Since I have been living in Canada, it is much easier to get Canlit to read and so I have been dipping into it. At the same time, since I have been exposed to Scanlit, when some comes my way, I am more likely to take it home to read, as it is usually quite interesting.
Actually, as far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I more than dipped, as several of her older books came my way. One of them, Dancing Girls, made me wonder what kind of drugs she was taking when she was young. Probably the same ones I was, except her outcome was more creative.
One very interesting Canadian book I recently finished was Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen. I had not heard of her before, but the title seemed interesting. When we read novels, we often wonder how much of the characterization reflects the author herself and I think this writer addressed that. The basic story is that one day Mary, as in the Virgin Mary, the Madonna, shows up in the writer’s living room and asks if it is ok if she stays for a while. She seems quite normal, as the two women share coffee and breakfast and cleaning. From there the writer tells us many stories about Mary and Marian miracles, along the way pointing out that she is rarely mentioned in history books. And of course we learn about this middle aged single writer. The book was quite interesting, not only for the histories, but also for the characterization.
I checked at the library and found another book by Schomeperlen, Forms of Devotion, Stories and Pictures. I don’t know how she actually wrote it, but I am guessing that she found the pictures and built stories around them. The pictures are old, probably from the 19th century, etchings or gravures. I wonder if she sat down with the pictures, put them in the order she wanted and started writing. They often poke fun at being ladylike and also make us wonder about the people being written about. I thought it was a very interesting approach and enjoyed the stories.
I realized that I had not read many books by Canadian male writers, so I can report that I enjoyed In the Bear’s House by Bruce Hunter. It is told in alternate chapters by Clare, the mother, and Trout (Will), her oldest son, who is deaf. It is set in the 50s in Calgary, which at that time was still pretty much a cow town. They are both very feeling people, but at that time and in their straitened circumstances, they often did not know what to do about that. At one point Trout is living in the forest with his uncle, who is a ranger, and the description of the people and the mountainous nature around them brings you the reader into it.
When I went to Dallas recently, I took with me a copy of The Leopard by Jo Nespo. I had read The Snowman before, but here the cop, Harry Hole, was tired and beat up, the sort of cop we see in other cultures’ police mysteries. Like so much of Scanlit, the story went in unexpected directions. Harry is dealing with a serial killer and also getting over a descent into addiction at the same time. This was a 600 page book that I finished in two days. It was not cheerful reading but wow, Nespo can really tell a story.
I gobbled my way through Nespo’s Phantom a few days ago. I was at my sister’s, so it was a perfect place to read, in their beautiful living room overlooking the river, in the gazebo on the dock, or on the swing seat on the deck. I followed the twists and turns of Hole’s story once again, as it is not only following his detection, but also his relationships with people, which tend to be strained. It’s dark but it doesn’t pull you into depression, unless that is where you want to go, I suppose.
At the library, I found a Swedish writer, Hakan Nesser, near Nespo, amazingly enough, and took out The Return. I read his Woman with a Birthmark and remembered that I had liked it. This was not nearly as dark as Nespo, which was a bit of a relief, but it also had some turns. It was based on a headless corpse being found, so you can imagine where it might go from there.
I actually used to turn my nose up at mysteries, but I learned to enjoy them when I lived in Turkey, where especially I was more likely to read what was there because there wasn’t much of a choice. I think what people like about mysteries is that the mystery is solved. There are clues, like augurs. Finally we can explain everything. This is what we would like to do with life.
This is an interesting opportunity to delve more into Canadian literature. I took a course in it when I was in university, but I don’t remember much of it, as it was a long time ago. I am sure there was some Susannah Moodie (a settler in Ontario in the early 1800s—pretty wild here), who I had read anyway and I am sure early Margaret Atwood, who had taught at our college. Michael Ondaatje was another writer, who was connected to the college, and The English Patient was on the list. Personally this is a time when I am more interested in what women write, so it is a definite contrast that I read Canadian women, kind of feeling writing, and the hard Scandinavian mystery adventures. Eh, balance is good, if you can find it.