Twitter Account

Follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski)

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Novel: HUNTING PIERO by Wendy MacIntyre

Because I was out of town, I was unable to attend this event:

Wendy MacIntyre is a close friend of a close friend of mine (so 2 degrees of separation).  I have read and enjoyed two of her previous novels, Mairi and The Applecross Spell, so I think I will pick up her new one, Hunting Piero, which was published earlier this month. 

The book sounds interesting:  “This novel interweaves Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo’s fifteenth-century viewpoint with the twenty-first-century reality of two young Canadian students: Agnes Vane, an art history major fascinated by di Cosimo’s multi-layered imagery, and Peter (Pinto) Dervaig, a student of philosophy passionate about preventing cruelty to animals. Both Agnes and Pinto were marginalized in their adolescence because of their unusual appearance. Agnes has slightly simian features. Pinto is a huge man with a multihued skin pigmentation. When Agnes, as a lonely and alienated child, discovers di Cosimo’s empathetic paintings of animals and human-animal hybrids, she feels she is looked upon gently for the first time in her life. That moment influences her decision to become an animal rights activist, a commitment that ultimately brings her both anguish and insight. Her story is echoed by chapters from di Cosimo’s perspective as he pits his solitary vision, of a golden age when animals did indeed speak, against the dictatorial grip in which Savonarola, destroyer of secular art and culture, holds the city of Florence. Hunting Piero is the tale of a passionate moral quest, and equally, a story of redemption and of love tested by tragic missteps and their deadly consequences.” 

 In an article for 49th Shelf, MacIntyre revisits "Canadian novels that make the lives and fates of animals and birds, and human/animal relations, central to their storylines:

And check out the author's website:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

David Harper: Book Form Sculptor

I recently returned from a trip to central New York where I visited the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia (   There I saw two literary installations, both by David Harper.

This installation is called "Stacks" and  Harper created it by recycling fallen logs.  The theme for the installation, “these trees shall be my books,” comes from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but the goal of the work goes far beyond Orlando’s wish to immortalize Rosalind. Harper seeks to immortalize the love of knowledge, and the homage owed to the living things we use to create stores of knowledge for all to study. “Stacks” captures the transformation from living tree to store of knowledge ( 


This one is called "Heavy Reading."

Apparently, Harper likes the wooden book form; I found a photo of another of his pieces, this one entitled "Telephone":

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Man Booker Prize Goes to George Saunders

The winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize was announced today:  George Saunders took the prize for Lincoln in the Bardo.  I’ve read 3 of the 6 finalists; as my reviews indicate, I was certainly routing for this book.

Here are my reviews of the other two finalists I have read:

I loved a feature in The Telegraph newspaper which highlighted “the dazzling highs (and cringe-making lows) of this year's finalists”:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review of MINDS OF WINTER by Ed O'Loughlin

3 Stars
This book came to my attention because of its nomination for both the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Giller Prize.  The plot description also hooked me in, though I now wish I had resisted.

At the end of the Acknowledgements, the author thanks his three editors for working “long and hard to turn a self-indulgent mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery into something like a novel.”  I’m afraid the editors did not succeed because the book, for me, still seems a “mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery.” 

The characters who are present throughout the novel are Nelson Nilsson and Fay Morgan who are both in Inuvik trying to solve mysteries involving family members.  Gradually, Fay finds information about her enigmatic grandfather in the research conducted by Nelson’s brother who has disappeared.   There are just too many coincidences in this plot line to be believable.  (I have not been able to figure out why the author chose for his female lead a name which alludes to Morgan le Faye, the enchantress of Arthurian legend.) 

The majority of the book is multiple stories covering a span of 175 years.  Historical figures like Sir John Franklin, Roald Amundsen, and Jack London make an appearance.  Likewise the settings cover much of the world; Tasmania, Tuktoyaktuk, Antarctica, eastern Siberia, Norway.  Timelines are not chronological so they add to the confusion already present because of the number of characters, some of whom are loosely connected and some of whom just disappear from the narrative without explanation. 

