Five From the Archive (no.5)

I hope the Canadian bloggers among you don’t mind my affectionate teasing in the sketch(!)  Although I’ve never been to Canada, I feel a certain affinity with that nation – we Brits (when we’re not binge-drinking football fans) also radiate politeness (even when seething), and apologise when someone bumps into us.  Kate Fox’s Watching the English is a brilliant read for this sort of thing, and will probably appear in a Five from the Archive at some point – but, for today…

Five… Books By Canadians.

1.) Too Much Happiness (2009) by Alice Munro

In short: A collection by one of the world’s most acclaimed short story writers.  Munro examines many themes, but particularly death and intrusion.

From the review: “In playing with the short story genre, Munro invents a formless form appropriate to her superlative talent as an observer of human nature and human interaction.”

2.) Literary Lapses (1910) by Stephen Leacock

In short: Very amusing sketches by an exceptionally gifted comic writer, not well known outside his native land.

From the review: “Stephen Leacock is a humorist par excellence. If I utter his name in the same breath as PG Wodehouse, it is not because their styles are all that similar (though both make fantastic use of stylistic exaggeration) but because Leacock is the only writer I would dare hold up to Wodehouse.”

3.) Crow Lake (2002) by Mary Lawson

In short: A sister returns to visit her family, feeling guilty that she has studied for a PhD while her siblings have had to sacrifice their education… but things become more complex than that…

From the review: “Lawson writes with so many character nuances, and is concerned with subtle issues of empathy, sympathy, unity, hope, hopelessness, courage, foolishness, pride, misunderstanding – it’s all there.”

4.) The Penelopiad (2005) by Margaret Atwood

In short: A re-telling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective.

From the review: “The ‘hook’ of Atwood’s narrative, though – a more original feminist viewpoint – is the death of Penelope’s twelve maids. Odysseus apparently had them hanged upon his return from his voyage. I suspect this is a footnote in Homer’s original, but Atwood plays it to its full potential, and it really is an ingenious angle: why were they killed, when they had aided Penelope?”

5.) Let’s Kill Uncle (1963) by Rohan O’Grady

In short: A troubled orphan, Barnaby, is sent to a Canadian island and befriends a local girl, Christie.  Nobody would believe that Barnaby’s kindly uncle is, in fact, a manipulative, evil man, intent on killing him.  Barnaby and Christie hatch a plan to kill the uncle first…

From the review: “When I read in the blurb that Donna Tartt had called Let’s Kill Uncle a ‘dark, whimsical, startling book’, I was a little confused. Surely those words clash a bit when placed together? And I’m still not sure that there is much whimsy in the novel, unless you describe any scene without blood as whimsical – but it’s certainly the lightest dark book I’ve ever read. Or possibly the darkest light book.”

*  *  *

Over to you!  Which would you suggest?  (I chosen this ‘five’ theme because I’ve read so few Canadians – I imagine many of you would be able to suggest dozens.)

I should add that I loved The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, but apparently never blogged about it.  And, before you suggest it, I really did not like The Handmaid’s Tale

29 thoughts on “Five From the Archive (no.5)

  • July 17, 2012 at 11:20 pm
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    Thank you for mentioning Mary Lawson – I thinkk she is a wonderful writer but she doesn't get much notice.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm
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      She does seem to be underrated – Crow Lake was given away with some women's magazine, which might have undervalued her here.

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  • July 18, 2012 at 3:27 am
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    I did love Crow Lake. And exceptional book. But she seems to have written only 1 other, and then — nothing.

    Oh goodness, that was 10 years ago!!

    Meanwhile, I'll recommend Our Lady of the Lost and Found, by Diane Schoemperlen

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm
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      Was it that long ago? Gosh. I do have The Other Side of the Bridge, but haven't read it.

      And thanks for the recommendation – not an author I've ever heard of.

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  • July 18, 2012 at 4:30 am
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    Obviously, this is my favourite your FFTA lists so far ;) And I love the sketch.

    Allowing me to suggest Canadian books is always dangerous so I'll limit myself to just five:
    1. Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham
    2. Why We Act Like Canadians by Pierre Berton (Berton is almost as essential to a list of Canadian authors as Atwood or Munro)
    3. The Watch That Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennan
    4. The Siren Years by Charles Ritchie
    5. The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys

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    • July 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm
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      I second The Watch That Ends the Night. This was a beautiful book.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm
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      Well restrained, Claire! Thanks for those suggestions. And I'm glad you liked the sketch :)

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  • July 18, 2012 at 5:07 am
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    The Stone Diaries, Unless and Larry's Party by the late Carol Shields. As a matter of fact, anything by Carol Shields. All brilliant.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm
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      I've also been put off – by the stupid reason that Larry's Party and Ralph's Party are associated in my mind.

