Reproduction – Ian Williams

This is a very interesting first novel that is a Giller finalist. The story is about family, but family that is invented by mostly non-biological relationships. There is much dysfunction, some of it quite hilarious. The two adult men, Edgar and Oliver, are particularly reprehensible. The form if the writing is original and works very well until the final section where the literal subtext becomes annoying. Still, this is an insightful story about unconventional people.

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club – Megan Gail Coles

A remarkable first novel that is a Giller finalist. The title page has the following warning: “Contains scenes of sexual, physical and psychological violence”, so reader be warned – this is not an easy read. The book is a gritty unforgiving character study of people in St. John’s Newfoundland, in part during a bitter February blizzard. There are lies and violence and much deception. The main charactes are for the most part completely unhappy. So this is a bleak look at a subset of contemporary society lonely despondent people without much hoe or optimism. I suggest that readers be aware of their own psychological mindset before embarking on this book; it is a rewarding story notwithstanding  these limitations.

The Innocents – Michael Crummey

Two children, Evered (maybe age 12) and sister Ada (maybe 10) are orphaned after the sudden deaths of their parents and infant sister. And they are isolated on a rocky cove somewhere on Newfoundland’s northern coast. They live in almost total isolation with only the visit of a supply ship twice a year. Crummey’s brilliant descriptions of their numerous hardships becomes a profound story of resilience. But the title of this book is perfect, as these children are total innocents because of profound ignorance through lack of adult human contact. Importantly there is the strong bond of loyalty between brother and sister which becomes complicated with the onset of puberty and emerging sexuality. This is a brilliant book that I hope will be a powerful contender for the Giller Prize.

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.