Wiebke von Carolsfeld

September 2019

How to survive the unthinkable? This is the question nine-year-old Tom has to face after witnessing his parent’s murder-suicide. After the horrific event, Tom refuses to speak. At first, he moves in with his childless Aunt Sonya, but she is ill equipped to deal with the traumatized boy. Before long, Tom is forced to move again, this time to Claremont Street in downtown Toronto, where he shares a run-down house with his mercurial Aunt Rose and his reckless yet endearing Uncle Will. As the seasons change, Tom’s silence becomes a powerful presence, allowing this fractured family to hear one another for the first time— and for Tom to finally find a home. Claremont is a gripping story of one family’s journey through grief and toward healing.

Cologne-based publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch published the German version of Claremont in 2020:  Das Haus in der Claremont Street.

SHORTLISTED for the 2020 Miramichi Reader Very Best Book Award

Wiebke von Carolsfeld is a German-born writer and filmmaker living in Montreal. She has directed three critically acclaimed feature films (Marion Bridge, STAY, The Saver), winning numerous awards, including Best First Feature at TIFF and Sudbury, Canada’s Top Ten, Best Screenplay from the Chlotrudis Society along with nominations from the Canadian Screen Awards, the DGC, the AIFF, and the WGC. She is a renowned feature film editor and has taught classes internationally on screenwriting, filmmaking, and the creative process. Claremont is her first novel.

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Format: Trade paper

Size: 8.5 x 5.5

Pages: 268

What they say
"A Toronto you can hear, taste and feel"
Karen Charleson, Canadian Literature Quarterly

From a silent, traumatized nine-year-old boy, to an artist addicted to gambling, to a still-young career woman diagnosed with inoperable brain tumours, the main characters in these three Canadian novels are desperate. I am reminded of the opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Each of these novels deals with some sort of sadness and grief. Centred in the individual, and radiating out into the family, it is this unhappiness that characters weave their ways through to attain measures of redemption and satisfactory living.

...In Claremont, a dysfunctional family struggles with grief and guilt. Not only has a sister died, but she has been killed under horrible circumstances that may have been preventable. The surviving siblings are left to care for their dead sister’s traumatized child. Von Carolsfeld creates a story of an imperfect family with believable problems coming to terms not only with a death, but also with the need to heal—for the sake of young Tom and for their own futures.
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August 2020, Canadian Literature Quarterly

"von Carolsfeld knows the power of the smallest gesture"
Kate Finegan, Humber Literary Review

What I’ll remember from this novel, though, is neither the horror of the beginning nor the clean resolution of the ending; it’s the messy, interminable middle, when every imperfect person struggles mightily, when those struggles sometimes look like acquiescence, when the family repeatedly falls apart, only to fall back together, and to repeat that process, within and without, again and again and again, and the honesty of the mess is a gift to anyone who has ever had to grieve.
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March 2020, Humber Literary Review

12 books to add to your reading list
Jade Colbert, Globe and Mail

Claremont, the first book from filmmaker Wiebke von Carolsfeld (Marion Bridge, Stay), opens with a scene of incredible violence: a boy discovers his parents’ murder-suicide. But the rest of the novel is not this. Instead, this book is about how people survive such an event and make a safe-haven, a home, from the improbable, imperfect pieces of family.
30 December 2019, The Globe and Mail

Best books of 2019
Ian McGillis, Montreal Gazette

A novel that features a nine-year-old boy witnessing his parents' murder-suicide (not a spoiler, it happnes within the first three pages), Claremont by Wiebke von Carolsfeld charts the extended family's grappling with the fallout from that tauma and the boy's fitful and ragile recovery, all within the vivid canvas of a gentrifying Toronto. Given the harrowing opening, it's remarkable what tonal variety von Carolsfeld goes on to achieve: there are even laughs to be found. 
21 December 2019, Montreal Gazette

"A genuinely moving novel"
James Grainger, Hamilton Review of Books

Like all good comic fiction, Wiebke von Carolsfelds Claremont does not rely on laughs to solicit the reader's affection. The dialogue is crisp and witty, characters o wildly varying dispositions are forced into closed quarters, an familial and erotic tensions are brought to a head and resolved. That Carolsfeld pulls this off is all the more surprising given the novel's opening chapters, which focus on the fallout of a brutal domestic tragedy.

