Life Class


ISBN 9781770862968 | 5.125″ x 7.625″ | TPB | $21.95
ISBN 9781770862975 | EBOOK | $12.99

Category: Literary Novels





Nerina, a young woman living in Venice after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, is looking for a way to move to America. Her charm and grace bring her to the attention of Helena, a woman who seeks out ‘individuals with useful skills’ for her contacts in the international art community. Nerina successfully adapts to the social and professional expectations of working with creative people. In fact, she is so successful that her greatest challenge lies not in achieving her dream, but in finding for a dream to pursue in the first place – a journey that takes her from Italy to New York, and finally Montreal.

Ann Charney’s Life Class is an unusual diaspora novel, casting its protagonist not as a leaf scattered by wind, but as a brave explorer following her ambitions.


Expand All | Collapse All


“A high-spirited, fast-moving tale of a young woman climbing out of the limbo of statelessness … a picaresque novel about the world seen through the eyes of a character living by her wits — except that picaresque novels traditionally use knaves or fools as central figures and Nerina is neither.”
National Post

“Charney writes in spare, tight prose, setting a brisk pace for a lively plot line and the introduction of intriguing characters … [she] has created a tough, but not toughened protagonist in Nerina … with its determinedly forward-looking protagonist, Life Class is an inspiring affirmation of life after loss.”
– Montreal Gazette

“Mocks the self-indulgence, pretension and aesthetic emptiness of the current high-art world … Charney shrewdly portrays the current art world as parasitic on art’s past.”
Literary Review of Canada

“The fact that Ann Charney is one of the most overlooked writers in Canada becomes more apparent with each new book … Charney, a very intellectual writer, refuses to submerge the reader in an emotional hot tub and instead affirms the cool indifference of life and demonstrates our need not to bemoan it or grieve for it but, finally, to make something of it … What Charney gives the reader in Life Class is a rarity in fiction, particularly Canadian fiction: a sense of life as it is actually lived.”
The Rover

“How does one start all over again and, more importantly, keep going in spite of setbacks? Charney’s approach to this universal question is handled with an astounding freshness in this complex and ambitious novel. A great novelist is one who tells us something new about the human spirit and Charney has succeeded in doing this.”
Canadian Writers Abroad

“A favourite of mine … Really beautifully written … it should have been a Heather’s Pick.”
– Anne Logan for CBC Calgary’s Homestretch (listen here)


Helena’s eyes are not what they used to be, but she realizes it’s not her vision that’s to blame as she examines the young woman Alice has pointed out. Dressed in a shimmering green outfit, her long hair piled on top of her head, Nerina blends in easily with the elegant women in the room.

“I thought it would be fun to pass her off as one of our guests,” Alice says, looking pleased. “You know, just in case somebody felt like being nosy. We don’t want the police getting word of an illegal immigrant working in the house. I’ve given her a cover story should anyone ask any questions: she’s here on a student visa, studying art history. She looks pretty convincing, don’t you think?”

Helena agrees, unable to find any trace of the timid young woman sweeping hair cuttings at Lorenzo’s. Nerina’s transformation goes beyond the change in appearance. Playing the part assigned to her tonight — moving about the room, sipping champagne, chatting with the Ohstroms’ guests — she appears totally at ease, as if parties of this sort were part of her normal routine. Looking at her, Helena wonders what other hidden talents Nerina is keeping in reserve.

“What do you think of the gorgeous help tonight?” Alice asks, accepting a fresh glass of champagne from one of the waiters. “Nerina found them. Wasn’t that resourceful of her?”

Marco, Helena thinks immediately. Surely Nerina wouldn’t bring him back to the house, not after what happened. But the radiant smile on Nerina’s face when she comes over to greet her stops Helena from voicing her suspicions. She doesn’t have the heart to spoil Nerina’s Cinderella moment. And it’s not likely she’ll get a straight answer, in any case.

Nerina’s smile vanishes when she notices Dante, stretched out at Helena’s feet.

“Don’t be afraid,” Helena says, trying to calm her. She’s witnessed Nerina’s phobic reaction to dogs in the past. “He’s big, but he’s as gentle as a kitten.”

While Helena caresses the dog’s head to demonstrate his good nature, Christophe joins them. “You’re the girl who was in such a hurry the other day,” he says, recognizing Nerina from their brief encounter outside the Ohstroms’ house.

“Sorry, my English very bad,” Nerina says, edging away.

Is it the dog or sudden shyness? Helena wonders, watching her abrupt retreat. It’s likely she feels the illusion Alice has created for her will be shattered the moment she speaks, like a silent movie star unable to make the switch to talkies.

Christophe seems to be baffled as well. “Is it me, or did I say something wrong? This is the second time I’ve scared her off. Who is she?”

Helena decides to go along with Alice’s charade. “Nothing to do with you. Nerina has just arrived here on a student visa, and may be a little overwhelmed.”

Why spoil the game when there’s no harm in it? It’s not as if Christophe and Nerina are likely to meet again. He and Annette are flying back to Montreal tomorrow. Just as well, Helena thinks. Matchmaking is not a sideline she cares to pursue.

Book Club Guide



About the Author

Charney, Ann - is a novelist, essayist, and journalist, who has won two National Magazine Awards, the Chatelaine Fiction Prize, and the Canadian Authors’ Association Prize, and was recently named an officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters. (read more)

Books by the Author

Distantly Related to Freud - Ann Charney
ISBN 9781897151303 | 5.125" x 7.625" | TPB | $21

It’s Montreal, 1953, and eight-year-old Ellen and her mother have moved into a large house on the flanks of Mt. Royal. To make ends meet, Ellen’s mother takes in a group of refugees from Central Europe, whose erratic behaviour and dark view of human nature captivate the young girl’s imagination. (read more)
Life Class - Ann Charney
ISBN 9781770862968 | 5.125" x 7.625" | TPB | $21.95

Nerina, a young woman living in Venice after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, uses her charm and grace to successfully navigate her way through the international art community. (read more)

Expand All | Collapse All