Thursday, December 31, 2009

Canada Reads- Marina Endicott

As soon as the Canada Reads picks were announced on CBC I ran to the TPL website and put all of them on hold. They have started streaming in (at an alarming rate actually), so I have started reading. The first to arrive was Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott.

The book tells the story of a middle aged, single, Christian woman (Clara) whose life is turned upside down when she gets into a car accident. The vehicle she hits contains a family much less well off than her. The family had been living in the car- mom, dad, three kids and grandma. When the mother is taken to the hospital following the accident, cancer is found. Advanced cancer. She is confined to the hospital, the family is homeless and motherless.

Clara takes them in, the whole lot of them and she takes care of the mother in the hospital. Her love life even develops, if rather awkwardly, with her priest.

Clara's late life introduction to motherhood is amusingly told. The story is warm and heartfelt. The characters are likeable and well developed. My only problem with the book was the pacing. The book begins with a series of fast paced events that tumble through the first hundred or so pages as Clara settles into her new role. But the writing during these pages is slow and measured. The story ran ahead of the writing. I found this frustrating, I felt like the novel wasn't moving at the pace I wanted. But, as the story settles down, the writing catches up. By the end I had completely changed my mind- I liked the book, I enjoyed reading it.

I am not quite ready to say whether it should win Canada Reads, but I am not discounting it either.

Next up: Ann-Marie MacDonald- Fall on your Knees

- Katy

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Man in the Closet by Roch Carrier

It seemed this fall the big thing to do was to hold used book sales. There were a few in the lobby of my building at work and one at church. I took advantage of these to gather some Can Lit at reasonable prices. Now, this has positives and negatives. Positive: most books cost me $1. Negative: Not always the best selection. This meant I had to broaden my selection criteria, so basically, anything Canadian I bought. So that is how I ended up with Roch Carrier on my shelf.

Then, post wedding, I was falling behind and wanted a book that I could blow through quick. So I decided on The Man in the Closet.

The only other Roch Carrier book I have read is The Hockey Sweater, which I love (of course). So this was my first non-kids, non-picture book from him. And it wasn’t bad.

The Man in the Closet is a mystery type story of a small town in Quebec that often has big town people visit on the weekend (country homes). Two young (beautiful) girls come to stay in a house owned by the Martins. One night, a man jumps out of the closet and scares one of the girls, who in turns punches through a window and runs away (all while naked- she was getting ready for bed). This leads to chaos in the small town as fingers are pointed and accusations thrown.
Though a mystery, it was not all that mysterious, but the ending did still shock me a bit (not entirely). It was a good portrait of small town life and the interesting dynamics that play out. While I would never nominate this book for any kind of prize, it wasn’t horrible.

Anyway, it is hard to write about mediocre books- not much to say besides it was ok. I still say Roch Carrier is one of the most important writers in Canada, just for the Hockey Sweater, not this one.

Next up: Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa, which I am now 25 pages into and really enjoying!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hemingway is Canadian, right?

So, I know that Ernest Hemingway is not actually Canadian, but I have to read a book for my book club once a month and they never pick Canadian writers (especially not after the disastrous Mavis Gallant meeting). It is taking away from my Canadian tally, so this month, as Hemingway spent a small chunk of his career writing for the Toronto Star, I am counting him as Can-Lit. We could spend all day arguing about what counts as Can-Lit, but Hemingway mentions Canada more times in A Moveable Feast than Mistry did in A Fine Balance, so I think I am ok.

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway's memoir of early 1920s Paris, particularly of his involvement with the 'Lost Generation.' Not technically fiction (alright, this post really doesn't belong on the blog, but it is too late now), Hemingway wrote the book in the late 1950s. This puzzled me for a couple reasons: 1) He recounts exact conversations and encounters, how did he remember these? 2) Boy does he ever love his first wife, although sweet, this must have been awkward for whichever wife he was on when this was published. 3) Why did he write this book? So much of it was name dropping (Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc.). By the time he wrote it, Hemingway had won the Nobel Prize and was a very established writer- no need for name dropping.

It is an interesting read and I found myself liking Hemingway, especially his obvious affection for his family and his admiration for other writers. A small insight into the world of a foreign correspondent, struggling to become a writer. Next time I feel like an over-priced beer, I might just head to Hemingways in Yorkville and ruminate on one of our truly great writers.

Next up, I begin my Canada Reads novels, I got an email from the library today- one of them has arrived.