I am certain that I am not the only reader who will recall Aristotle’s statement about synergism:  "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".  Unfortunately, in the case of this novel, the opposite is true.  The individual stories are often interesting, but the novel as a whole did not leave me feeling enthused.  Of course, the individual vignettes vary in quality; the one involving Jack London is tedious and the one focusing on one of Amundsen’s mistresses seems pointless. 

After a while, I felt that the book might have been better packaged as a collection of mysteries.  The book does touch on several unsolved mysteries:  Amundsen’s disappearance in an airborne rescue mission in the Arctic, the fate of the Franklin expedition, the identity of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, the appearance of Franklin’s chronometer disguised as a carriage clock in London.  As expected, none of these is solved.  When one of Franklin’s ships is discovered, one character mourns the loss of mystery:   “’They had to go and find her.  They had to solve a perfectly good mystery.’”  The epilogue also suggests the author’s fascination with the mysterious:  “lives don’t always end like they’re supposed to.  Some people slip through the cracks.” 

This book was just not for me.  I can appreciate the amount of research that O’Loughlin did, but I found the book just too disjointed.  At the end of his acknowledgments, the author thanks the reader for reading the book, “assuming you made it this far.”  I have to admit that for me finishing the book became a chore.   I will be checking the reviews of others in the hope that someone will be able to fully explain this novel’s worth to me. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Food and Drink and Reading

Though avid readers might like to claim they feast on books, it is not possible to survive without food and drink.  For that reason it is not surprising that descriptions of food find their way into literature, and I have blogged about the topic in the past:  “Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?” (

A couple of years ago, The Telegraph did a feature on “10 Great Meals in Literature” (, though I was surprised to see Oliver Twist’s breakfast of watery gruel described as a “great” meal. 

There is a book about food in literature that I’ve been wanting to get for my library:  Pleasures of the Table by Christina Hardyment.  The New Yorker had a review of the book ( and I’ve wanted it ever since.  

Here’s a description of the book:  “The anthology begins with examples of hospitality, ranging from Chaucer's convivial Franklin to Walter Scott's bountiful breakfasts and dinner with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay. Next comes eating to impress—dazzling banquets from Flaubert to F. Scott Fitzgerald—and some great fictional love feasts. Many of our most vivid memories of food in literature were laid down in childhood, and nostalgia is to the fore in such classic scenes as Pinocchio aching with hunger, Ratty and Mole picnicking, enchanted Turkish delight in Narnia, and a seaside picnic from Enid Blyton. A section on distant times and places ranges from seethed tortoise in ancient China to seal’s liver fried in penguin blubber as a treat for Captain Scott. Those who relish simplicity rather than excess will enjoy Sdney Smith’s delicate salad dressing and Hemingway’s appreciation of oysters.” 

Like many other people, I enjoy sipping on a glass of wine while reading, so I enjoyed this article about wine and book pairings:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Thievery and Books to Read in Prison

Earlier this summer, I came across an article in The Guardian about books that were most frequently stolen from bookstores in England:  It makes for an interesting read.

Wondering how Canadian bookstores fared, I did some research and found a CBC article from January of this year:  This article prompted The Guardian to write a piece entitled “Stolen good books: why Canadian thieves outclass the British” (

Of course, book thievery is not a new crime.  A few years ago, Flavorwire explored the history of book thievery and outlined twelve shocking cases:  

Book lovers become understandably upset with people who steal books.  Should a book thief find him/herself in prison, this list of 20 books to read in prison might be helpful:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ron Sexsmith's Fairytale for Adults

On Valentine’s Day of 2013, my husband took me to a Ron Sexsmith concert.  I have always loved the work of this critically acclaimed songwriter and musician, and I am not alone; Sexsmith has a healthy group of world class musicians who appreciate his work, including Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Steve Earle, and Sheryl Crow. 

