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.

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.

Transit – Rachel Cusk

Transit - Rachel CuskThis is a fascinating book. The central character is never named: she is an author, divorced with two sons, and renovating a new home in London. Almost nothing else is revealed in the book. She listens carefully to conversations and sometimes asks cogent questions so we learn much about the speaker but nothing about the listener. Many conversations are wonderfully philosophical. The writing is elegant: “Amanda has a youthful appearance on which the patina of age was clumsily applied, as if rather than growing older, she had merely been carelessly handled like a crumpled photograph of a child.” There is also a wonderful description of authors attending a literary festival. This book (Giller short-listed) is much better than her previous book Outline (also a Giller finalist in 2015).

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.

Bellvue Square – Michael Redhill

Bellvue Square - Michael RedhillThis is an imaginative book set in and around Toronto’s Kensington Market. The core of the book examines an existential question: is a doppelgänger real or a figment of imagination? How can a hallucinatory state be distinguished from reality? Redhill has written a darkly comedic and thoughtful book that justifiably has been placed on the Giller short list.

Party Wall – Catherine Leroux

party-wall-catherine-lerouxThis is a really excellent book, not surprising since this was a Giller finalist. The chapters are all about pairs, for example, two sisters. But some of the pairs are not what they seem: a husband and wife, a mother and son, and a brother and sister. There is a strong sense of place but not of time. And finally, lives begin to intersect. This is dazzling writing and exceptional translating (the translator won a Governor General’s Award), so a “must read”.

The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall

the-best-kind-of-people-zoe-whittallThis powerful book is about rape culture. George, a revered high school teacher, is accused of sexual misconduct and attempted rape; the complainants are 12-14 year-old school girls. George then recedes into the background as the book vividly details the collateral damage to his family who want to be supportive of a good husband/father but powerful emotions like guilt over suspicion, anger and confusion are inevitably present. Feelings of powerlessness are described evocatively. The consequences of living in a small judgemental town with attendant lies and betrayal is another vivid characteristic in this fine  novel (Giller nominee). In fact, the verdict delivered by the end of the book is inconsequential: lives have been changed irrevocably.