There are some books by Canadian authors that you absolutely need to read right now. Some are old, some are new, but all of the works are important and essential to a well-rounded education and understand of what it takes to be Canadian literature. Here are, in my opinion at the very least, the best of the best as far as Canadian literature goes.
- The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood’s impressive dystopian futurist novel has left an impression on Canadian literature. Containing critiques of society and religion, Atwood took a science fiction concept and pulled it into the mainstream. Her writing is unique and straightforward, making the book key to understanding Canadian lit.
2. The English Patient: Michael Ontaatje’s genius work that brings together the most unlikely of matchups still resonates with today’s audiences. The story will stay with you long after you read it. If you are trying to just watch the movie and skip reading the book don’t do it. The movie was a critical success of course and amazingly well-made, but you need to read the book to get how the story was meant to be felt. You will fall in love with the characters and understand the struggles of love, loss, pain, addiction, and growing up all combined with the four primary characters.
3. Neuromancer: William Gibson wrote this cyberpunk masterpiece in 1984, which was the first winner for the sci-fi triple crown of awards. Pretty impressive track record. And the story is still very much relatable, given that it is about a computer hacker who is hired to perform the “ultimate hack.”
4. The Wars: The book may have been published in the 1970s, but story is amazingly impressive. It is the story of a young Canadian man in the military during World War I. The history on it is poignant, the story is completely enthralling and heartbreaking. This book really brings out the struggles that all soldiers face and the terrors that can follow you even when you think you are safe.
5. Never Cry Wolf: This book was originally published in 1963, but it is amazing. It is essentially a first person account of the author’s actual experiences observing wolves in Canada. Even though it is a fictional account, you will not find another account of how wolves really are than in Farley Mowat’s masterpiece.
6. A Complicated Kindness: Miriam Toews’s third novel, A Complicated Kindness won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. The book takes place in Manitoba and follows the coming of age story of 16 year-old Nomi Nickel who struggles with her identity and personal history while trying to keep her place in her Mennonite community.
7. Alias Grace: Another hit by Margaret Atwood, Alias Graceis historical fiction about the real life events of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeepers. In reality, two servants were convicted of the murders, one being executed and the other being sentenced to life in jail. The fictional character of Simon Jordan researches the case, becoming too involved while looking for the truth. Atwood’s use of stream of consciousness is riveting as it is complex.
8. Beautiful Losers: Leonard Cohen’s famous noveluses a ton of allusion, imagery and symbolism, an iconic example of the 1960s culture. Cohen admitted to writing the book under the influence of amphetamines while he attempted to focus his concentration on his writing. The result was a prime example of what it meant to be postmodern in Canadian literature. The book is not at all an easy read and should not be taken lightly. But if you have the time and commitment to dedicate to it, your perception on the zeitgeist of the 1960s will be completely reframed.