A Large Harmonium: A Novel

It’s a year in the life of Janey: wife, mother, academic. She’s a woman who doesn’t quite understand how she acquired this life and can’t decide whether it is punishment or reward. The premise of my novel is that family life is both joyous and untenable, so Janey’s story works those ups and downs and is both comic and sorrowful, although more of the former than the latter. On a continuum between Bridget Jones's Diary and Anna Karenina, this novel would lean just slightly closer to the Bridget end.

2011    ISBN 9781550504606

Available from the publisher, Coteau Books:

A Large Harmonium@Coteau

or from McNally Robinson Booksellers:

A Large Harmonium@McNally


A Large Harmonium is an honest story with believable characters that explores love, personal growth, and the responsibilities of long friendships while providing the reader a solid look into the lives of a family as they try to cope with personal and community crises within the politically charged atmosphere of an academic setting. This is a funny, intelligent, touching book, filled with interesting philosophical and literary commentary that you’ll want to share with all your friends who appreciate a fine read.

- Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book (winner)

Sue Sorensen’s A Large Harmonium is a funny and honest portrayal of motherhood and academia, and their occasional divergences. It is down-to-earth even as it satirizes the complexities of academic environments. Sorensen’s writing is easy and assured as she flits episodically through the trials and joys of her female protagonist’s days. Comedy, romance, satire, drama: it is all here in a lively romp.

- Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction (shortlist)


"Please, let me tell you about Sue Sorensen’s A Large Harmonium, though it’s distinctly possible that I already did because I spent last week telling everyone about it, urging them to read it, this smart, hilarious book that delighted me so ... This is a wonderful novel with broad appeal. It’s absolutely the funniest and one of the best books I’ve read in ages." (Pickle Me This blog, June 17, 2012)

"Sorensen, an English professor at Canadian Mennonite University, clearly understands the complexities and contradictions that linger on the surface of comfortable middle-class existence. By successfully merging keen observations about domestic and academic life with elegant prose and elements of humour, she has produced a charming, engaging, thoughtful and affecting work." (Sharon Chisvin, Winnipeg Free Press, October 8, 2011)

"Does the absence of a strong plot matter? No. What does matter is Janey’s infectious storytelling voice. She’s like that rare person you meet who is loquacious, not garrulous, the kind of person you can listen to for hours. You don’t care what she talks about; she makes any topic funny or exciting. Janey is a keen observer of academic life, with just enough of a sardonic slant to make you smile and nod in recognition .... Refreshing too is Janey’s happy marriage, a rarity in today’s fiction. But it is Janey’s narration, filled with irony and good-humoured candour, that makes Sue Sorensen’s A Large Harmonium a treat to read." (Dave Williamson, Prairie Fire Review of Books 11.4, 2011)

"A charming and gentle look at a year in the life of an English professor at a college in Winnipeg. Dr. Janet Erlicksen is attempting to juggle her various roles – wife, mother, academic – while grappling with near-crippling self-doubt. Janey knows she is a lucky woman with a good job, a wonderful husband named Hector, and a rambunctious son, but Sorensen skilfully depicts the ways an otherwise fine life can be undercut by lacerating bouts of confusion, uncertainty, and depression." (Candace Fertile, Quill and Quire, December 11, 2011)

"A Large Harmonium does an excellent job of capturing the displacement felt by many women in their thirties and forties.  Told in a highly conversational, almost breezy style, the novel is funny in a fairly understated way and paints a very real portrait of academic life." (The Teatime Reader blog, May 23, 2012)

So is Harmonium an academic satire? Well, yes, but it’s a lot more than that....The narrative arc is a year in the life of a harried English prof, Janet (Janey) Erlickson, who is also a wife and mother, and finds that juggling these roles is almost too much for her. Fittingly it begins in April. As no academic needs Eliot to point out, it’s the cruellest month, with its mountains of marking followed by the feeling of being strangely bereft — abandoned by — the students around whom life has revolved for a semester or two.

The details of her teaching life, especially, ring exactly true, which is hardly surprising, given that Sorensen is an English professor....

Note also this hilarious marking moment: ‘Elizabeth Bennett’s pride,’ a student has written in an essay on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, ‘prevents her from licking Mr. Darcy when he first proposed.’ (This has to be from an actual student essay — it’s too perfect to be invented.) As is to be expected, the novel is thick with literary allusions, from Chaucer to e.e. cummings, but Sorensen supplies enough context to help the reader through them....

Earlier in the novel, Janey has been tantalized by an idea that keeps eluding her: ‘It is something about the entire basis of domestic life, about what it really feels like, from top to bottom, to be a wife and mother... but it will always elude you.... I cannot hold it in my head for long enough to trap it, envelop it in language.’ Yet this is precisely what Sorensen has done, and not a note rings false.  (David Ingham, EVENT 41/2, Fall 2013)