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Polar Vortex


A novel reminiscent of the works of Herman Koch and Rachel Cusk, in which a lesbian couple attempts to escape the secrets of their pasts.

$16.95 $12.71

What people are saying…

Polar Vortex has been short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize!

“[Mootoo’s] unsettling latest examines how secrets always come back to haunt us—especially the ones we’ve managed to keep from ourselves.”
Globe & Mail, one of the 100 Favorite Books of 2020

Short-listed for the 2020 Caribbean Readers’ Awards (Best Adult Novel)!

One of Autostraddle‘s Best Queer Books of 2020

A Lambda Literary Staff Pick for 2020, recommended by Monica Carter

“Shani Mootoo is one of the towering lesbian novelists of our time . . . Polar Vortex [is] a jewel in an already extraordinary creative life. Mootoo’s powerful capacity capture of people and their inner vulnerabilities and longings in her novels make them compelling reads.”

“With grace and dexterity, Polar Vortex maps the interiority of middle age lesbians and the complex and fraught intimate dances of couples . . . Here is a writer at the full height of her power asking vital, important questions rendered beautifully through character, setting, and plot. Here is a writer demonstrating with passion and power the importance of art to understanding the world. What pleasure!”
Lambda Literary

“The action is dramatic, but it could only be surprising to someone who hasn’t noticed the accumulation of clues. There is violence and betrayal, but the characters are so sympathetically drawn that no one emerges as a villain or a stereotype . . . The structuring of the plot as a series of scenes gives this novel a steady momentum. Polar Vortex is a cautionary tale for adults.”
The Gay & Lesbian Review

“A tantalizing mix of psychological thriller and literary fiction . . . Mootoo brilliantly explores white discourse about queer sexuality and identity, refugee experiences, the triple effects of sexism, racism, and homophobia on queer women of color, and more.”
Autostraddle, Included in the Fall 2020 Queer and Feminist Books Preview

One of the Bay Area Reporter‘s Fantastic Fiction picks

“A suspenseful story of desire, secrets, and an unexpected love triangle.”
Trinidad & Tobago Express

“A married lesbian couple (one an Indo-Trini immigrant) deals with ongoing secrets and jealousies and the sudden intrusion of a former male friend (a Ugandan Indian immigrant) from one of their pasts, leading to unexpected consequences.”
New West Indian Guide

“A lesbian couple, together six years, move from Toronto to a home in an isolated island community. Priya is an artist, from an Indian family in the West Indies, Alex a writer and native Canadian. But there’s a third presence, Prakash, a Ugandan Indian whose family fled Amin and settled in Canada, who Priya met at university. Priya had turned him down as a suitor years ago, but now he has found her new location, and Priya has invited him for a weekend. Alex seems unduly displeased, but as the story unfolds through Priya’s voice, the balance tips. Priya’s story is more complex than she has shared with Alex; Prakash may have darker intentions for his visit, while Alex herself has secrets of her own.”
Lavender Magazine

“The story is tense and on every page tension rises. Yet even while sitting on the edge of my chair, I could not stop reading. In fact, I am still thinking about what I read a week later. Mootoo mixes two genres—psychological thriller and literary fiction—as she delves into the nature of queer sexuality and identity, immigrant experiences and the results of sexism, racism, and homophobia on LGBT women of color.”
Reviews by Amos Lassen

“What Mootoo executed perfectly was the duality that lies within each of us, the capacity to be extremely open and also self-servingly deceitful. We all make mistakes, hurt each other and ourselves, but without true communication and acknowledgement, only the wounding remains.”
2T Reads

“A slow-burning examination of identity, gender, desire, and immigration . . . Mootoo’s subtle, thought-provoking tale stands out among stories of characters gripped by the past.”
Publishers Weekly

“Compellingly charts the complexity of human relationships, the illusions of memory, and the corrosive power of denial.”
Kirkus Reviews

Polar Vortex is a powerful, fraught, and inventive exploration of the impossibility of ever really knowing the people we come to love. Told in urgent, incandescent prose and effortlessly spinning in and out of time, the book is an intimate and starkly honest examination of the complexities of sexual identity, lust, shame, regret, and how we, no matter where we come from or how we identify, are at our most complicated when it comes to the whims and failings of the human heart.”
—Joe Meno, author of Marvel and a Wonder

“How to know the shifting pieces of ourselves, how to acknowledge contradictory desires, as we are pulled into the maelstrom of desire and memory? Shani Mootoo’s intimate new novel suspends us in the vortex between acts of betrayal and acts of love. It is a powerfully unsettling work from a brilliant artist.”
—Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

“The past isn’t even past—and the present is tense with conflicting desires and untold stories. What brings clarity to this setting is Shani Mootoo’s limpid prose, clean and bracing. Polar Vortex is an honest, but also moving, exploration of true intimacy.”
—Amitava Kumar, author of Immigrant, Montana

“What a gorgeous and thrilling novel. Beautifully crafted, with perfect form and icy-clear tone—Shani Mootoo held me under her spell until the shock and release of the last page!”
—Sarah Selecky, author of Radiant Shimmering Light


Polar Vortex is a seductive and tension-filled novel about Priya and Alex, a lesbian couple who left the big city to relocate to a bucolic countryside community. It seemed like a good way to leave their past behind and cement their newish, later-in-life relationship. But there’s leaving the past behind—and then there’s running away from awkward histories.

Priya has a secret—a long-standing on-again, off-again relationship with a man, Prakash. In Priya’s mind Prakash is little more than an old friend, but in reality things are a bit complicated. Why has she never told Alex about him? Prakash has tracked Priya down in her new life, and before she realizes what she’s doing, she invites him to visit.

Alex is not pleased, and soon the existing cracks in their relationship widen, revealing secrets Alex herself would have preferred to keep. Into the fissure walks Prakash, whose own agenda forces all three to face the inevitable consequences of their choices.

Read a feature/Q&A with Shani Mootoo at the 49th Shelf and watch Shani Mootoo read a passage from Polar Vortex:

Listen to interviews with Shani Mootoo at Caribbean Riddims and Coastal Rainbow Forum.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Published: 9/15/20
  • IBSN: 9781617758621
  • e-IBSN: 9781617758706
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617759086


SHANI MOOTOO is a novelist, poet, and visual artist. Her novels include Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and short-listed for a Lambda Literary Award; Valmiki’s Daughter, long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize; He Drown She in the Sea, long-listed for the Dublin Impac Award; and Cereus Blooms at Night, short-listed for several prizes including the Giller Prize, and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. She is also a recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, and the Dr. James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize. Her latest novel is Polar Vortex.

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