Last month, I was pleased to learn that Sexsmith has written a book.   Deer Life has been described as a fairytale for adults.  “Deryn Hedlight was not having a very good day and it was about to get much worse. He’d read stories of witches as a boy, but never believed for a second they were true. That is, until an unfortunate hunting accident turns his world upside down. What seemed like an honest mistake leads to an altogether unexpected transformation. But poor Deryn wasn’t the only wronged character tied up in these gloomy circumstances and sinister forces.”  Sexsmith also did the illustrations in the book. 

In its review, Publishers Weekly concluded, “Sexsmith’s novel has much the same effect as his music, conveying uncertainty with fearlessness and heart” ( 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Most Popular Book in Your Birth Year?

Today is my birthday so I thought I’d share a link to a site that lets you find the title of the book that was most popular the year you were born:

In my year of birth, that best-selling book was Not as a Stranger by Morton Thompson.  I’ve not read it but research suggests it is a melodramatic romance novel about a young doctor who lives for medicine and sacrifices everything for his career.  It describes his years at medical school, his practice in a small town and his devoted self-sacrificing wife who works to make their marriage a success.   I did find a review of the book: 

A film adaptation was made in 1955.  It was Stanley Kramer's directorial debut and featured Olivia de Havilland and Robert Mitchum in the lead roles, backed by a stellar supporting cast including Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney, Jr., Harry Morgan, and Lee Marvin.

So what book was most popular in your birth year?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archival Review of ED KING by David Guterson

In yesterday’s posting, I focused on some best and worst sex scenes in literature.  From the latter list, I mentioned I had read only one book, Ed King by David Guterson.  I thought I’d post my review of the book from my archives, but first I thought I’d share the comments made about the book when it won the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award in 2011:

“Freud bullied his way into David Guterson’s adaptation of the Oedipus myth, Ed King (Bloomsbury), which includes a lengthy description of mother–son bonding that Sophocles had seen fit to leave offstage:
“‘So she took him by the wrist and moved the base of his hand into her pubic hair until his middle fingertip settled on the no-man’s-land between her ‘front parlor’ and ‘back door’ (those were the quaint, prudish terms of her girlhood), she got him on the node between neighboring needs (both of which had been explored by johns who almost never tarried).’
“It’s hard to work out what is more excruciating, Guterson’s jarring language – we’re later treated to ‘membrum virile’, ‘skin flute’ and ‘family jewels’ – or his naive belief that a sprinkling of inverted commas is sufficient to ironise his euphemisms” (

Schatje’s Review of Ed King
2 Stars
The book is a computer-age retelling of Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex which Aristotle considered the perfect tragedy. Unfortunately, Guterson's reworking of the Greek tale of patricide and incest is not quite so perfect; in fact, it won the 2011 Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award for the worst description of a sex scene in a novel.

The setting is Oregon, beginning in the 1960s. Walter Cousins has an affair with his underage British au pair, Diane Burroughs, who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son whom she abandons. The child is adopted by Dan and Alice King who name him Edward Aaron (his middle name a salute to the King of Rock and Roll). The rest of the novel covers Diane and Ed's lives. Diane constantly remakes herself; at different times she is an escort, wealthy wife, much-less-wealthy divorcee, cocaine dealer and life coach. For Ed, everything comes easily, since he has both looks and intelligence; with his attitude of superiority and entitlement, his encounter with Walter on an isolated road has predictable consequences. Ed and Diane meet and marry and become the king and queen of an internet domain. When Ed discovers that he was adopted and learns the identity of his parents, the result is a supersonic version of the myth of Icarus.

One problem with the novel is that it is long on exposition and short on dialogue. There is a definite lack of showing and much telling in the vein that this happened and then this happened and then this happened.