That tragedy is the murder of Mona, one of four adult siblings in the Michajelovich family, by her abusive husband, who ten commits suicide, leaving the bodies to be found by their nine-year-old son, Tom.
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December 2019, Hamilton Review of Books

"Empathy for flawed but resilient individuals"
Danielle Barkley, Montreal Review of Books

Tolstoy wrote that, “All happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Towards the end of Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s novel Claremont, a character presents her sister with a handmade mug inscribed – perhaps defiantly, perhaps apologetically – “Families are like fudge – mostly sweet, with a few nuts.” Claremont traces the intersecting stories of the members of a family that is not only simply unhappy, but reeling in the face of tragedy. In the first chapter, readers follow nine-year-old Tom as his abusive father, Russell, murders his mother Mona before also killing himself. In the wake of these events, Mona’s three siblings, Will, Sonya, and Rose, attempt to rally together to care for Tom. However, the siblings, along with their spouses and children, are simultaneously steeped in their own grief and grappling with rivalries, preoccupations, and narcissism. The novel covers the first ten months of Tom’s life as an orphan, showing how his shattered existence both pulls the rest of the family together and cleaves them apart in ways that may never fully heal.
Read more here.
Fall 2019, Montreal Review of Books

"One of the best Canadian debuts of the year"
Ian McGillis

Opening a novel with such a shattering event might run the risk of overwhelming the rest of the book. Claremont avoids that pitfall because ultimately it’s about something else.

“A lot of movies and stories end with a huge climax, but for me it’s always been a question of what comes after,” von Carolsfeld said. “I’m not so much interested in the ‘why’ (of the murder-suicide). That’s a question that’s unsolvable, anyway. I’m interested in how people move on after something like this.”

One of those ways in Claremont is through occasional doses of levity, deftly woven into the kind of narrative that might appear resistant to such things.

“It’s a coping mechanism,” von Carolsfeld said. “I wanted it in the novel because it’s something we all need.”

October 4, 2019. Read more: Montreal Gazette

In Conversation: "Writing a novel is a lot of work!"
Karolin Tuncel,

You are known around the world for your enchanting movies. Now you are about to publish your first book entitled “Claremont”. What made you decide to express yourself in the form of a novel this time, instead of making another film?
Wiebke von Carolsfeld: I love film and the way images can express emotions, how actions reveal what is going on inside a character. I love the magic that happens when actors take your words and make them their own – but literature is unparalleled in its ability to allow us insight into the interior world of people. Claremont is about grief, about shifting interior landscapes in multiple characters after experiencing tragedy – and that is difficult to express in film. Additionally, Claremont is told from four different points of view (Tom, the child at the centre of the story, and then two of his aunts plus an uncle). Telling this story as a novel let me explore how the same event can feel so differently to people involved, depending on who they are in the world and how they experience themselves in it. Because of the interior nature of grief, telling this particular story as a novel made sense. Plus, I didn’t need a couple of million dollars to tell it. Film is very expensive and raising money to tell intimate stories like this is almost impossible, so expressing myself in prose made it possible for me to tell this story. I could just sit down and write it – though of course there is no ‘just’ when it comes to writing a novel. 
September 2019,


"Carolsfeld's characters are vivid"
Rachel Pisani, Quill & Quire

"Claremont, by filmmaker turned novelist Wiebke von Carolsfeld, is a novel about the emotionally messy Michajelovich family, all of whom come with their own baggage and their own techniques for lugging it through life."
September 2019, Quill & Quire

"A welcome surprise"
Jim Fisher, Miramichi Reader

"A very convincing and a very gratifying read. Family, trust, failures and regrets, and underneath it all, a young boy who was spared being part of a family murder-suicide. A laudable first book. I am adding it to the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best First Book (Fiction)."
September 2019, The Miramichi Reader

High praise

“This lovely, gripping novel, with its sense of wonder and horror about the adult world, has a Spielberg-ian quality. It is a resonant tale about a child’s loss of innocence, the terrible fracturing of a family and the purifying path to healing and reconciliation. 

Claremont is also an enormously impressive city-specific novel. Rarely has one funky part of Toronto been so brilliantly brought to life.”
John Doyle, Globe and Mail columnist and bestselling author.

"Wiebke von Carolsfeld brings the nuanced beauty and magic of her award-winning, highly acclaimed films to Claremont and the result is a passionate story of a fractured family brought together by catastrophe and trauma. The ways in which they do and do not meet the challenge of caring for the child at the centre of the tragedy is alternately funny, messy, revealing, and uplifting – and always deeply absorbing."
Edeet Ravel, author Ten Thousand Lovers

"Claremont is big-hearted and rollicking -- a hosanna to messy families and their underestimated resilience."
Sean Michaels, winner Giller Prize


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