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Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue

A Novel

by (author) Christine Higdon

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2023
Literary, Contemporary Women, Lesbian
LGBTQ2S characters , Set in British Columbia

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EPUB Accessibility Specification 1.0 AA

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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price

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Four working-class Vancouver sisters, still reeling from the impact of World War I and the pandemic that stole their only brother, are scraping by but attempting to make the most of the exciting 1920s. Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a love story — but like all love stories, it’s complicated …

Morag is pregnant; she loves her husband. Georgina can’t bear hers and dreams of getting an education. Harriet-Jean, still at home with her opium-addicted mother, is in love with a woman. Isla’s pregnant too — and in love with her sister’s husband. Only one soul knows about Isla’s pregnancy, and it isn’t the father. When Isla resorts to a back-street abortion and nearly dies, Llewellyn becomes hellbent on revenge. But can revenge lead to anything but disaster for a man like Llew — a policeman tangled up in running rum to Prohibition America?

Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is immersed in the complex political and social realities of the 1920s and, not-so ironically, of the 2020s: love, sex, desire, police corruption, abortion, addiction, and women wanting more. Beautifully written, with a loveable cast of characters, this novel is a tender account of love that cannot be acknowledged, of loss and regret, risk and defiance, abiding friendship, and the powerful bonds of chosen family.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Christine Higdon is the author of the award-winning novel The Very Marrow of Our Bones. She has won a National Magazine Award, been published in numerous journals, and nominated for CBC literary prizes. She lives part-time in Nova Scotia but mostly in Mimico, Ontario.

Excerpt: Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue: A Novel (by (author) Christine Higdon)

We blamed up.

Some families blame down: The younger siblings are held responsible for every broken teacup. For the dirt trod into the house the day the floors have been washed, waxed, and polished. For the missing belt, cardigan, garter, stocking, shoe, skate, pencil, ink bottle, hair ribbon, knitting needle, darning egg, spool of blue thread, biscuit, mint humbug, five-cent piece, brooch, book. For the stolen friend. (Especially the stolen friend.) In families with a multitude of children, there is always someone else to point the finger at—up, down, this way, that.

We blamed up.

Our eldest, Rodric, lies in Mountain View Cemetery, six feet under, so I can’t ask poor Roddy how he managed the shameless accusations of his four little sisters for so long. I suspect it never bothered him much. Roddy was a forgiving soul. And he loved us. Our second-eldest, the one we call Baby John, who none of us but Roddy spent any living time with (and that was when he was just a baby himself), escaped all that. Baby John the Blameless, left behind, poor wee bugger, buried thousands of miles away, over the Atlantic Ocean in Scotland. Harriet-Jean, the youngest, was free to blame us all, all the way up the ladder—Morag, me, Georgina, Roddy. I’m the middle child. Up or down. You do the math.

We are grown now, and still.

I think that’s my own pointer finger tapping at my chest.

And you? Is that your finger too: tap, tap, tap?

Whose destiny did I change by loving my sister’s husband? His? Mine? Hers? Some girl’s, fifty years from now?

Call it what you will; I’m going to call it a love story.

Maybe you will forgive me. Maybe I will forgive myself. Perhaps there is nothing to forgive.

But carve these words on my headstone when I am gone: If only.

Editorial Reviews

“The novel’s messages about choice and inclusion are clear, but it succeeds at being dramatic, not didactic, as the McKenzie sisters struggle to find justice, autonomy, safety, and love in the often hostile world Higdon brings vividly to life. If their problems remain sadly familiar, the novel’s notes of hope and beauty, and the delicate optimism of its conclusion, are all the more welcome.” — Quill & Quire

“In her latest book, Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue, award-winning author Christine Higdon looks to the 1920s for her achingly beautiful story of sisterhood—those bound by blood and those bound by their shared predicament of living and loving in the absence of agency. Ever a consummate wordsmith, Higdon’s elegant dispatch from the front lines of the battle for gender equality tells a tale as relevant and essential today as it was a century ago. Endlessly evocative and gorgeously rendered, an exquisite novel destined to be called a classic.” — Bobbi French, author of The Good Women of Safe Harbour

“Christine Higdon is a brilliant storyteller. Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a joy and a privilege to read; undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in years.” — Donna Morrissey, author of Pluck

“I would read anything Christine Higdon writes, but Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a particular gem. Set in Vancouver in the 1920s during prohibition, this gripping novel implicates the reader in the lives of four very different sisters, each with their secrets and passions. It is impossible not to root for the McKenzie sisters as they fight for justice and forge their own identities, demanding the right to love and learn freely, despite the subjugation under which they live. It’s also impossible not to appreciate the craft and beauty with which Higdon conjures Vancouver of a century ago, a city and a natural landscape both eerily familiar and utterly different than that of Vancouver today. And finally, it’s impossible not to be struck by the parallels with our own time, where women are once again (and still, and relentlessly) grappling with laws that limit choice and human agency.” — Rachel Rose, author of The Octopus Has Three Hearts

“‘Why are women so angry?’ asks the unloved husband of one of the remarkable McKenzie sisters. Christine Higdon answers this essential question with a tale both brutal and beautiful, delving deep into the mysteries of sisterhood, loneliness, and love. This novel had me, heart and mind, from the opening line to the last.” — Alissa York, author of Far Cry