Macbeth – Jo Nesbo

Macbeth - Jo NesboThe Hogarth Press has undertaken The Shakespeare Project in which contemporary authors rewrite Shakespeare classics (see an earlier review of Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, a retelling of The Tempest). Nesbo is a fantastic Nordic Noir writer, so he gleefully tackles the topic of police corruption and power struggles. The story is set in Scotland at a time that is near-contemporary. Interestingly, Nesbo uses all the Shakespearean characters: Macbeth, Duncan, Malcom, Banquo, Duff .. In the hands of a master writer, the allure of power is a powerful drug.

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste NgThis is a relationship book, a favourite topic for me. The story describes the relationship between two families in a Cleveland suburb. The key relationships are between the two mothers, and the children. There are secrets and divided loyalties, free living versus a life bound by rules, with a sub-plot of a custody battle that divides the community. Ms. Ng writes like Anne Tyler: deceptively simple writing that is incredibly perceptive – highly recommended, one of my best reads in 2018.

Little Sister – Barbara Gowdy

Little Sister - Barbara GowdyGowdy is a masterful writer (Fearless, Falling Angels, The Romantic); she is an under-appreciated Canadian treasure. Little Sister is a fine addition to her collective works, a story about the female psyche and an existential story about entering (not observing but actually entering) another body. There is a grief subplot that is very compelling. Simply put, just excellent writing and story telling.

The Virgins – Pamela Erens

The Virgins - Pamela ErensDonna Tartt wrote the really excellent The Secret History about college students in the 1980s. Erens has written equally wonderful story of high school students in 1979, capturing their youthful innocence that transitions to sexual awakenings and complicated physical and psychological feelings. The book features really excellent writing.

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.