Canadian literature is rich with gems worth exploring. Here is a collection of novels from Canada that will delight the most picky of readers.
So what are the best of the best of Canadian novels? I don’t know. However, here are some contenders for that list.
What is the criteria to call something a Canadian novel? Simple. The author is Canadian. Some of the authors on this list have multiple nationalities. As long as one of these nationalities is Canada, it got included in the list.
I read somewhere that Life of Pi by Yann Martel is the most commercially successful Canadian novel. In a truly Canadian fashion, the story doesn’t take place in Canada. It starts in India. Most of the story takes place in the ocean and ends up in Mexico. It tells the story of young man in India who decides to follow three religions: Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. When he finds himself stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean he draws on things he learned from all three religions to help him get through it. Life of Pi delves into the dark aspects of that experience as well as the beautiful and magical parts. I have read that some people think this is a novel that will make you believe in god. I believed in god even before I read the novel so I can’t testify to it’s efficacy. However I think that novel will convince you of the benefits of a belief of some sort and the role it can play when one is going through a difficult time.
I am a huge fan of Carol Shields. The Stone Diaries is the very first novel of hers that I read. I immediately fell in love with her writing style. This story spans several generations in one family. It focuses on the lives of women. It’s about family. Marriage. Children. The heritage that you bring with you from your past. A true beauty of a novel.
Generation X by Douglas Coupland generated lots of buzz when it was first published 1991. It is a unique novel both in format and in content. The shape of the novel is unconventional for a book. It also contains illustrations and definitions in the margins which enhance the reading experience. It tells the story of a group of young people who reject mainstream culture and decide to live outside of what society is expecting of them. Forget the rat race. Forget career. Forget endless striving. They entertain themselves by telling each others wildly imaginative stories. Through each story within a story you get insight into their thoughts, dreams and aspirations.
You can’t go wrong with Margret Laurence. Every single one of her novels is fantastic. The Stone Angel is no exception. It is a beautiful and thought provoking novel. It’s one of those novels that unfolds slowly and gradually. At first I thought I was reading a story about a woman who defies her father and society’s conventions. As the story developed it became so much more. Much much more. A book to savor when you are in the mood for a something deeply satisfying.
The Sisters Brothers is a western novel with a twist. A celebration of brotherhood. Two young man have an epic adventure during the gold rush. As they arrive in San Francisco they are pursued by some villains while they are doing some of their own pursuing. Greed, brotherhood, horses, and the discovery of dental hygiene. What could possibly be better?
Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler is everything that a novel should be. Well written, immersive, enjoyable and thought provoking. When I finished the book I felt as of I have lived a full life time in the span of few days. I was lucky in that as I was reading someone gifted me the biography of the author (Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran). I read the two books back to back. I could detect elements from real life of the author reflected in the novel. Barney is a creative sensitive type with grand dreams and aspirations. As a young man, he travels to Paris where he meets other creative types. Afterwards he returns to Canada, gives up his dreams and decides to pursue making money. This is where real life and fiction diverge. I felt that the author wrote the novel to say: “Here is what would have happened to me had I not become a writer.” Another element where real life is reflected in the novel is when Barney meets the love of his life, the woman he is about to be devoted to, at his own wedding to another woman. Apparently, Mordecai met the love of his life at his own wedding to another woman and began pursuing her right there and then during the reception.
Easy To Like by Edward Riche is an easy breezy fun read. A man receives a top job at the CBC (a Canadian institution) where he encounters all kinds of bizarre dilemmas. He has to find a way to satisfy the Canadian content rules, keep the programming diverse and yet keep the audience engaged.
The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam is a novel about a man who emigrates from China to Vietnam and spends the rest of his days yearning for homeland. This is a celebration of the father-son bond. This novel would be a fantastic father’s day gift.
One Brother Shy by Terry Fallis is a humor filled adventure. A young man discovers a family secret upon his mother’s death. This secret takes him to London England to discover more about his past. There are many surprises in this novel. Spies, KGB, a subplot involving hockey and a very unique tattoo.
Carnival by Rawi Hage is a fantastic and beautiful novel which I reviewed here.
Now for the +1 on this list. Spoonful Chronicles a novel written by me. It tells the story of a woman who must remember everything she has ever eaten in order to gain the secret key to her destiny.
I turned this list of Canadian novels into a video.