Another weakness is that all the characters are superficial and amoral. No one is likable, and their unrelenting superficiality and amorality begin to grate. Ed (a composite of modern America's gods of technology - Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg) is no tragic hero: he is not a good man with one major character flaw.

The soullessness of the characters is intentional. It conveys a message about modern culture since the book is somewhat a social satire with commentary on such topics as cosmetic surgery, the violence of gaming, global warming, and the ruthlessness of tech-titans.

The strongest appeal of the novel is seeing how the mythical elements have been modernized. Anyone who has read Sophocles will appreciate how some of the original tale has been incorporated: Ed, like Oedipus, is born to a man of dubious morals, is abandoned, and is passed on to a "kingly" family. Both experience foot problems. Ed's attempt to create artificial intelligence can be interpreted as his attempt to crack the riddle of the Sphinx. Ed names his search engine Pythia, the name of the Oracle of Delphi. The excerpts of internet chatter at the beginning and end serve as a type of Greek chorus. Unfortunately, sometimes the parallels are made too obvious. Does Ed really have to be told that he suffers from "an overwhelming and dangerous hubris"?

It can be hoped that Guterson's book will entice people to read or re-read the original drama; its lessons about ambition and hubris need not be modernized to be seen as relevant today as they were in the time of Sophocles and Aristotle.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Best and Worst Sex Scenes in Literature

The Telegraph newspaper has compiled lists of the best and worst literary scenes.

The Best list of 14 titles includes books by D. H. Lawrence (no surprise) and also Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Ian McEwan’s Atonement.  See the complete list and read the relevant scenes at

The newspaper’s list of worst sex scenes has 13 titles.  These books are much less known; the only one I have read is Ed King by David Guterson.  The full list and excerpts can be read at

Later this fall, look for the nominees for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.  This year will be the award’s 25th anniversary.  The award honours “an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.”  Go to for information about previous winners. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Booklover's Thanksgiving

I've posted this on previous Thanksgivings, but I think it deserves being repeated.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada.  Especially as a Canadian, I have so much for which to be thankful, but since this is a book blog, I thought I’d focus on what I as a booklover have to be grateful for. 
I am grateful for books which provide me with so much pleasure.
I am grateful for authors who, using their imaginations and talent, write those books.
I am grateful for the trees which provide the paper on which books are printed.  (Although I read ebooks and listen to audiobooks too, print books are still my favourite.)
I am grateful for all the people who work in the physical production of paper and books (e.g. forestry workers, pulp and paper mill workers, binders, printers).
I am grateful for publishers, especially those who take chances with new authors.
I am grateful for editors and copy-editors who ensure that an author’s work is the best it can be.
I am grateful for translators whose work allows me to read literature written in many different languages.
I am grateful for booksellers, especially the small, independent booksellers who persevere despite all odds.
I am grateful for my teachers:  my elementary school teachers (especially Zita Bloski) who taught me to read; my high school teachers (especially Sylvia Post) who challenged me to read widely; and my university professors (especially Professor Jean Moreau) who expanded my understanding of literature.
I am grateful for libraries which provide everyone with free access to books, those politicians who support them, and the librarians who staff them and are always willing to make book recommendations.
I am grateful for reviewers, both professional and amateur, whose comments often guide me to books.
I am grateful to the media that feature book-related articles giving me better understanding of books and authors and making me aware of books I might not otherwise have encountered.
I am grateful for friends who lend books and discuss them.  Among those friends are book club members, especially those in THE Timmins Book Club, the 80+-year-old book club of which I was privileged to be a member when I lived in Timmins.
I am grateful for time to read books.
I am grateful for my husband who gave me the library of my dreams.

Review of EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid

3.5 Stars
Saeed and Nadia are young people embarking on a romantic relationship as civil war breaks out in their unnamed country.  When their lives in a war zone become untenable, they decide to flee through magical doors that serve as portals to other countries.  They end up in a migrant camp in Greece and then travel further to the West.  As they deal with exile, their relationship changes.   

