt to articulate the form and feel of childhood memories—their highly sensual, embodied, and emotional qualities—Queyras also works in similar territory to Woolf’s autobiographical A Sketch of the Past. And in making a lost loved one an organizing force in the experiences of her characters, Queyras remembers not only The Waves, but also To the Lighthouse and Jacob’s Room. But while Queyras returns to Woolf’s work in her novel, Autobiography of Childhood is decidedly distinctive, and contemporary. Queyras attends carefully to the way that a combination of social forces, family experiences, and apparently innate personality traits shapes each of her characters, informing how they respond to a range of situations, from job demands in an increasingly unstable labour market to the death of a sibling. Emerging from working-class roots, the Combals each face the limited options and precariousness in their lives differently, sometimes deepening and sometimes fraying connections with each other as they do so.

Maia Joseph