Canadian Books to Pick Up This Fall

This September, Canadian author Madeleine Thein was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize. Her novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, follows the story of three musicians as they struggle with China’s cultural revolution. The story is narrated by Ai-Ming, a young, Chinese woman who has come to Canada after the Tiananmen Square protests. She is telling the story to Marie, the 10-year-old girl whose home Ai-Ming is staying in.

For someone living in Canada, the books being written in this country are uniquely satisfying. Being able to recognize the names of stores and cities or even just the description of the setting makes Canadian books feel familiar, even when they are being read for the first time.  The characters and stories, however, can often give the impression of how different the lives of other people can be who live in this same country.  The blend of what feels known and what feels foreign at once creates novels that are intriguing and captivating. Here are five books by Canadian authors to add to your reading list:

1. Waste

Waste is Andrew F. Sullivan’s first novel and second book. The novel is set in Larkhill, Ontario in 1989. On a winter night after work at a butcher shop, Jamie Garrison, a father who’s at a dead end in his life, and Moses Moon, a teenage wannabe skinhead, hit and kill a drug dealer’s lion. Shortly there after, Moses Moon’s mentally ill mother goes missing. The novel follows as the story spirals out of control. This book isn’t for the squeamish, though. As CBC puts it, this is, “one of the most violent novels CanLit has ever seen.” The descriptions are vivid and constant. Sullivan explained in an interview with CBC that he, “wanted to write something that was very active.” We don’t get to see the long-term, emotional consequences for these characters--we’re just immersed in their world for a very present, short moment. 


2. Birdie

Birdie is the heavily praised and awarded first novel of Tracey Lindberg. The novel takes place as Bernice, a Cree woman, drifts in and out of a dreamlike state in which she revisits her past. While this happens, she is living in Gibsons, B.C., above a bakery where she worked. Her cousin Frieda, Auntie Val and boss, Lola, care for Bernice as she dreams. While Birdie is mostly written from Bernice’s perspective, in the later half of the novel, the chapters come from the perspective of the novel’s three other characters: Auntie Val, Frieda and Lola. We get a distinct view of their reality as well as a unique look into their pasts. Lindberg’s writing style is also worth noting. While Bernice’s present happens in chronological order, each character’s past comes through in bits and pieces. The details about the characters’ lives that she chooses not to include have just as much weight as those that she does include. Her timing throughout the novel gives it incredible realism. Parts of the past do not come up until a character has a reason to be introduced. The strength of the writing combined with the impact of the story make it clear why it was CBC Books’ Best Book of the Year. 


3. The Flying Troutman’s

 This is Mariam Toews’s fifth novel. It follows the story of Hatti, a 28-year-old woman, who returns to Winnipeg from Paris after she receives a call from her 11-year-old niece, Thebes. Hatti’s sister, has been checked into a psychiatric hospital and their house has fallen into chaos. Hatti decides to take Thebes and her troubled, older brother, Logan, on a road trip to California to find their father. While the premise of the novel is sad, it manages to maintain humour throughout. It was awarded the 2008 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The jury explained that with this novel, “Toews captures the rawness of teenagers' personalities—their fledging attempts at brilliance, their hysterical naiveté, and their troubled longings.”  The flawed, realistic characters are what make this novel so vibrant and worthwhile.

4. Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer

Written by Sylvie Rancourt, Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer is Canada’s first autobiographical comic book.  Originally written in French, this book is based off of Rancourt’s own experience as a dancer in Montreal’s strip clubs. The stories told throughout the book are extremely human. Melody is relatable and personable. Rancourt shows the reader a perspective of Montreal that hasn’t always been done justice. The book is divided into sections, each one telling a new story. While the stories are always about Melody, a new adventure unfolds in each chapter. This makes it easy to read the book over a longer period of time without having to worry about forgetting details.


5. Monkey Beach: 

Eden Robinson’s first novel follows the story of Lisamarie Hill, a young, Haisla women who is able to communicate with other worldly beings and receive visions. The novel, which was a finalist for The 2000 Gillar Prize, immediately draws the reader in as it opens the morning after her 17-year-old brother, Jimmy, has gone missing at sea. The novel follows Lisamarie as she travels through the Douglas Channel alone, searching for her brother. As Lisamarie’s childhood memories are retold throughout the novel, it is impossible not to contextualize them within the situation. Even the sweetest memories of her and her brother have an amount of intensity and desperation in them. The calmness and humour that comes with memory mixed with the severity of the present is set against B.C’s coast, making this novel impossible to put down.