The country of their origin is never specifically named because the author wanted to emphasize that Saeed and Nadia’s situation is almost universal; the focus of the book is on the dilemma of refugees world-wide.  There is also no description of harrowing or life-and-death journeys; the writer was not interested in portraying the physical hardships endured by migrants but wanted to focus on the psychological impact of migration.

Hamid certainly wants to draw attention to the various reasons for mass migration:  “All over the world people were slipping away from where they had been, from once fertile plains cracking with dryness, from seaside villages gasping beneath tidal surges, from overcrowded cities and murderous battlefields . . . ”  He also wants to emphasize what it really  means to leave one’s life behind:  “when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”  And there are no promises for refugees:  will they be met with acceptance or will they feel “unmoored, adrift in a world where one could go anywhere but still find nothing”? 

Hamid wants to emphasize that we are all migrants; an old woman who has lived in one house her entire life realizes that her neighbourhood has changed:  “every year someone was moving out and someone was moving in . . . and all sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was, . . . more at home  maybe because they were younger, and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it.  We are all migrants through time.”

In fact, Hamid wants to draw attention to what all people have in common:  “loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another.”  The glimpses into other lives interspersed throughout the narrative serve to show similarities in our experiences:  everyone wants sanctuary and acceptance.  Perhaps, instead of “building walls and fences and strengthening their borders,” and wishing “people would go back to where they came from,” it would be better to live in a world without borders. 

Change is one constant throughout the book.  Saeed and Nadia change locations several times; the dynamics of their relationship keep shifting; periodically, the narrative moves away from the main story to brief vignettes involving other people in other parts of the world; and the book could even be labelled as genre-shifting.  The point is that everything is transient:  “that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

Characterization is used to challenge our pre-conceptions.  Saeed, the male, is quiet and pious while Nadia, the female, is independent and sexually assertive.  Though Nadia is not religious, rides a motor bike, and uses drugs, she wears a black robe associated with conservatives.   Saeed prays regularly but he prays “fundamentally as a gesture of love” and because prayer allows him “to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world.”  Hamid wants to shake up gender and religious stereotypes. 

I cannot say that I always enjoyed reading the book.  I disliked the paucity of dialogue and the distancing third person omniscient point of view.  Nonetheless, it is a very timely novel which explores the impact of migration.  It asks the reader to consider thoughtfully the plight of refugees regardless of where they came from and where they find themselves. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Archival Review of SOLAR by Ian McEwan

Yesterday, I blogged about climate change fiction.  One of the titles that inevitably appears on lists of cli-fi is Solar by Ian McEwan, a satire about a jaded Nobel-winning physicist whose dysfunctional personal life and cynical ambition see him pursuing a solar-energy-based solution for climate change.  I read the book back in 2010; here is my review.

Review of Solar by Ian McEwan
3 Stars 
The protagonist is Michael Beard, a Noble Laureate physicist, who at 53 is coasting on his laurels.  He hasn’t done any cutting-edge thinking since his youthful breakthrough in quantum physics. 

He is a serial philanderer so it is not surprising that his fifth marriage is breaking up as the novel opens.  Then he pilfers ideas from a young scientist (also his wife’s lover who dies accidentally) and becomes a proponent of technology which will tap solar energy through artificial photosynthesis.

Michael is a totally unlikeable character:  he’s a slob, glutton, adulterer, alcoholic egomaniac.  He lacks any humility or self-reproach.  He’s an opportunist who lives only for the present with little regard for consequences.  In his consumption of food, women and drink, he becomes a symbol of humans who are devouring the planet’s resources. 

There are many comic episodes.  The book even won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, a British literary award for comic writing.   For example, Beard’s misadventures in the Arctic are very humourous, almost slapstick. 

