Top 5 in Canadian Literature: A List and a Caveat

So a recent list by CBC of the “100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian” (note: *novels*) suggests that I read a lot of Canadian literature (a quick flip through the “categories” on this page shows the same thing!). Prompted by a few friends, and with the caveat that I’ve only made my way through 60 on the CBC list, here’s my top recommendations from the list of 100 if you wanted to throw yourself into nation-based literature this summer:

Barney’s Version — Mordecai Richler (the links take you to full reviews if I’ve written one)

Why? One of the best (the best?) characters I’ve read. A complicated, simultaneously empathetic and repugnant protagonist. A mystery. Hockey (because it’s a book about Canada, right?). And hands down the most satisfying conclusion to any novel ever.

Indian Horse — Richard Wagamese

Apparently all the Can Lit I like has some relationship to hockey? This book follows Saul as he is taken to residential school and his life after – his relationship to the nation (by way of hockey), to national communities and to story-telling. It’s both brilliantly written and impossible to put down.

Swamp Angel – Ethel Wilson

I read this one while in undergrad (so before the time of this blog) and what I remember best is the tension and atmosphere of the book (some might call it the *cough* ‘garrison mentality’) as our protagonist, Maggie (I’ll admit I had to look up her name), plans to leave her husband and what happens after. The setting – BC interior – is richly drawn, but most impressive to me was the sense of women as a community being (or learning to be) tough together.

The Book of Negroes – Lawrence Hill

Why? Because it’s brilliant. Storytelling, historical fiction, indictment of your responsibilities as a reader. Character. It’s just brilliant.

The Cellist of Sarajevo — Steven Galloway

Huh. I really thought I’d read this one in the era of the blog, but turns out I didn’t. Go get this book! It opens with a cellist (*the* cellist) playing in the streets as Sarajevo is being bombed. The poignancy of this small act of heroism – bringing incongruous calm and beauty into scenes of war – is followed by a novel that follows other characters in their similar personal scenes of bravery, cowardice and attempts to make sense of a world of siege, deprivation, loneliness and fear through community, care and the beauty of art (metafiction!).

And why not, also:

Galore — Michael Crummey

The Sisters Brothers — Patrick deWitt

A serious caveat with this list is the absence of Margaret Laurence who is *my* favourite Canadian novelist. If you’ve not read The Stone Angel you probably should. Or A Jest of God. Or The Diviners.


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