Women Talking – Miriam Toews

Women Talking - Miriam ToewsA fictionalized account of a true story, that women in a strict Mennonite community in Bolivia were repeatedly sexually assaulted while drugged, by men in their own community. The women are having introspective existential conversations: to stay (and fight) or leave? They also discuss moral issues of faith and forgiveness. The only periodic male point-of-view is the transcriptionist who is translating their conversations into English and who occasionally offers comment. The context is a conservative patriarchal society where women have no rights. They want safety for their children, the ability to practise their faith and to think for themselves. Powerful writing.

The Plague – Kevin Chong

The Plague - Kevin ChongThere is much to admire in this book. First, it is set in Vancouver, particularly the city core, so much is familiar. Second, as is evident from the title, Vancouver experiences an infectious disease disaster but the storyline is novel. Rather than focus on the cause and search for a cure (vaccine), the story is about the aftermath of the plague: how do people cope? There are three distinct points-of-view for coping: a family doctor who experiences directly the expanding disease first hand, and two people who are trapped in Vancouver’s core when a quarantine is put in place: a newspaperman who can’t return to his home in the suburbs, and an American writer on a book tour. Explorations of their behaviours in the face of suffering and futility, together with the psychological stress of quarantine, makes this an excellent read – highly recommended.

 

Amy notes: in 2011, there was a riot in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the final game for the Stanley Cup. The downtown peninsula was closed off by the police; people who had watched the game at friends apartments unable to leave, for example. An inspiration for this downtown quarantine?

The Shoe On The Roof – Will Ferguson

The Shoe On The Roof - Will FergusonA comic treatment of the neurobiology of behaviour. Thomas is a medical student who initially uses his knowledge of neurobiology for hook-ups with women. He then digresses to try and “cure” three delusional homeless men. Not surprisingly, much chaos ensues. This book has a very entertaining treatment of sanity versus madness, with a bit of magic reality at the end. Overall, a fun alternative for those readers stuck with too many angst-filled plots!

Principles To Live By – David Adams Richards

Principles To Live By - David Adams Richards.jpgRichards has written a number of acclaimed, albeit angst-filled, novels set in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. This brilliant story is more global, based in New Brunswick but including New York and the genocide in Rwanda. The core of the book is a dogged search for a missing boy by a near-retirement policeman. The quest for truth is confounded by lies, treachery and deceit with some conspiracy aspects as well. A politically complex (and often corrupt) world is outlined in convincing detail. The incredible intuition of the policeman is sometimes hard to believe, but the storytelling is vivid and compelling.

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

Alias Grce - Margaret AtwoodThis book has been on a bookshelf in my home since 1997 but somehow I have never read it, to my chagrin. Atwood’s writing is impeccable, adopting the style of the mid-1800s in letters, for example. Her portrait of the enigmatic Grace Marks is breathtaking: poverty in childhood, a hard life in service, accused of being an accessory to murder at age 16 followed by 20 years of incarceration. The context of early versions of psychiatry and hypnotherapy are detailed carefully. Overall, a joy to read.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed - Margaret AtwoodThe Hogarth Shakespeare project enlists accomplished authors to retell Shakespeare classics (e.g. Hamlet retold by Gillian Flynn, Macbeth retold by Jo Nesbo). Hag-Seed is Atwood’s version ofThe Tempest, and it is exceptional. First, there is Atwood’s sublime prose: “The door clicks and he walks into the warmth and that unique smell. Unfresh paint, faint mildew, unloved food eaten in boredom, and the smell of dejection, the shoulders slumping down, the head bowed, the body caving in upon itself”.  This wonderful passage describes a prison, hence the evocative phrasing. And second, Atwood’s plot emphasizes a delicious revenge. So the book is great fun, with a detailed exposition of the enigmatic parts of the Tempest at the end of the book.

And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyn Saucier

And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyn Saucier.jpgA beautiful and moving story about ageing on your own terms. The novel is set in Northern Ontario where 3 elderly men can hide in the remoteness. But two women join the hideaway and life for all changes. The ending is wistful and transcendent. This was the second funner-up in Canada Reads 2015 (with Martha Wainwright as the proponent), a very well-deserved recognition of exceptional writing.