The reader knows that events are inevitably sliding toward disaster as all parts of Michael’s life converge.  There is no doubt that Nemesis is approaching.  The problem is that the end comes too suddenly.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Climate Change Literature

Donald Trump doesn’t believe in climate change.  On November 6, 2012, he tweeted, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."  In June of this year, he announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement unless there are major changes made to the carbon emissions pact.

I think Trump is in the minority in his skepticism.  Certainly, fiction writers have tackled this subject for a number of years.  Climate fiction, popularly abbreviated as cli-fi, is literature that deals with climate change and global warming. Not necessarily speculative in nature, works of cli-fi may take place in the world as we know it or in the near future.

Although the term "cli-fi" came into use in the late 2000s to describe novels and movies that deal with man-made climate change, historically, there have been any number of literary works that dealt with climate change as a natural disaster. One example is Jules Verne's 1889 novel The Purchase of the North Pole, which imagines a climate change due to tilting of Earth's axis. In his posthumous Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1883 and set during the 1960s, the titular city experiences a sudden drop in temperature, which lasts for three years.  Wikipedia has a list of cli-fi titles ( as does Goodreads (  

 Last month, The New York Times highlighted some climate-themed fiction: in the year, The Guardian focused on five climate change novels: And on Earth Day, The Verge outlined eight works of fiction that explore climate science and what the future could hold:

A novel that stands out in my mind is Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour.  When this novel’s protagonist, Dellarobia, witnesses a striking vision of orange in the mountains, like fire with no smoke, she is convinced it is a sign from God. The vision makes her a quasi-celebrity, drawing journalists, religious leaders and a climate scientist into her small town. The various reactions and interpretations of the phenomenon — later discovered to be a colony of Monarch butterflies displaced by a flood in their usual home in Mexico — reflect contemporary conversations on climate change and open up Dellarobia’s world.  See my review at 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Fun with Book Titles

It’s time to have some fun with book titles.

First, try this quiz which has one word missing in the title:  How many of the books can you correctly identify?

Then, take a look at two Twitter sites.  Check out #RuinaBookinOneLetter and #RuinaBookTitleinOneLetter to see how book titles can be changed with hilarious results by changing only one letter.  The suggestions with photos are the best.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

2017 Nobel Prize for Literature

The English author Kazuo Ishiguro has been named winner of the 2017 Nobel prize in literature, praised by the Swedish Academy for his “novels of great emotional force”, which it said had “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

I believe he has written 7 novels:
A Pale View of Hills
An Artist of the Floating World
The Remains of the Day
The Unconsoled
When We Were Orphans
Never Let Me Go
The Buried Giant 
The one for which he is probably best known is The Remains of the Day for which he won the 1989 Booker Prize.

The Guardian has a good article about the win:

To celebrate Ishiguro’s win, Book Marks looked through the archives for some of the first reviews for every one of his novels:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

2017 National Book Awards Finalists

The finalists for the 2017 National Book Awards were also announced today.  In the fiction category, there are five finalists:

Elliot Ackerman for Dark at the Crossing
Min Jin Lee for Pachinko
Carmen Maria Machado for Her Body and Other Parties: Stories 
Jesmyn Ward for Sing, Unburied, Sing

For finalists in all the categories, go to

The winners will be announced on November 15. 

2017 Governor General's Literary Awards Finalists

The finalists for the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Awards have been announced.  In the fiction category, there are 5 titles:

We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes
The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan
All the Beloved Ghosts by Alison MacLeod
Uncertain Weights and Measures by Jocelyn Parr
Lost in September by Kathleen Winter  (See my review at

There are seven categories in total; for finalists in all categories, go to

The winners will be announced on November 1.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction Longlist

The longlist for the sixth Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction has just been announced.  The award was established to recognize the best fiction books for adult readers published in the U.S. the previous year.

