Grip Mikella Nicol’s novel, Aphelia, in your fists and twist hard.


Then, expect lots of sweat, some drops of blood and swelling in the aftermath. Lesley Trites wrings out an English translation of Mikella’s novel in spare, direct prose that leaves readers yearning for an air-conditioned room with clean clothes and fresh linens. 

A relentless Montreal heatwave is an ideal backdrop for a young woman’s stifled self-hood. Even in the first person, throughout her infatuation with another woman, there’s no intimacy. The narrator yearns for “another way to paint my own portrait than through my lovers.” Her call centre employment is stultifying, and variations on the word “suffocation” abound.

The protagonist wants to believe that her “body [is] more seamless” but bodies are marred. By the ordinary: noses by eyeglasses, skin by creased sheets, mosquito bites and blisters, “necklaces” of blood clots, and bruises. And by a disembodied, pervasive threat: “It would creep toward me… come for me.” 

Everyday places connote traps: workplace alarm systems, condos like cages, smoke in a car, dead-end alleys. And the protagonist is immobile and separate, from men but, also, women: “I never knew how to… climb over the wall that kept us from one another.” 

In her imagined wedding photos, she is unsmiling: “I was the type of girl it would happen to.” Gaze matters: there are reflections and double images everywhere—in tape on traffic cones, shattered glass, TV screens, night-before mascara, even a doppelganger. Sparks reverberate: “My desire for him hadn’t weakened, because it was also the desire for him to approve of me.”

Some predictable scenarios are mirrored and subverted: once, a man pours liquor for a woman seemingly unaware of her drunkenness, and later another woman recognizes her own drunkenness and chooses to drink more.