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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > November 2018 > Unconventional narrative

Unconventional narrative

In her literary debut, lauded Inuit musician Tanya Tagaq melds fiction, memoir, and poetry


katrin braga

Split Tooth

Tanya Tagaq

Viking Canada

AS A VOCALIST and composer, Tanya Tagaq cares little for conventional rules of engagement. An Inuk artist from Iqaluktuutiaq, Tagaq’s performances are innovative and face-meltingly intense, and she has collaborated with a wide array of music’s weird geniuses from Björk to the Kronos Quartet. It’s no surprise, then, that Split Tooth, Tagaq’s literary debut, defies categorization. Formally identified as fiction, it is in fact a thick braid of lived experience, philosophy, poetry, and traditional knowledge.

To unpack Split Tooth’s labyrinthine structure in a single review is a challenge. On its most straightforward level, it tells the story of an unnamed adolescent girl growing up in Nunavut in the 1970s, although this time frame is communicated only through subtle clues. Tagaq instead foregrounds the inherent timelessness of a place that seasonally cycles between 24-hour day and perpetual night: “Life pops forth brightly and death is a soft exhalation … not so much living and dying as glowing and darkening.” This view of time as cyclical rather than linear is key to the story and is alternately grounding and disorienting.

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