There are 25 titles on the fiction longlist:
Aslam, Nadeem. The Golden Legend
Auster, Paul. 4 3 2 1
Barry, Sebastian. Days without End  (See my review at
Boyne, John. The Heart’s Invisible Furies  (See my review at
Clemmons, Zinzi. What We Lose
Dawkins, Curtis. The Graybar Hotel
Egan, Jennifer. Manhattan Beach
El Akkad, Omar.  American War
Erdrich, Louise. Future Home of the Living God
Eugenides, Jeffrey. Fresh Complaint
Fridlund, Emily. History of Wolves  (See my review at
Garcia, Cristina. Here in Berlin
Greer, Andrew Sean. Less
Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West  (I’m currently reading this one; see my review on October 9.)
Kang, Han. Human Acts
Kunzru, Hari. White Tears
La Farge, Paul. The Night Ocean
McBride, James. Five-Carat Soul
McDermott, Alice. The Ninth Hour
Miller, Kei. Augustown
Roy, Arundhati. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Rushdie, Salman. The Golden House  (See my review at
Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo  (See my review at
Van Reet, Brian. Spoils
Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing

The three-title shortlist will be announced on October 25, 2017.  The medal winner will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. 

There is also a non-fiction prize; for more information, go to

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 Giller Prize Shortlist

The 2017 Giller Prize shortlist was announced today.  There are five finalists:

Transit by Rachel Cusk
After her marriage ends, Faye moves from her home in the country to a derelict apartment in London with her children. In rebuilding her life, Faye seeks out conversation with those she encounters — a contractor, her hairdresser, an ex-boyfriend and others — listening keenly to their stories on abandonment, rejection and transformation.

Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin
In Inuvik, N.W.T., two strangers search for lost family members. Nelson Nilsson is looking for his estranged older brother and Fay for her grandfather. When a familiar image among Nelson's research captures Fay's attention, the pair find themselves caught up in an historic mystery involving an ancient chronometer and Sir John Franklin's Northwest Passage expedition.

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill
Jean Mason reportedly has a doppelganger — one that enjoys eating churros and hanging out in Kensington Market, a bohemian neighbourhood in Toronto. The revelation becomes an obsession for the grounded business owner and mother, who ends up hanging around the market for glimpses of her and offering payment to anybody with information. The investigation grows sinister as those she recruits begin disappearing.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Jared is many things: a compassionate 16 year old, maker of famous weed cookies, caretaker of his elderly neighbours, son of an unreliable father and unhinged, though loving in her way, mother. As Jared ably cares for those around him, in between getting black-out drunk, he shrugs off the magical and strange happenings that follow him around.

I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters
When Réjean Lapointe vanishes without a trace, he leaves behind his wife of nearly 20 years and his beloved Chevy Silverado. Agathe is distraught by her husband's disappearance and ends up forming friendships with her rock-and-roll-loving coworker Debbie and a man named Martin, who might just know what happened to Réjean.

The winner, who will receive $100,000, will be announced on November 20, 2017.  For further information, go to

Sunday, October 1, 2017


3.5 Stars
In 1945, a 16-year-old girl is banished from her Irish village because she is unmarried and pregnant.  She flees to Dublin where she gives her son up for adoption.  Cyril is adopted by a wealthy, unaffectionate couple, Maude and Charles Avery, who constantly remind him that he is “not really an Avery.”  The novel, in 7-year increments, focuses on Cyril’s life from birth until the age of 70.  He struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and lives in fear because he is gay in a society in which homosexuality is a criminal offense.  He remains closeted for many years, resorting to numerous, anonymous sexual liaisons; it is only when he leaves Ireland that he has a loving relationship with another man. 

This book is in many ways an indictment of Ireland.  At one point, Cyril describes Dublin as “a city I loved at the heart of a country I loathed.  A town filled with good-hearted innocents, miserable bigots, adulterous husbands, conniving churchmen, paupers who received no help from the State, and millionaires who sucked the lifeblood from it.”  Later, in a conversation with Cyril, one character summarizes what is undoubtedly the author’s view of the country:  “’What’s wrong with you people?’ he asked, looking at me as if I was clinically insane.  ‘What’s wrong with Ireland?  Are you all just fucking nuts over there, is that it?  Don’t you want each other to be happy?’” 

