An Ocean of Minutes – Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes - Thea LimThis Giller short-listed first novel is fabulous. The setting is 1980. To obtain medical treatment for her partner who has been stricken with a virulent flu, Polly agrees to time travel 12 years into the future to work for the TimeRaiser Corporation to rebuild America. So this is debt bondage, a form of indentured labour. The issue of time is considered in two ways: more time for her partner and time in the sense of memory. Will Polly be reunited with her partner Frank in 12 years, when he will have aged and she will not? The future is decidedly dystopian and so this book successfully melds several genres: what will you do to survive a pandemic, the dislocating effects of time travel forward and the return to your home, social issues of income inequality, the power of memory and the complexity of enduring love. This is just excellent story-telling.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Elephant Is Completely Fine - Gail HoneymanEnjoying a book chosen from a library shelf with no prior information is a wonderful experience. This is a very fine relationship book about complex issues, most seriously the conviction that someone is unlovable and unlikable because of bad things that happen in childhood. Eleanor has many issues like wildly inappropriate social skills, but a chance encounter with Raymond leads, slowly and haltingly, to a happy endpoint There are some laugh-out loud parts but then some heartbreaking sections that will bring the reader to tears. This is Honeyman’s first novel but her writing is mature and reminiscent of Rachel Joyce which is high praise, in my opinion; highly recommended.

The Boat People – Sharon Bala

The Boat People - Sharon BalaThis is a novel created from a Canadian story – what happens to a boatload of Sri Lankans who arrive in Vancouver as refugees. The novel addresses a number of critical and important questions. What would you do to escape a deadly civil war? What would you reveal during the Immigration and Refugee Board hearings? How can the adjudicators determine what is truth from what might be lies or at least omission of facts? Part of what makes this book great is the detail of the chaotic refugee bureaucracy, and the ease of subverting refugee claims by politicians arguing that terrorists must be within the refugee population. So the context is vivid and important, and the three central characters are complex. Another remarkable first novel, this is the best of the Canada Reads books, in my opinion.

American War – Omar El Akkad

American War - Omar El AkkadThis is a remarkable book about a second American civil war (2075-95). The power is in the chilling demonstration of the cost of war to common people; this is not a story about soldiers. This war is driven by ecological issues and extreme partisanship, so very topical and prescient. Above all, this is a tough angry story about revenge and retribution. This is a debut novel that should be a formidable Canada Reads contender.

Next Year For Sure – Zoey Leigh Peterson

Next Year For Sure - Zoey Leigh PetersonThis is a fantastic book, a remarkable first novel that was long-listed for the Giller, and that, in my opinion, is much better than some of the books on the Giller short list. Full disclosure: this is a relationship book which everyone who reads this blog knows is my favourite topic. The story is about psychological intimacy, a couple that evolves to a consensual three-some and eventually to a four-some. The book is beautifully written with sub-headings like “Questions” and “Answers” and “What Kathryn Wants”. This is a delightful read about complex relationships with a brilliant ending – highly recommended, one of my best reads this year.

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest - Cynthia D_Aprix SweeneyThis is an entertaining story about a dysfunctional family, the Plumb siblings (Johnathan Franzen territory). The core character is the oldest, Leo, a prodigal brother who is charming but dishonest and deceitful. The plot has a number of surprising turns to make this a very enjoyable read. Leo’s siblings are variably desperate and entitled and conniving. This is another amazing first novel that is highly recommended.