Canada Reads 2008: Icefields by Thomas Wharton
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 6:18 pm on Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
“During an expedition to the Arcturus glacier in 1898, British doctor Edward Byrne falls into a crevasse and spies something magical in the ice. While convalescing in the remote settlement of Jasper, he begins to grasp that the mysteries of this landscape are mirrored in its unusual inhabitants.

In his travels, Dr. Bryne uncovers near-mythical tales about the area and meets other eccentrics caught up in their own quests. He also becomes enamoured with Elspeth, a woman who shares his obsession with the things that lie hidden in the ice.

Told through a mixture of journal entries, clippings, scientific notes and letters, the novel blends history with fiction to tell a dazzling story of a singular place and time.

Icefields won numerous awards after its 1995 publication, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, Canada and the Caribbean; the Henry Kriesel Award for Best First Book; the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Best First Book Award; and Grand Prize for Best Book Overall at the Banff Mountain Book Festival.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for Icefields
the official site of Jasper National Park
about the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier

My thoughts:
I enjoyed this book. I really liked the way the glacier worked its way into the psyche of Byrne and prompted him to come back to Jasper. It was as if he was compelled to integrate the glacier, the landscape, within his own understanding of himself. I did find the characters a little shallow — like all we’re getting is the surface, no substance, however. I wasn’t sure what to make of the ice angel — obviously something was there for Trask to see, but what? I also found the unconventional punctuation to be rather contrived and unnecessary, just drawing attention to itself for no reason.

I liked Pooker3’s description of the language (seems to sum that up pretty well): “As I was reading this, I was conscious of the simple sentences, short paragraphs and chapters; crisp language; spare and precise dialogue and I decided this must be deliberate by the author – meant to convey the simplicity of a snow covered landscape, the crispness of the cold, ice crystals and fragments, short breaths in the lung-freezing air making long winded conversation unwise if not impossible, one’s words being swept away with the wind, the need to not waste one’s energy, the cracking of trees in the cold, icicles dripping in the sun, the creep of the glacier, blah, blah, blah.”

Hello, Canada Reads Facebook Group! [waving]
Filed under: Canada Reads,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 12:43 pm on Thursday, February 21, 2008

BookCrossing friend janey-canuck noticed my blog had been posted to the Canada Reads group on Facebook (thanks to Kimberly Walsh at CBC). I guess I’d best get my act together and update my Canada Reads entries, eh? I’ve now read four, and am almost halfway through the last, Icefields. Just in time for next week’s debate.

If you like Canadian literature, stick around and read some of my other upcoming CanLit picks. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be reading Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje (the 2007 GG winner), Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (the 2007 Giller winner), As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, and that perennial favourite, Anne of Green Gables (to celebrate Anne’s 100th birthday of course).

By the way, I’d love comments, but you have to register in order to make them—I’m trying to avoid comment spamming.

CanLit Challenge Book #29 (Canada Reads 2008): From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant
Filed under: Canada Reads,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 10:41 pm on Monday, February 11, 2008

Book 29, From the Fifteenth District (1979) – Mavis Gallant
From the back cover:
“Set in Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War, the nine stories in this glittering collection reflect on the foibles and dilemmas of human relationships. An English family goes to the south of France for the sake of the father’s health, and to get away from an England of rationing and poverty. A displaced person turned French soldier in Algeria now makes a living as an actor in Paris. A group of selfish English expatriates on the Italian Riviera are incredulous that Mussolini and the Germans may affect their lives. A great writer’s quiet widow blossoms in widowhood, to the surprise and alarm of her children, who send a ten-year-old grandson to Switzerland to keep her company one Christmas. Full of wry humour and penetrating insights, this is Mavis Gallant at her most unforgettable.”

Other useful links:
Canada Reads page for From the Fifteenth District
the Wikipedia entry for Mavis Gallant
The Canadian Encyclopedia Article on Mavis Gallant

My thoughts:
I’m afraid I’m finding these stories rather dull. Though they’re wonderfully written, I’m slogging through them. So far, I’ve read:
“The Four Seasons” – Story about a young servant girl and her English ex-pat employers and how the English community is faced with the war that they hadn’t foreseen.
“The Moslem Wife” – I did like parts of this story of the relationship of two married cousins (and liked it better after hearing Mavis Gallant talking about it).
“The Remission” – A very long story about an expatriate community on the French/Italian Rivera. It was okay but a little boring.
“The Latehomecomer” – I didn’t have any idea that German prisoners of war were basically made into ‘slave’ labourers in France for years.
“Baum, Gabriel, 1935-( )” – I didn’t mind this one, but I just found it went on for a very long time. I guess I’m just not that fascinated by Paris of the 50s and 60s
“From the Fifteenth District” – This I found to be the most intriguing of the stories so far. A tale of ghosts haunted by the living. The concept is a nice twist on what we would expect.

I’ve now read the final stories:
“Potter” – Another very long story which I found annoying because I really didn’t like either of the main characters.
“His Mother” – This is one of the ones I liked the best of the collection. On the shorter side and giving a real snapshot as a mother of an émigre in an Eastern European city. Reminded me a bit of De Niro’s Game for some reason.
“Irina” – Another of the shorter stories. I liked the ending & I especially liked the description of women as parcels.

Overall, I really enjoyed some of Gallant’s language, especially her descriptive imagery, but since I found the characters and their situations kind of dull, I found it difficult to read. Perhaps these stories would have been better listened to than read—I find that with texts that have so little plot: I find it hard to concentrate on just the language and expression. I also found her characters and the stories blended into one another and were a bit ‘samey’.

Canada Reads 2008: King Leary by Paul Quarrington
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 9:04 pm on Saturday, February 9, 2008

From the back cover:
“Percival Leary was once King of the Ice, one of hockey’s greatest heroes. In the South Grouse Nursing Home, where he shares a room with Edumund “Blue” Hermann, the antagonistic and alcoholic reporter who once chronicled his career, Leary looks back on his tumultuous life and times: his days at the boys’ reformatory when he burned down a house; the four mad monks who first taught him to play hockey; and the time he executed the perfect ‘St. Louis Whirlygig’ to score the winning goal in the 1919 Stanley Cup final.

Now all but forgotten, Leary is only a legend in his own mind until a high-powered advertising agency decides to feature him in a series of ginger ale commercials. With his male nurse, his son, and the irrepressible Blue, Leary sets off for Toronto on one last adventure as he revisits the scenes of his glorious life as King of the Ice.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on the real original Ottawa Senators

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book, and of all the Canada Reads books so far I’d say it’s the most Canadian, what with all the hockey and ginger ale. If done well, I generally like it when an author has several different narratives going on and mixes a story of the past with the present and this book had a unique approach to accomplish that—the narrator is an old man who gets lost in his memories of the past. It was a little disconcerting at first to be in a kind of alternate universe with Maple Leaves, New York Americans, Ottawa Patriots, and South Grouse somethings (always called ‘Louses’) as NHL teams, but Quarrington did a great job of bringing the early years of professional hockey to life. As I’m a big hockey fan, I especially enjoyed the hockey descriptions. The ending was a bit strange and once or twice I was a little bored with the King’s reminiscences. The characters were great—memorable and realistic—and the scene of the monks skating on the frozen pond was fantastic. Pooker3 has a brilliant review on her BookCrossing journal for this book.

Next Page »