Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kanata- Don Gilmor

If there is such a thing as a novel being too epic, this is it. Kanata is a fictionalized account of Canadian history- all the way from David Thompson, to John A. MacDonald to Mackenzie King.

I bought Don Gilmor's novel after hearing that it featured David Thompson. I figured it would be a nice contrast to his journals (see my earlier review). I have to admit, I had high expectations. There are parts of the novel that lived up to these expectations- every part that didn't feature David Thompon, or John A., or Norman Bethune, or Diefenbaker or any other great Canadian. The great part of this novel was the story of Michael Mountain Horse, the fictional character who acted as a framing device for the stories of the more well-known characters.

Unfortunately, the parts with fictionalized accounts of real people felt too forced and disconnected. The people I was most familiar with before reading the novel (like David Thompson) didn't hold true to my image of them. They were underdeveloped sketches of their real selves. I wish Gilmor had found a way to tell Michael M.H.'s story without all the drama of being an epic Canadian novel. The writing is there, the idea was too grand.

A 'famous' Canadian archivist (as famous as there are) once said that Canadian history is the first person, singular. What he meant was that unlike the Americans or British, who frame their history around great men (think Churchill or Roosevelt), Canadian history is about communities and individuals. Gilmor tried to prove this wrong and he failed.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

La Guerre- Yes Sir!

No one has ever said French-English relations in Canada are straightforward, certainly not Roch Carrier, our once upon a time National Librarian and author of the much beloved the Hockey Sweater- well, beloved by everyone except maybe Toronto Maple Leaf fans. Although he is best known for this children's classic, he was also a novelist for adults and much like the Hockey Sweater, his novella La Guerre- Yes Sir! attempts to explain the eccentricities that divide us and bring us together.

The novel takes place in a small Quebec during WWI. The town acts as the backdrop for a fable-like story of conscription, religion, love, family and yes- the dreaded French-English relations. The novel features a variety of soldiers- one on leave, one avoiding going all together, one upon his return and one upon his return in a coffin. These French soldiers, in all their states, are interrupted by English soldiers escorting the coffin of the fallen French soldier. Add in a few dozen drunk villagers and trouble is bound to happen.

The novel is at times terrifyingly violent, but the characters are written with great compassion and the novel is clever and concise. A definitely worthwhile read.


Monday, May 10, 2010

100 Mile Diet

A move back to the non-fiction world. I have been meaning to post about this for awhile and anyone who follows me on Twitter (@ToryBachmann) knows that I tweeted a 140 character review of this book a few weeks ago. I actually won a prize for it. If you follow @cbcreads* every week or so they give away free books to people who tweet a book review. So a few weeks ago I tweeted:

“100 Mile Diet: An interesting idea written by pretentious hippies Key point- when you eat ask yourself: Where did this come from?”

Obviously a few grammar issues, but hey! It is 140 characters and I had to add the hashtag for the contest- what do you expect?

So really, what can I say about The 100 Mile Diet? Well that is it- I really only need 140 characters. Very interesting idea. Asked a lot of great questions. It was just a snobby book.

The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Eating Locally came out a few years ago (I, as always, am behind on the trends) and was written by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The couple lives in Vancouver and not to be judgmental, but you can definitely tell. If you think of your typical Vancouver hippy, then think of them writing a book this is exactly what it would be like.

The idea, being aware of what you eat and where it comes from, is so important, but I could use without the preachy moments.

Is it going to win any prizes for writing? I certainly hope not. This is definitely a case where the message is more important than the quality of writing. Is it a timeless Canadian classic? Nope. Hopefully the message is, but not this book.

I can say negative things about it, but it really did inspire me to look more carefully at what I eat and where it is grown. I mean, 100 miles is fairly unrealistic (and we live in Canada, can we please use kilometers?) but it made me think and hopefully made a lot of people think about what they eat.

So overall, yes it made me start an herb garden but no it did not make me like the authors.

And now you can look forward to a review of my prize- The Secret Life of Glen Gould

* I would have made this a link, but Twitter is experiencing technical issues and I can't access my followers list