Monday 12 November 2007

Canada Canada

Before I start this post - Fair Play Book Group meeting tomorrow, and thus my opinion of it, and whether or not the group agreed... and hopefully all of you will chime in with what you thought!

150th post today, and somehow that puts me in mind of Canada. D
on't ask, cos I don't know. There is something about Canada that I can't put my finger on - maybe because, like Britain, it often seems to play second fiddle to the US? Because they have two languages? Because of that lovely maple leaf? I don't know. Whatever it is, it makes me feel I've missed out on Canadian literature. It remains an almost wholly untapped mine for me. In fact, the sum total of my Canadian reading (so far as I know) is Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, and lots and lots of the inimitable Stephen Leacock. There'll be more of him at some later date, as I just know you'll love him - like a Canadian PG Wodehouse, if any comparison is possible for an author who is really only Leacockian. Anyway, yes, Ondaatje and Leacock - that's it. No Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, L. M. Montgomery, Alice Munro... ok, I'm out. Whoever else there is, I haven't read 'em.

This all snowballed when I came across Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. In my unliterary sort of way, it was news of a film adaptation which reached me first. Fancied seeing it when it came out, so went off in search of the novel... lo and behold, Lynne mentioned it at dovegreyreader. Having CRUELLY made me go and find a copy myself, I pulled some library strings and have a copy in front of me now. A couple review books first, methinks, but Margaret Laurence is going to become my next dip into Canadian waters.

So, dear Transatlantic readers (and any others, of course) - where's best to start with Canadian lit? In my perverse way, I'd rather avoid the Famous Ones listed above - I'd prefer someone fairly big in Canada, but who is a Best Kept Secret. Or someone who's not even big in Canada, but comes with a recommendation tied to them. Any ideas?


  1. Even if you get lots of 'secret' Canadian authors suggested to you, I beg you, don't dismiss Carol Shields, just because she is famous. All her books are wonderful, each one different, very re-readable.
    I fancy 'The Stone Angel' though, and now you have gone to all the trouble of finding a copy for yourself, please let us know what you think.....C.B.

  2. My pick for favorite Canadian author is Elizabeth Hay ... our book club read two of her books A Student of Weather and Garbo Laughs - there's an entry in March 2007 archives of my Reading Diary

    Last month she was awarded the 2007 Giller Prize for her recent work Late Nights on Air

    I like Barbara Hodgson - for her beautiful artwork and collages. There's a bit about two of her books in the April 2007 archives. Her publishers are sending me a review copy of her most recent Trading in Memories, and I'm eagerly awaiting mail delivery

  3. Yes, I must revisit Stephen Leacock. It's time for a trip on the Mariposa Belle again.... I haven't read that in years. Thank you for reminding me. (I am thinking of the right author, aren't I?)

  4. Robertson Davies! For some reason, his books have stuck in my mind and I've read them all at least twice. I especially enjoyed the Cornish Trilogy and whilst you don't have to read the books in order, some characters do slightly overlap so it might be worth it!

    Margaret Atwood would be another must-read Canadian author. The Handmaid's Tale stayed with me for a long time afterwards but I also really enjoyed Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin. I've read all her books and there's not one I didn't like though...

    I've not read/heard of some of the authors mentioned here and will take steps to rectify my ignorance.

  5. Just starting on Canadian authors... oh such riches you have yet to explore! Being Canadian I am a little prejudiced but with a little exposure I think you will agree. Here are just a few you should try...David Adams Richards, Guy Vanderhaeghe, M.G. Vassanji, Anne Marie MacDonald, W.O. Mitchell, Sandra Birdsell, Anne Cameron, Timothy Findley. This is really only a quick pass over my bookshelves...great reading awaits you. Enjoy!!!!

  6. I'm a HUGE fan of CanLit Simon so thought it would do you good to go and find Margaret Laurence on the shelves yourself and perhaps glimpse her others:-)Interestingly she was living and writing in Penn in Bucks at the same time as Elizabeth Taylor. I'd love to think they met and swapped notes about Mrs Palfrey and Hagar Shipley.ML's life was fascinating and I think she is considered the matriarch of Canadian women writers,much sadness too but a lovely person and when her own muse waned she gave tirelessly to other writers. Her letters are wonderful and a lot of books written about her life and her writing. I even joined the ML Society I loved her so much!
    This post will horrify you but if ever anyone told is as she saw it ML did.If the link doesn't work scroll down to the ML link on the rt of my blog.

  7. Almost forgot, you'd better add Jane Urquhart to your list too!

  8. Try this instead!

  9. Here's a fellow that I think is right up your alley (or street) - Stuart McLean. You may read more here:

    He has a radio program you can listen to online, in which he has a fictional family living their daily lives. He is funny and warm and witty and intelligent. A gentle humorist who has won the Stephen Leacock award.

  10. How about Wayne Johnston, or Anne Marie MacDonald? Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan was wonderful. Or fellow blogger, Kate Sutherland's short stories? And definitely do give Margaret Atwood a try--she is one of my favorites!

  11. Indeed, 'Clara Callan' by Richard B. Wright was superb. Also try Helen Humphreys, her novel 'Afterimage' was wonderful. Great reads, both.

  12. Here is a link to the NY Times book review of Afterimage by Helen Humphreys.


  13. Also Alistair McLeod's short stories set in Cape Breton (collected as "Island") and his novel No Great Mischief; wonderful lyrical writing.

    I'd second Robertson Davies (The Salterton Trilogy is my favourite)and Mary Lawson is very good.

    John Mutford at The Book Mine Set has compiled an excellent, representative list of Can lit at

    Only one book per author but it's a very good starting point.


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