The book focuses on the Catholic Church’s dominance.  The first sentence of the novel draws attention to the church’s hypocrisy:  “Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.”  The priest allows that the father of the unborn child can “’give his confession and be forgiven’” but no such compassion is shown to the woman.

Homosexuality is such a crime in Ireland that a father who kills his homosexual son is not punished:  “’The jury let him off, but no great surprises there.  A jury of twelve other fat old Irish bastards who said that his son was mentally disordered and so he had the right to do what he did to him.’”  The book ends with Ireland’s legalization of same-sex marriage, so progress is made in the country by the end of the book, though Boyne shows that attitudes towards gays are changing more slowly.  Interestingly, the book’s release predated only by a few months the election of an openly gay man as Taoiseach. 

Politicians are also shown to be hypocrites; a young up-and-coming politician who is being seen as a potential future minister speaks of his plans: “’I don’t like drinking in my own constituency. . . . People come up to me all the time over there and ask me about potholes and electricity charges and will I come to their kids’ sports day at school to hand out the medals, and you know, I really couldn’t give a fuck about any of that stuff. . . . [I’m interested in] climbing the ladder. Reaching the highest rung that I can. . . . Why can’t I just seek advancement and try to get to the top and then, when I’m there, if I can do something positive with it, then that’s great, and if I can’t, sure I’ll just enjoy being the top man.’”  This same politician is gay but is getting married to a woman because “’My constituents expect that of me.  The party expects that of me.  There’s no way that I’m going anywhere unless I have a wife and children.’” 

There are many humourous scenes in the novel.  A woman argues that her son is not guilty of a murder for which he is incarcerated:  “’But there’s no real evidence, other than fingerprints, DNA and an eyewitness.’”  A couple makes disparaging comments about gays, not realizing that Cyril is gay:  “’We never would have said such things if we’d known that you were the gay homosexual. . . . We’d never say such thing to a person’s face . . . Of course, I should have realized . .  Now that I look at that jumper you’re wearing, I suppose I should have guessed.’”  A woman has a gay couple as roommates, but she is rather naïve:  “And the bed itself was hardly big enough for one, let alone the pair of them sleeping top-to-tail.  It was no wonder, she told herself, that she heard the most peculiar sounds emerging from there during the nights.  The poor boys must have had a terrible time trying to sleep.”  The novel deals with some very serious issues, so the comic scenes are a welcome reprieve.

Watching Cyril’s personal growth is one of the enjoyable aspects of the novel.  At the beginning he is totally cowed by society’s attitudes to homosexuals.  He lives in shame, telling no one about his sexual orientation.  As a young man, he is also as a friend describes him:  “A selfish, arrogant, conceited shit who thinks the world has done you such a bad turn that you can do whatever you like to get back at it.’”  Later, we see someone who laughs at people’s ignorance, takes pride in not deceiving “a single person about my sexuality,” and realizes there’s “’no reason why he shouldn’t be held accountable for the things he did in the past. ‘”

The novel is lengthy but very readable, though there are weaknesses.  One problem is the preponderance of coincidence.  For instance, several times characters encounter each other in different parts of the world.  It seems that the writer was aware of his use of barely credible coincidences because he has Cyril commenting, “It was possible, of course, that it had been pure coincidence, that the use of that phrase . . . was just chance.”   Another problem is that women have a habit of becoming pregnant after having sex only once.  Perhaps it was intentional, but some of the characters are portrayed as being rather stupid.  A university student doesn’t know the word fatwa?  Another university student doesn’t know who Klaus Barbie was?  A politician doesn’t know the difference between libel and slander? 

I had not read any of Boyne’s books other than his The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas; having enjoyed that one and this one as well, I think I need to read more by this writer.