14 May 2006

Canadian writing

On the Guardian’s blog on national literatures, we note that, aside from the blahness and blandness of the Canadian old guard, we were sure that someone would mention Mistry and Ondaatje but we'd also recommend MO's poetry. We are glad that someone mentioned Dionne Brand but you may want to take a look at John Thompson, a removed Mancunian and a brilliant poet who met with a tragic end. Lots of emerging talent from the South Asian community: Anar Ali has just made her debut along with Anosh Irani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarsinha. We still think Moyez Vassanji's The Book of Secrets remains his best novel and Jaspreet Singh is worth looking at although we found the early Shauna Singh Baldwin, Nazneen Sadiq and Anita Rau Badami overrated (their later works are much better). And where did Ajit Bose go to? Picked up in a book of world poetry but ignored in the official Canadian anthology, quite a judgement. Priscilla Uppal may be a better poet than a novelist but there's no doubt about Anne Carson's poetry creds. Drew Hayden Taylor is notable for the Métis voice; he has published many books, he says. Eden Robinson from the Hausla community in BC has written three; her Traplines is a powerful collection of short stories and we'd recommend One Good Story, That One by Thomas King who teaches at Guelph. That collection is marvelous as is Shyam Selvadurai’s Storywallah gatherum.

Take a look at the CBC website for past and new Literary Award winners. Alison Pick from this year's crop has written a fine novel and is a poet too. Catherine Bush, one of the fiction jurors this year, has a well-written novel Claire's Head (we wonder if it derived from Rohmer's film Claire's Knee). There are many French Canadian writers whom others more qualified than we can speak more of (can we claim Lisa Appignanesi and Nancy Huston?). Škvorecký's The Cowards and his detective novels remain his best even if many -isms crop up there. We must say we disliked Cohen's novels and most of Layton's verse. Among the pluses, we like Cecil Foster's prose, Austin and George Elliot Clarke (unrelated), Donna Bailey Nurse, Clifton Joseph, Lillian Allen, Shani Mootoo, and Rabindranath Maharaj. Sheila Heti, a young writer, has just published her first novel. Many others on our to-read list include Alootok Ipellie, Camilla Gibb, Larissa Lai, Patrick Lane, Ross Leckie, Don Mackay. Life is short, as we keep repeating.

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