- Katy

The Wars

Unlike a large amount of Canadian teenagers, I somehow missed out on reading Timothy Findley in school. Yet, somehow I still closely associate him with the Canadian high school experience. In reading The Wars, Findley's novel of World War 1, I felt transported back to grade 11, unfortunately not in a particularly good way.

Robert Ross, a nineteen-year-old Ontario boy, shortly after the death of his beloved sister, signs up for war. This sends his family into a bit of a tail spin, adding a side plot to the story. The novel follows Robert through training as an officer, to France and his days in the trenches. Robert ultimately suffers from, what is now known to be, post-traumatic stress disorder and rebels against the institution of war in one desperate act to save the lives of horses.

The story is told from an interesting point of view. Someone is researching Robert's story and letting us in on what he discovers. As an archivist, I am always happy to see one pop up in a novel, so having the researching angle would normally entice me. But in this novel it feels too undeveloped, like the story of Robert's family, Findley does not spend time showing us their world, but only uses them as a convenient mechanism for the development of Robert's plot. It leaves their bits feeling forced and unimportant, taking away from rather than adding to the novel.

Overall, the book reads like something out of those old school readers. Some great examples of literary technique for a grey haired high school teacher to lecture for what-feels-like-hours about while his students pass notes and nap.


Non-Canadian Can Lit

For the first time in this challenge I have read a book which is difficult to fit into the Canadian canon. That isn't saying that Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance isn't good, it's great in fact, just that it doesn't take place in Canada, never mentions Canada and generally doesn't feel Canadian (whatever that means). That being said I am glad Rohinton Mistry, born in Bombay but a resident of Canada since 1975, is part of the Canadian literary scene. His novel provides depth to many of the themes that have already appeared in this blog, particularly to themes of family and history/memory.

A Fine Balance tells the story of four individuals whose lives are brought together under the roof of one apartment. Dina, a widowed woman who runs a small sewing company; Ishvar and his orphaned nephew Om, Dina's employees; and Maneck, the son of one of Dina's childhood friends who has come to the big city for university. The novel is epic, not just because of its 700 page length, but because of its abilities to tell the beautiful and tragic story of the four characters against the backdrop of a nation (India) going through enormous changes. The novel touches on numerous themes, but for me the most poignant was Mistry's ability to re-define definitions of family, even in unusual and often difficult surroundings.

In turned out that the length was not an obstacle at all (I have a phobia of long books). The story and writing style flowed and the next thing I knew I was hundreds of pages in. The biggest hurdle was that anytime I mentioned to someone that I was reading A Fine Balance, I heard about how sad the novel was. I grew a bit worried- how depressing would this be? And it was sad, tragic even. Just as long as you don't mind getting a little teary eyed on the TTC, this book is a must read.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Canada Reads List Announced

This past week the 2010 version of Canada Reads was announced by the CBC.

The books and their defenders are as follows:
  • Perdita Felicien is defending Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • Samantha Nutt is defending The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
  • Cadence Weapon is defending Generation X by Douglas Coupland (side note: Cadence Weapon is curently Edmonton's poet laureate- how cool is that? Edmonton has a rapper as a poet laureate! Sometimes this city surprises me)
  • Simi Sara is defending Good to a Fault by Marinna Endicott
  • Michel Vezina is defending Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner

I haven't read any of these books, though Fall on Your Knees is quite popular, so I imagine many people have. So was Generation X when it first came out.

I am looking forward to reading all theses books, and on Katy's suggestion I am going to have to reserve them at the library so I don't go broke reading Can Lit.

I am not going to lie, I have never spent the time following or reading Canada Reads books. Two years ago I did read the winner, King Leary by Paul Quarrington and it was amazing. But going back through the list of all the books nominated, that is only one of two that I have ever gotten around to. Not to say I haven't read other books by those authors, but the exact books? Just two. Quarrington and Thomas Wharton's Icefields (which happens to be a personal favorite of mine). SO this year will be a challenge for me (a challenge in a challenge, if you will). We will see how I do.

On the note of Canada Reads, I wanted to share this column by Douglas Hunter, who criticizes the novel choices in Canada Reads, noting that they are all fiction! What about Canadian non-fiction? He is right, while I am not a huge non-fiction fan, there are some great Can Lit non-fiction writers out there and I am going to try and read his recommendations as well. I need to break out of my fiction box. I may even read the Andrew Nikiforuk book.... just don't tell anyone I work with :)

So get reading readers! let me know what you think of the Canada Reads selections- any first thoughts?