144 pages
ISBN 0-920544-40-1





Madeleine J. Bailey was the College Librarian in the Learning Resources Centre at Mount Royal College in Calgary.


Penumbra, Susan Kerslake’s second novel (her first was Middlewatch, Oberon Press, 1976) is an episodic expression of the powers of nature, both human and elemental.

Set on a remote island off the Atlantic coast, the novel takes its name from “...a particularly deceiving light around a deep eclipse. It is a grey place of incomplete shadow and those within can see but a portion of the source in their lives. Often they cannot find their way.” Kerslake explores her characters who dwell within this penumbra, but in the process she makes it difficult for readers to find their way through the murky depths of description. Characters float in and out of the narrative, which is chopped up into many short passages, separated by asterisks.

Her style, which has been likened to that of Atwood’s Surfacing, has a predominance of birth and death themes. The imagery with which she bombards the reader is fairly successful, with some jarring lapses such as “fingernails as small as her sips of tea.”

While Kerslake has published several poems and short stories in the eight years since her first novel, her lyrical, virtually plotless style seems dangerously short of substance for a novel.


Kerslake, Susan, “Penumbra,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,