Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature by Margaret Atwood

A criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature, and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 287 pages.
Read from May 9, 2017 to June 4, 2017.

“Literature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind. Our literature is one such map, if we can learn to read it as our literature, as the product of who and where we have been. We need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live. For the members of a country or a culture, shared knowledge of their place, their here, is not a luxury but a necessity. Without that knowledge, we will not survive.”

You would think that as an English major and a Canadian that this book would have been included in my repertoire somewhere buuuuut it wasn’t. Having now read it, if I had the chance to talk to my Canadian Lit prof I would have asked him why the hell this book was not included in the curriculum. This book may have some dated references but its content is exceptional and still viable and relevant. This book is both a criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

Atwood is a total babe.

This book was published in 1972 and it addresses a non-academic audience in attempts to define what makes Canadian literature specifically Canadian and different from other major publishing countries in the world.

“What have been the central preoccupations of our poetry and fiction?…survival and victims.”

Canada is a harsh place to live in terms of weather and this aspect of the country played a major factor in its history, shaping its people, and how they view nature. It’s not hard to surmise that survival and being that of a victim would play a part in Canadian literature. Atwood breaks down her theory into four victim types:

Position One: To deny the fact that you are a victim. This is a position in which members of the “victim-group” will deny their identity as victims, accusing those members of the group who are less fortunate of being responsible for their own victimhood.

Position Two: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim (but attribute it to a powerful force beyond human control such as fate, history, God, or biology.
In this position, victims are likely to resign themselves to their fate.

Position Three: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim but to refuse to accept the assumption that the role is inevitable. This is a dynamic position in which the victim differentiates between the role of victim and the experience of the victim.

Position Four: To be a creative non-victim. A position for “ex-victims” when creativity of all kinds is fully possible.”

Atwood’s work is enticing, clear, funny and easy to agree with. Not only is this book an essential part of what defines Canadian literature, it can also be seen as the basis for the Canadian identity as a whole. While many who criticised this work found it lacking in historical evidence, the literary examples, while now dated, are excellent. I would love to see this theory put to the test with some more modern pieces of Canadian literature.

Survival is a great and short read that should be a part of every literary major’s reading list as well any Canadians.

Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

The story follows a few generations of the same family, and well, mostly their mistakes and secrets.

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 508 pages.
Read from May 16, 2017 to June 1, 2017.

I love getting book recommendations from friends, especially if the book is one of their favourites. Reading someone’s favourite book is a small way to get a better understanding of someone and a great way to read books that you may not have read otherwise. I mean, I had never even heard of this particular author until a friend started raving about this book, which apparently made some waves when it was first published back in 1996. This acclaimed story has won numerous awards including a nomination for the Giller prize.  Oh yeah, and I guess Oprah liked it at some point. Meh.

Lies like that are not a sin, they are a sacrifice.”

The story follows a few generations of the same family, and well, mostly their mistakes and secrets. The family has been far from picture-perfect in terms of what was expected from people in the late 1800s to early 1900s.  The story begins with James Piper, a very ambitious man and piano tuner. He becomes infatuated with the 13-year old daughter of one of his clients and elopes with her to begin his own family.  Materia is shunned by her Lebanese family and quickly becomes unbearably lonely in her sheltered marriage. James, realising that he literally married a child, becomes frustrated with Materia’s inabilities as a wife and quickly falls out of love with her. Their first child, Kathleen becomes Jame’s pride and joy and he forms an unnatural attachment to her.  They have 3 more girls, Mercedes, Frances and Lily, only to have newborn Lily die a crib death shortly after.  The novel explores the regret that Materia feels in marrying James and her inability to love her first child Kathleen. The book then follows the other girls and their relationship with their father.

As the girls grow, it becomes apparent that Kathleen has a gift for singing and is sent to New York to become an opera singer. Frances is a trouble-making tomboy while Mercedes is a proper, people-pleasing young lady.  James enlists in WWI, while Materia secretly wishes for his death only to have James return unharmed. After a letter arrives from an “anonymous well-wisher” that Kathleen has found herself in a spot of trouble, James forces Kathleen to return home. Shortly after Kathleen becomes pregnant with twins. Kathleen, sadly perishes during childbirth and Frances’ good intentions result in the death of one of the twins. The story then continues to follow the growth of the Piper girls and their struggles with sin and guilt. With numerous plot twists and turns, this story is anything but straightforward.

The book covers a range of topics from isolation, racial tension, forbidden love, rape and incest. James’ character is by far the most despicable and while his guilt is not very overt in the novel, by the time you piece all the secrets together you realise just how deplorable he is. Frances has the most intriguing story, while Kathleen and Materia have the most tragic. You also see how dedicated the sisters are to each other in getting through the numerous turmoils that affect the family.

I feel like this book is worthy of a re-read. There were a tonne of details in this book that I feel I missed or that I would have benefited from at least discussing in a book club setting. The writing is intelligent and through with rounded and unforgettable characters. The Canadian setting is a unique one that is rarely written about in this fashion.

If you appreciate unforgettable characters in search of redemption then I would highly recommend reading this novel. Those that appreciate a good historical setting along with tense plot twists will also find enjoyment out of this book.

The Ghost King by R.A. Salvatore

One the best Drizzt books I have read in a long while.

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 352 pages.
Read from April 26, 2017 to May 4, 2017.

One of the things I love the most about the stories of Drizzt is the connection and companionship that all the characters have. Salvatore also does a great job at keeping the characters interesting and connected, no matter where their adventures take them. That, and Drizzt is hella-talented with his scimitars and pretty much has no match. Mix in a zombie-Dragon that references a plot line from some of the very first books in the series and you have a great way to revive a lagging story line.  I have now read 19 books in this series and there are still 11 more to go, and counting, until I reach the end. Considering I never had any intentions of reading them this far, I’d say I have done pretty well.

Cattibrie is thriving in her magic studies since an injury to her hip and leg has left her unable to fight. However there is something horribly wrong in the fray of the magic world and in front of Drizzt’s eyes, Cattibrie sinks into a coma in which she stuck between the real world and that of a magical purgatory. In an effort to save his wife, Drizzt and his companions journey to find their old friend Cadderly, a priest with substantial healing powers. They learn that the magical world has suddenly become unstable and that an old nemesis, once thought destroyed, the Crenshinibon is responsible.  This evil has also reawakened and revived some old enemies who have a score to settle. In order to save Cattibrie as well as the realm of magic, Drizzt and his friends need to destroy the source once and for all.

This book renewed my faith in the Legend of Drizzt series. It brought back some of my favourite characters, Jarlaxle and Cadderly, and made reference to a plot from one of my favourite books in the series, The Crystal Shard. This book was a much-needed boost after the previous book I read (The Pirate King), which seemed forced and dull. By revisiting the roots of the story of Drizzt, Salvatore has put new life into his long series. While nothing will replace the love I have for the original and first three books in the whole series, it is nice to see that Salvatore is still capable of putting out quality plot lines with the same loveable characters.  Oh, and not to mention. ZOMBIE DRAGON. That, in and of itself, is worth reading.

I would most definitely recommend this book to Salvatore and fantasy fans. It is worth working your way up to in the series.