Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 3rd, 2015 by Harper (In Canada, published in 2014 by House of Anansi Press)
Resonant of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, Girl Runner is an unforgettable, beautifully written novel that celebrates a woman born to reach beyond the limitations of her time.
As a young runner, Aganetha Smart defied everyone’s expectations to win a gold medal for Canada in the 1928 Olympics. It was a revolutionary victory, because this was the first Games in which women could compete in track events—and they did so despite opposition. But now Aganetha Smart is in a nursing home, and nobody realizes that the frail centenarian was once a bold pioneer.
When two young strangers appear asking to interview Aganetha for their film about female athletes, she readily agrees. Despite her frailty, she yearns for adventure and escape. And though her achievement may have been forgotten by history, her memories of chasing gold in Amsterdam remain sharp. But that triumph is only one thread in the rich tapestry of her life. Her remarkable story is colored by tragedy as well as joy, and in Girl Runner Carrie Snyder pulls back the layers of time to reveal how Aganetha’s amazing athleticism helped her escape from a family burdened by secrets and sorrow.
However, as much as Aganetha tries, she cannot outrun her past or the social conventions of her time. As the pieces of her life take shape, it becomes clear that these filmmakers may not be who they seem. . .
This is a remarkable story of ambition, self-discovery, and family. I loved every minute of it! Girl Runner was inspired by the story of the Matchless Six, a group of Canadian women who returned Champions from the 1928 Olympics. It tells the story of a fictional woman, Aganetha Smart, who embodied the same inspiring and revolutionary ambitions.
Girl Runner is told in a duel narrative, each a different time period in Aggie’s life. There is the present where she is 104 and in a nursing home, and there is the exploration of her past as a young woman. I love this type of narrative. As the present goes on, something reminds Aggie of something in her past. We are then whisked off to live it alongside her. This is one of my favourite story structures and it worked really well here. It adds so many layers to the story and the added mystery of knowing the ultimate outcome of the past without knowing the details or how it came to be—those are revealed later.
At one point in Aggie’s life, she become an obituary writer for a newspaper. This is an interesting addition because throughout the story, Aggie imagines the obituaries for different people in her life, summing them up in a few sentences. This was a really interesting, often poignant, aspect of the book that I quite liked. This, coupled with the duel narrative, made for really great and enjoyable structure!
Aggie’s life was a tumultuous one, riddled with obstacles and tragedy. Not only so, but she grew up in a time where gender determined much of one’s life. Throughout everything, one thing always remained true for Aggie—her love of running. This is presented in an almost tangible way in the story. Although I hate running myself, I could feel Aggie’s love of it. I didn’t just see it and understand that she loved it—I could feel it, too. While reading, I didn’t know that Snyder herself was a runner, but I should have guessed. This is just one example of the skill in Snyder’s writing!
This story is about a runner, yes. But it’s not really about running. Running is a facet of Aggie’s life. It is a huge part of her—but there is so much more. This story shows what running meant to Aggie—how it drove her, how it kept her sane—but most importantly how it helped her to overcome all that was thrown in her path (and there was a lot). Running was Aggie’s true love, and remained her defining attribute in every phase of her long life:
All my life I’ve been going somewhere, aimed toward a fixed point on the horizon that seems never to draw nearer. In the beginning, I chased it with abandon, with confidence, and somewhat later with frustration, and then with grief, and later yet with the clarity of an escape artist. It is far too late to stop, even if I run in my mind only, out of habit.
This book was beautiful, compelling, and poignant. I loved it! The fact that it was written by a Canadian and it set in Canada was an added bonus! If you enjoy General Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, or Family Sagas I definitely recommend that you check this one out.
About the Author
Beth is the founder and editor of Fuelled by Fiction. She is a twenty-something east coast Canadian girl who loves writing about books and feminism.