Thursday, June 30, 2011

Novel Destinations: Canada

CanLit is Eh-Ok! Chill this summer with a cool read from our northerly neighbors.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Spending her youth moving between disparate types of communities, including the backwoods of rural Ontario and the bustling streets of Toronto, has given Margaret Atwood a special insight into the Canadian identity – which she has characterized as an identity of survival. This and other themes are explored in her 2000 Booker Prize winning novel The Blind Assassin. Set in Ontario in the 1930s and 40s, this historical fiction begins with an account of a woman dealing with her sister’s death and then proceeds as a novel-within-a-novel about two unnamed lovers. The book then returns to interweave the storylines – depicting a family history of sex, death and political intrigue.

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Hey Nostradamus! By Douglas Coupland

Having helped to define a generation with his slacker screed Generation X, Douglas Coupland also does his part in defining the Canadian character. His humor tends dark, or his darkness has a humorous lining, possibly a reflection of Vancouver’s extended gray and rainy winters. Coupland uses his hometown as the backdrop for 2003’s Hey Nostradamus! The novel depicts a Columbine-like shooting spree at a suburban high school. The story is told through the perspective of four characters (one from beyond the grave), and comes together as a biting commentary about religion, media, and contemporary culture.

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Too Much Happiness By Alice Munro

For decades, Alice Munro has been publishing compelling, understated short stories, many of which take place in Southwest Ontario, the area where she was raised. In her most recent collection, Too Much Happiness (released in 2009, the same year she won the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work), Munro graces the reader with ten beautifully crafted stories. In addition to Canadian locales, the title story shadows a Russian émigré on a journey across late-nineteenth-century Europe.

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Barney's Version By Mordecai Richler

A native of Montreal, Mordecai Richler uses the French-Canadian city as the setting for many of his novels. One of his most famous works, Barney’s Version , follows the title character, a roguish, whisky-swilling, failed-author-turned-TV producer, who sets out to pen a refutation of charges leveled against him (including, but not limited to, murder) in a rival’s autobiography. In doing so, Barney details the many self-induced failures of his life, producing a personal history that is as funny as it is heartbreaking. Recently, the book was adapted into a film starring Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giammati.

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A Complicated Kindess By Miriam Toews

A huge best-seller in Canada, Miriam Toews’ 2004 novel A Complicated Kindness , tells the story of a young Mennonite girl living in a desolate area of rural Manitoba. Both her sister and mother were excommunicated for being unable to live under the strictures of the sect, leaving the girl with only her gentle, yet uncommunicative, father and no one to help her grapple with disquieting feelings of angst and isolation.

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