Tea or Books? #46: Canadian vs Irish Literature, and My Name Is Lucy Barton vs Anything Is Possible

Elizabeth Strout is our author this episode – and we also dip a toe in the worlds of Canadian and Irish literature. Spoilers: we know a lot less than we should. Suggestions welcomed, please!


Tea or Books logoI’m off to Canada shortly, which is why we chose the first topic – and nothing much links Canada and Ireland other than the fact that I’ve thought they’d be interesting nations’ literature to talk about. In the second half, we turn to an American writer – a modern one, no less! – Elizabeth Strout. She’s literally still alive, guys. That modern.

Check out our iTunes page – rate/review through iTunes and all that – let us know which you’d pick in each category, and any other topics or authors you think we should cover in future episodes.

Look out for an inelegant bit where I sub in a clip because I got the title of a Stef Penney novel wrong. #Professional.

Here are the books and authors we mention:

Silas Marner by George Eliot
Ulysses by James Joyce
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell
Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill
Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
Agatha Christie
Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge
Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge
Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge
Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh
I Follow But Myself by Frank Baker
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
Margaret Atwood
Alice Munro
Elizabeth Bowen
Molly Keane / MJ Farrell
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Seamus Heaney
Carol Shields
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Over the Footlights by Stephen Leacock
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Translations by Brian Friel
Oscar Wilde
George Bernard Shaw
The Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Anne Tyler
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (who is Canadian!)
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
A Compass Error by Sybille Bedford
A Favourite of the Gods by Sybille Bedford
Pleasures and Landscapes by Sybille Bedford

10 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #46: Canadian vs Irish Literature, and My Name Is Lucy Barton vs Anything Is Possible

  • October 20, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Canadian, eh? Well, how about
    Margaret Laurence (oh wait, you mentioned her)
    Louise Penny
    Timothy Findlay
    Jane Urquhart
    Michael Ondaatje
    Marian Engel
    Miriam Toews
    Emily Carr (yes, the artist; also a writer)
    Diane Schoemperlen
    Emma Donoghue. You can do Canadian/Irish together.
    Pierre Berton

    go wild. (so to speak.)

  • October 20, 2017 at 8:59 am

    I discovered Elizabeth Strout last year and read both the books you talk about here. You both made so many interesting points, and I found I agreed with everything Rachel said – unlike Simon, I loved reading Anything is Possible for the fact that it filled in the stories only hinted at in Lucy Barton. I read Lucy Barton first – it was published first – but I’m not sure I’d describe Anything is Possible as a sequel, exactly, though I see what you meant, as the publication of Lucy’s ‘memoir’ is mentioned in the novel. I don’t know how I’d choose between them as I loved them both to bits and they are so different in approach. She’s a superb writer and I enjoyed very much Rachel’s comments on her amazingly simple but beautiful style. I’ve got Olive Kitteridge but haven’t read it yet. Anyway thanks guys.

  • October 20, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Hi there, I read both and loved them both equally even though they are heartbreaking.

    I’m really replying to Simon’s comment, on how he saves the books he really wants to read. I do the same. I order lots of books from Abe books, or buy random ones I see in charity shops, so build up a collection that have been recommended on blogs/podcasts. But when it is time to choose one from the pile I will save the most eagerly anticipated, telling myself I have to get through some second tier choices before I can treat myself to a wallow in specialness. Weird, isn’t it? But unlike Simon, I save the good ‘uns for when I am going through crap in other areas of my life so that they will be my refuge. Top of my list at the mo is Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron. That should suit me after a week of working late and coming home in the dark and Christmas looming like an iceberg. Early December should see Coral get dusted off.

  • October 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    A few Canadian authors for you (and I should know more since I took a course one semester on the subject—but many moons ago is my excuse!?!) A reprint by Bloomsbury when your precious Mrs Hargreaves was published is Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady. It is very good and an interesting cross between adult and YA fiction. One of the best loved and known Canadian authors is Robertson Davies. Many know him for his ghost stories but all of his trilogies are good (Deptford, Salterton and Cornish). A good article for you and anyone else interested: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/robertson-davies-tribute-to-great-novelist/

    Enjoy your travels!

  • October 20, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    I don’t know enough about either country’s literature, for some reason, to say anything sensible apart from that Margaret Atwood is just one of the best things ever!!!

  • October 20, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    I don’t know enough about either country’s literature, for some reason, to say anything sensible apart from that Margaret Atwood is just one of the best things ever!!! And Buried in Print’s blog is pretty good on CanLit!

  • October 21, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Just a typo, but it’s Olive Kitteridge, not Oliver (which I know you both said correctly) and if you liked these two books, you will love Olive Kitteridge. I also enjoyed The Burgess Boys. For Canadian authors I can recommend Michael Crummey, and although Annie Proulx is not Canadian, her The Shipping News has a strong Canadian setting. For Ireland, Anne Enright and Donal Ryan. These are just off the top of my head.

  • October 23, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    First, I agree with Rachel that Middlemarch could use some editing. The entire first 100 pages was really dry, but after that I loved it. And re: Frank Baker — Simon, did you know that he wrote a similar story to Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds AND submitted it to the same publisher months before she did? Coincidence? He was advised not to pursue any charges of plagiarism.

    I haven’t read that many Canadian writers though I did love Anne of Green Gables and The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. I don’t know that they have a particularly Canadian feel, as an American I just get a great sense of the early 20th century. PEI is pretty close to New England so I suspect it’s similar (though I’m a Midwesterner and couldn’t say for sure). I’ve also just started reading Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham which is one of the spring Persephones and one of the few Canadian books they’ve published. It’s quite good so far.

    I haven’t read too many Irish writers but I did read The Country Girls trilogy just after the new year, it was terribly depressing. I’ve also read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin which is absolutely lovely, and the movie version as well. And if pressed, I will admit to reading a lot of Maeve Binchy and Marion Keyes back when I was reading chick lit.

  • October 23, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    How about a tea or books? episode on books about the French Revolution vs. books about the American Revolution. Both take place about the same time…..might be interesting !

  • November 2, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    For Irish Authors you might look at Frank Delaney, I particularly loved his book Ireland, which weaves pretty much the whole history of Ireland into one saga surrounding a storyteller. He has several others that tackle historic, mystical and a little modern Ireland. Also, The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne felt very Irish identity (or the lack of feeling it) both in Ireland and abroad. And then there is Frank McCourt… I do think that there can be a strong theme of Irishness in books set in that country, sometimes to a point of annoyance. So many mysteries and chick lit books grab onto Irish sterotypes (drunk father, church dominated village life, poverty, etc) that it can grate. So I love finding a book that delves into the setting/national identity in a deeper way (as Delaney does, I think).


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