One of the great joys of the new year is grazing through book publishers’ catalogues, discovering which favourite authors are coming out with something new, which new authors might be worth a read and who and what, exactly, is going to interest us, inspire us and excite us.
In 2014 some of Canada’s biggest fiction writers came out with some blockbuster hits: Miriam Toews, Michael Crummey, Thomas King, David Bezmozgis, Frances Itani. Newcomers blew away the prize landscape — Sean Michaels won the newly enriched to $ 100,000 Giller Prize — and some of our top celebrities, including Martin Short, came out with memoirs.
The first big book of the season is John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children (Knopf Canada). The journalist has won multiple prizes for his non-fiction books The Golden Spruce and The Tiger. This time, he’s turned to fiction to get into the story of illegal Mexican migrants and the “coyotes” who traffic them.
Before Peter Carey’s Amnesia (Random House Canada) even came out officially in Canada, it had already been longlisted for the Folio Prize to be handed out in March. The Australian writer’s reputation for beautiful fiction is long and beloved.
The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout is the first novel by this award-winning poet. The book is set in Ottawa’s National Gallery and has been described as “a fast-paced tour through Canadian landscape, art and literature.” (Anansi)
The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge (Viking) explores the plasticity of the brain and is a follow-up to his huge bestseller The Brain That Changes Itself. It, too, offers fascinating insights and hope.
Every season there are a few first-time novelists that get a lot of buzz. Alix Hawley’s debut All True Not A Lie In It (Knopf Canada) is the latest. Why? She’s already proven she’s got chops in her short story writing, winning the 2014 Canada Writes award and the CBC Literary Award for short stories in 2012 and 2014.
Anne Tyler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist, among others, at one time said she would never finish another novel. That vow proved premature with A Spool of Blue Thread (Random House), her first book in years. It arrived on our desk, incidentally, garnished with blue wool — a marketing department ploy to catch our eye. Apparently it worked.
This one looks lovely: Where the Nights Are Twice As Long (Goose Lane), edited by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes, is a collection of love letters of Canadian poets — a broad array including Leonard Cohen, Malcolm Lowry and Louis Riel. Not all of the love affairs turn out well — in fact, some end in “tirades and tantrums.”
The Hunger of the Wolf by Stephen Marche (Harper Collins) is a sweeping family saga that runs from New York to the Canadian wilderness — in its pursuit of the story of the American Dream. Marche has been compared to David Mitchell, no small feat.
Small publisher Biblioasis is printing British writer David Constantine’s volume, In Another CountrySelected Stories, his North American debut — and the stories therein have already garnered raves from The Paris Review.
It has been 10 years since the last book from Kazuo Ishiguro and The Buried Giant (Knopf Canada), the newest from the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day, has fans beside themselves with anticipation.
Canadian literary giant Jane Urquhart is back with The Night Stages (McClelland & Stewart), set in one of my favourite parts of the world, County Kerry, Ireland. This promises to be one of Urquhart’s hauntingly beautiful narratives.
This must be the year of the short story collection: Canadian heavyweight Russell Smith is also out with a new one, Confidence. (Biblioasis)
Trinidad and Tobago-born Canadian author André Alexis has established himself as one of our preeminent voices — in Fifteen Dogs the gods grant consciousness to canines at a veterinary clinic to explore the possibility of human happiness. (Coach House)
This one’s got a voice-changing story: Chibi of Canadian band The Birthday Massacre is making her fiction debut under her given name Sara Taylor. Boring Girls is a violent, dark novel that is at its heart about bullying. Interesting to see how she moves from music to books. (ECW Press)
Kate Atkinson’s God in Ruins (Bond Street Books) follows her bestselling Life After Life, which chronicled the life of character Ursula Todd. This companion book tells the story of Ursula’s younger brother Teddy.
There is so little written about The Ward — the area of downtown Toronto now bounded by College St., Queen St., Yonge St. and University Ave. — which in the early parts of the 20th century was a huge ghetto of impoverished immigrants. Now The Ward, edited by John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg and Tatum Taylor (Coach House), will shed some light, including contributions from descendents of Ward residents, historians and politicians, among others.
It’s not often there is such fierce interest among our reviewers for a single title, but Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan (Harper Collins) caught the eye of everyone. Sullivan, of course, is known for her thoughtful takes on Canadian female giants, Gwendolyn MacEwen in Shadow Maker and Margaret Atwood in The Red Shoes.
Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun takes a timely look at North American gun culture. A.J. Somerset — the novelist and a former army reservist — takes a look at the phenomenon through a cultural lens: film, music, video games, literature and, controversially, how Canada’s view may not be that far from the U.S. one. (Biblioasis)