Dual Citizens – Alix Ohlin

Regular readers of this book blog know that I have a specific affection for introspective relationship books. This book by Ms. Ohlin is a perfect read, in my opinion. The story enters on two sisters, Lark and Robin, from their early childhood in Montreal and their complicated relationship with their mother Marianne, to adulthood in New York and the Laurentians. Lark is the main character, someone who hopes that silence will produce invisibility. The story contains vivid descriptions of art, music and film, motherhood and even wolves. The writing is divine; highly recommended.

A Deadly Divide – Ausma Zehana Khan

A Deadly Divide - Ausma Zehana KhanInspector Esa Khattak and Sgt. Rachel Getty of the Canadian Community Policing (Ethnic Division) investigate a mass killing at a Quebec mosque. In addition to providing a really excellent murder mystery plot, this story is obviously topical in Canada but also topical world-wide given the New Zealand mosque attack. The issue of radicalization to white supremacy causes is treated intelligently. Khattak and Getty make a formidable team, much like Elizabeth George’s Lynley and Havers. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Home for Unwanted Girls – Joanne Goodman

The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanne GoodmanOne of the things we learned from Heather O’Neill’s very fine The Lonely Hearts Hotel was that Quebec orphanages were tough places. Goodman’s novel reinforces that reality, beginning in 1950. Even worse, the Duplessis Quebec government transferred illegitimate orphans to mental institutions in order to obtain more federal money for institutions. So this is an angst-filled story over 20 years, the mother who was forced to give up her illegitimate daughter and the daughter’s experience in horrible institutions, so be warned.

Songs For The Cold Of Heart – Eric Dupont

Songs For The Cold Of Heart - Eric DupontThis Giller short-listed book by a Quebec author is hard to describe. It is epic story-telling told with great detail, so there is much content about many many topics. Sometimes I wished that some of the content had been edited out as this is a very long book. Part of the book takes place in Quebec and it is very French-Canadian, with complex family dynamics, wicked nuns, etc. The last half takes place in Berlin and Rome, albeit with characters that are linked by family to the first part of the book. The Lamontagne family is always surprising; the writing is imaginative and often dark.

Barkskins – Annie Proulx

Barkskins - Annie ProulxThis is a sweeping Michener-like novel that spans over 300 years, with two family trees at the back of the book to keep track of multiple characters. The novel begins with two men from France who go to New France (Quebec) in 1693 to make a new life in the new world. Their lives diverge remarkably. Charles Duquet/Duke is driven by greed and opportunity to establish a huge and prosperous timber empire; Rene Set marries an indigenous woman so his story takes a very different path. Exploitation of forests is a major theme, not just in North America; the story also extends to China and New Zealand (the giant kauri trees). The book has a satisfying ecological message at the end – overall, a very good read.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill

The Lonely Hearts Hotel - Heather O_NeillO’Neill is a wonderfully descriptive writer of places and people, with sensational metaphors. This new novel is about two orphans who endure terrible hardships while growing up in Montreal from 1915–25: poverty and abuse and then the depression.  Much of the story is about vice (such a good word) in Montreal with an extension to New York in the 30s. The two principal characters, Pierrot and Rose, are both flawed and endearing, while dealing with fate and opportunity. This may be my favourite of all O’Neill’s novels.

A Good Death – Gil Courtemanche

A Good Death - Gil CourtemancheA Good Death – Gil Courtemanche (perhaps best known for A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali). This is a very well-written story of a dysfunctional large family in Montreal. The patriarch has always been a mean—spirited nasty individual who now has had a stroke with the onset of Parkinson’s. Some members of his family speculate that everyone would be better off if he died. The question of how his death might be facilitated becomes an important theme.  His eldest son states that “you can only kill individuals that you love or hate. In this case, the son has never loved his irascible father but can’t hate him because of his illness. This dilemma is resolved in an interesting ending.