Practical Jean, by Trevor Cole

People who Enjoy:

  • ironic humour
  • thought-provoking theme-oriented literature

The Book:

The least I can say about Practical Jean by Trevor Cole, is that it is a memorable read.  Last month, I saw Trevor Cole speak at a writer’s workshop and his description of his work intrigued me.

Practical Jean is a novel about Jean, a middle-aged woman who has just lost her mother to a painful and traumatic death.  Her mother also expected Jean to nurse and care for her as she died (for three long months).  This experience pushed, an otherwise only slightly quirky woman into a psychopath.

After the funeral, Jean has an epiphany. It develops from the decay she saw in her mother, and a memory of when she was six. Her mother was a successful veterinarian, and one day she euthanized a litter of deformed puppies. Six year old Jean, secretly watches her drown the puppies, one by one, in a bucket, and then disposes of the bodies in a garbage can. Jean, feeling like the puppies would be lonely without their mother, systematically, and nobly, drowns her favourite stuffed animals in the same bucket. She promptly throws their dead, stuff animal bodies out in the same garbage can.

The epiphany further develops while having a few drinks with her closest friends.  Jean decides she wants to save them from dying of old age in great pain. Her unwell, but entirely justified mind, decides to kill them all, even though should would miss her friends terribly.

The rest of the book is her plan to execute this.


Cole’s book is darkly interesting. The book is bizarre and unique, with tongue in cheek narration, and memorable character development.  The themes of the book are foreboding, yet it is not dark or horrific. I was left contemplating the value our society has placed on life, and the way we respect and treat death.

Trevor Cole received a lot of acclaim for the book, Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life, this book seemed to slip by a bit more unnoticed, but I think it is still worth the read. Another notable fact about Cole is that he runs a website called Authors Aloud, which features various Canadian authors reading pieces of their own work. It’s worth a few clicks.


5 thoughts on “Practical Jean, by Trevor Cole”

  1. So I’ve finished reading this one. Wow, interesting book! I was impressed at how Trevor Cole was able to paint very clear pictures of relationship dynamics and the thoughts of a female mind. Although I found it dark, it was interesting to see the way she rationalized all of this to herself. I’m not sure if I loved the ending but having the last chapter written by the character Tina Dooley was a neat twist.

  2. Jen! I’m so glad you finished it! that was quick too. For some reason I can really see you interesting in this sort of book. I read his other one called Norman Bray in the Performance of his Life, and liked it quite a bit. Thanks for your comment. I also sympathized with Jean about her rationalizing. It made me think a bit about serial killers.

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