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  • July 18, 2012 at 6:12 am
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    Claire has made suggestions for me too, since the only Canadians I've read are LM Montgomery, Guy Gavriel Kay (not realising he was Canadian) and Margaret Atwood, who I love – with the exception of The Handmaid's Tale. I am so glad someone else dislikes it as well!

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm
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      How have I not read LM Montgomery?
      And I'm relieved that you love Atwood but not Handmaid's Tale – maybe there is hope for me with Atwood yet! As you see, I did like Penelopiad, but I thought that might not mean much for my general feeling towards Atwood.

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  • July 18, 2012 at 6:19 am
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    I've lived on the prairies so have a huge fondness for R D Symons. Silton Seasons is my bedtime reading right now (comes out every couple of years!) and have recently finished Where the Wagon Led – fantastic stuff and non fiction. Do you know William Kurelek's art? I love A Prairie Boy's Summer and A Prairie Boy's Winter esp. W O Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind is probably the quintessential growing up on the prairie book and is a true classic. On a lighter note, in crime/mysteries there's Gail Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn series. Don't want to forget Max Braithwaite either. Very funny and capturing a time and place perfectly – start with Don't Shoot the Teacher. I'm also collecting picture books illustrated by Barbara Reid – apart from being very charming, I love her way with plasticine!

    Sunshine Sketches by Leacock and The Diviners by Margaret Laurence are wonderful too btw.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm
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      So many authors I've not heard of! But I do know and love Sunshine Sketches, and have The Diviners, which I'm keen to read. Thanks, Donna!

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  • July 18, 2012 at 6:30 am
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    To my shame, the only Canadian authors I've read are LM Montgomery and Margaret Atwood, so it's great to see so many recommendations here.

    I tried reading Carol Shields – 'Larry's Party I think – many years ago and it didn't appeal at all. Should I try again?

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    • July 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm
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      I would choose The Stone Diaries first. Larry's Party is a little dense as I recall, but when I finished it I was in awe. She wrote Unless when she knew she was dying, which enabled her to get some issues out there, no holds barred. I hope you will try again.

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  • July 18, 2012 at 8:29 am
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    Saul Bellow! Unless you think he is rebadged as US since he moved to Chicago when he was 9 or 10 I think. Anyway whatever his "badge" he's a wonderful author and I recommend to you Henderson the Rain King and Humboldt's Gift

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:04 pm
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      Thanks Peter – I've never read Bellow, and had no idea he was Canadian by birth. I'll count 'im!

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  • July 18, 2012 at 9:04 am
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    Virtually anything by Robertson Davies. I devoured them all in my thirties and must re-read him sometime soon. I keep meaning to try Mordecai Richler, but haven't managed to yet.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:04 pm
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      Thanks Annabel – I have heard of them, but never been very tempted – I'm more tempted now!

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  • July 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm
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    Modecai Richler is a great suggestion – Duddy Kravitz, and Barney's Version.

    And has no one mentioned Douglas Coupland yet? Ach! Many great books – Nostradamus! and Eleanor Rigby are both fabulous.

    Mary Lawson's Crow Lake is wonderful. I've recently discovered Helen Humphreys. She has a great book set in England – Coventry.

    I could go on and on here. If you haven't read LM Montgomery (from my PEI) then you should try one.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm
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      Thanks – lots of great ideas. Helen Humphreys has got a few mentions,and sounds like a good fit for me.

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  • July 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm
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    I love Timothy Findley, The Wars or Famous Last Words, Margaret Laurence must read. Sinclair Ross' As For Me And My House, a beautiful short prairie novel, I also love Richler, in my opinion Solomon Gursky Was Here and St-Urbain's Horseman, are his best.
    I echo many of the previously mentioned, Carol Shields, Davies and Diane Schoemperlen, a gem of a writer. I could also suggest many Quebecois writers, Jacques Poulin, Michel Tremblay, Anne Hebert, Marie-Claire Blais and Gabrielle Roy

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm
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      Thanks Roy! My book group actually read Solomon Gursky, but I was away… how annoying!

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  • July 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm
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    I recommend Alistair Macleod's novel "No Great Mischief." One of my top reads last year.

    Mary Grover

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm
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      thanks Mary! I could now fill my next year with exclusively Canadian writers…

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  • July 19, 2012 at 12:13 am
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    I'm another Carol Shields fan – anything, though my favourites are 'Happenstance', 'The Republic of Love' and her sad last novel,'Unless'. Of course, anything by Margaret Laurence, and Quebecois writer Anne Herbert's novel 'Kamouraska'.

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    • July 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm
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      I discovered a singer I love (Rachael Yamagata) based on the theory that anyone who would name their album Happenstance would probably be up my street…. so maybe it would work with a novelist too!

      Reply

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