Canadian authors do what they do best, for better or for worse, in a year full of good reads
Best book: Galore. No doubt in my mind, Michael Crummey’s novel was the book I had the most difficulty putting down in ’09. Crummey’s history of Newfoundland is as mythological and quaint as it is engaging and entertaining. His prose leaps off the page with poetic nuance and brings to life the quirky Newfoundland dialect and the region’s fabled peculiarity. There’s a reason why Galore was nominated for a Governor General’s Award: The writing is extraordinary.
Worst book: Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. I probably won’t hear the end of it for selecting Stuart Ross’s latest effort as the dog of ’09. After Hour published my review of this collection of short stories, the Internet was aflutter with Ross fans who were convinced that my critical skills were lacking. But it’s all a question of taste: While some may regard the book a work of genius, it left me yawning and bored.
Best book by a Montreal writer: The Heart Specialist. Claire Holden Rothman’s historical fiction based loosely on the life of Montreal’s first female doctor, Maude Elizabeth Seymour Abbott, was long-listed for a Giller Prize. Part mystery, part historical fiction, Rothman has created a sublime fiction that transcends genres. Superbly researched and deliciously engaging, The Heart Specialist transports readers back in time and reveals a glimpse of Montreal that has long since disappeared from our consciousness.
Worst book by a Montreal writer: Sex Is the Antigravity of Metamorphosis. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Lyons’ book isn’t half-bad – the Miller-esque novel about hippies and free-love in the late ’60s has some merit. I’m even willing to forgive the author for some of the longer stream-of-consciousness passages that exhausted me. However, Lyons’ self-published novel is littered with hundreds of typos that perpetually tripped me up and turned me off.
Best interview: John Bemrose. When I arrived to meet the author of The Last Woman, everything that could have gone wrong did. My tape recorder failed to work, even after I changed the batteries. Worse, I had to borrow a pen and piece of paper from the publicist who arranged the rendezvous. I felt like a complete amateur, but Bemrose was more than accommodating. At the end of our discussion he was even kind enough to offer me his email address if it would help me to clarify some of my shorthand at a later date. It was an offer I took him up on, making my job a whole lot easier.
Worst interview: Anne Michaels. But not for reasons you might think. The author was a delight to have a conversation with. We spent an hour together talking about her latest novel, The Winter Vault, and Michaels was warm and informative. However, she barely spoke above a whisper. So when it came time to transcribe the interview, the audio recording was so faint I had to listen, repeatedly, to her answers before I could piece together everything that she had said.