Cover: Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue by Christine Higdon, ECW Press

Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue: A Novel

Higdon, Christine

  • “Christine Higdon is a brilliant storyteller. Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a joy and a privilege to read; undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in years.” — Donna Morrissey, author of Pluck

    Four working-class Vancouver sisters, still reeling from the impact of World War I and the pandemic that stole their only brother, are scraping by but attempting to make the most of the exciting 1920s. Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a love story — but like all love stories, it’s complicated …

    Morag is pregnant; she loves her husband. Georgina can’t bear hers and dreams of getting an education. Harriet-Jean, still at home with her opium-addicted mother, is in love with a woman. Isla’s pregnant too — and in love with her sister’s husband. Only one soul knows about Isla’s pregnancy, and it isn’t the father? When Isla resorts to a back-alley abortion and nearly dies, Llewellyn becomes hellbent on revenge, but against whom and to what end? What will it change for Isla and her sisters? For women? And where can revenge lead for a man like Llew, a police detective tangled up in running rum to Prohibition America?

    Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is immersed in the complex political and social realities of the 1920s and, not-so ironically, of the 2020s: love, sex, desire, police corruption, abortion, addiction, and women wanting more. Beautifully written, with a compelling cast of characters, this novel is a tender account of love that cannot be acknowledged, of loss and regret, risk and defiance, abiding friendship, and the powerful bonds of chosen family.

    Book Club Guide: Gin Turpentine Pennyroyal Rue by Christine Higdon


    Price may vary by retailer

    Check availability at your local Canadian independent bookstore:

    Remember that most stores can easily order books they don’t currently have in stock.


  • Christine Higdon is the author of the award-winning novel The Very Marrow of Our Bones. She has won a National Magazine Award, been published in numerous journals, and nominated for CBC literary prizes. She lives part-time in Nova Scotia but mostly in Mimico, Ontario.

  • Published: September 2023

    ISBN: 9781770417069

    Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.

    Pages: 392

← Previous Product Next Product →


“The novel’s messages about choice and inclusion are clear, but it succeeds at being dramatic, not didactic, as the McKenzie sisters struggle to find justice, autonomy, safety, and love in the often hostile world Higdon brings vividly to life. If their problems remain sadly familiar, the novel’s notes of hope and beauty, and the delicate optimism of its conclusion, are all the more welcome.” — Quill & Quire

“Christine Higdon is a brilliant storyteller. Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a joy and a privilege to read; undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in years.” — Donna Morrissey, author of Pluck

“‘Why are women so angry?’ asks the unloved husband of one of the remarkable McKenzie sisters. Christine Higdon answers this essential question with a tale both brutal and beautiful, delving deep into the mysteries of sisterhood, loneliness, and love. This novel had me, heart and mind, from the opening line to the last.” — Alissa York, author of Far Cry

“Christine Higdon has followed up her award-winning debut with the most extraordinary new novel, Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue, a book that somehow manages to be everything all at once: action-packed, artful, playful, timely, timeless, weighty, light, compelling historical fiction that maps so beautifully onto right now...A truly brilliant literary (and feminist) achievement, and just a wonderful read, I loved this book so much!” — Pickle Me This blog

“Higdon writes an emotionally searing novel, about sisterhood and the lengths that we go to in order to protect the ones we love...Higdon is an adept writer. Her prose sparkles, at times lyrical, at times humorous. I look forward to reading more by Christine Higdon.” — Historical Novel Society

“A tender and memorable look at love, loss, and sisterhood...Although fictional characters, the McKenzies represent the untold stories of countless real-life women desperate to shed strict gender-based expectations. Importantly, this novel gives a voice to the unsung experiences and under-reported perspectives of many.” — Literary Review of Canada

“In her latest book, Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue, award-winning author Christine Higdon looks to the 1920s for her achingly beautiful story of sisterhood—those bound by blood and those bound by their shared predicament of living and loving in the absence of agency. Ever a consummate wordsmith, Higdon’s elegant dispatch from the front lines of the battle for gender equality tells a tale as relevant and essential today as it was a century ago. Endlessly evocative and gorgeously rendered, an exquisite novel destined to be called a classic.” — Bobbi French, author of The Good Women of Safe Harbour

“I would read anything Christine Higdon writes, but Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a particular gem. Set in Vancouver in the 1920s during prohibition, this gripping novel implicates the reader in the lives of four very different sisters, each with their secrets and passions. It is impossible not to root for the McKenzie sisters as they fight for justice and forge their own identities, demanding the right to love and learn freely, despite the subjugation under which they live. It’s also impossible not to appreciate the craft and beauty with which Higdon conjures Vancouver of a century ago, a city and a natural landscape both eerily familiar and utterly different than that of Vancouver today. And finally, it’s impossible not to be struck by the parallels with our own time, where women are once again (and still, and relentlessly) grappling with laws that limit choice and human agency.” — Rachel Rose, author of The Octopus Has Three Hearts

“Their story is fast-paced and riveting with great dialogue and the smart brand of funny. The reader forgets at times they are reading the story of 1920s North America, because the issues encountered by these women are still today’s headlines: homophobia, addiction, police corruption, #Me-Too moments, war, abortion and health care, and pandemics. Higdon is a Canadian author whose sense of time and place make her writing, whether it is historical or contemporary, so relatable.” — McLean & Eakin Booksellers

“Higdon has done a wonderful job pulling a complex story together without it feeling too stuffed, and the writing is playful yet carefully considered. For a historical fiction work which feels both fresh and timeless, you don’t have to look any further.” — The Miramichi Reader

“The book examines a number of serious and important issues (search for love and justice and acceptance and equality and identity, sexual orientation, corruption, addiction, reproductive rights) but in a manner that engages the reader with both heart-warming and heart-breaking episodes.” — Schatje's Shelves

“I recommend this read to anyone willing to spend time with the characters. If you’re looking for an edge of your seat page turner thriller, this isn’t it…it’s so much more!” — Edwards Book Club Reviews