In the May 26, 2015, issue of The New Yorker, writer Pasha Malla mused about the status of French-to-English translations in Canada. The occasion was a review of Maxime Raymond Bock’s short-story collection, Atavisms (which was a Q&Q Book of the Year for 2015). But Malla began his piece with a broad overview of what he perceived to be the historically marginal fate of writing in translation throughout English Canada. “Despite tapering enmities,” he wrote, “the dynamic between Canada’s Francophone and Anglophone communities remains less one of cohesion than indifference and estrangement.”
“Indifference and estrangement” seem like good words to describe a category that sells in roughly the same numbers as poetry (i.e., not a lot). This is particularly true of a writer like Bock, whom Malla rightly describes as “fiercely Québécois.” Atavisms is a suite of stories that takes exception to the displacement of French-Canadian culture over the course of the country’s history: it references touchstones such as the battle of the Plains of Abraham and the 1970 October Crisis, and uses a son’s monologue to his terminally ill father as a metaphor for a society that has been systematically starved of oxygen by the dominant linguistic force in the nation.
Bock’s novel Des lames de pierre also features a dying father – or, in this case, a father figure: a minor poet named Robert Lacerte, who serves as a mentor of sorts to the novel’s first-person narrator. It falls to the narrator to care for the poet after the older man descends into the final stages of cancer.
Atavisms was published by the U.S. small press Dalkey Archive; this time around, Bock has a homegrown publisher, Coach House Books, which will bring out the novel in October, under the title Baloney. (Both books were translated by Pablo Strauss.)
“About the English translation of Quebec books in general,” Bock writes in an email, “things seem to me like they are doing well right now.” Like Malla, Bock points to Kim Thúy winning the 2015 edition of Canada Reads with her novel Ru, and also mentions Samuel Archibald being shortlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize for the English translation of his story collection, Arvida. “Quebec literature in general is doing very well in the last 10–15 years,” Bock says. “Strong young authors and dynamic young publishers. And it’s starting to show a little bit outside.”
This optimism seems to be catching on: July also sees the publication of the inaugural title in QC Fiction’s line of translations. And it is writers like Bock who are leading the way.
Life in translation
Montreal’s Linda Leith was the founding artistic director of the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, so it is no surprise that, as a publisher with her own eponymous line, she is enormously supportive of work in translation. This fall Linda Leith Publishing is set to release two notable works. Martine Delvaux’s novel The Last Bullet Is for You (translated by David Homel) takes the form of a stream-of-consciousness love letter that mixes melancholy and the desire for revenge. || Chinese-Canadian author Xue Yiwei has a first work appearing in English, in a translation by Darryl Sterk. Shenzheners is a suite of stories set in the titular market town and hailed as a Chinese answer to James Joyce’s Dubliners.
Other books appearing in translation…
♦ You Will Remember Me, François Archambault; Bobby Theodore, trans. (Talonbooks)
♦ The Island of Books, Dominique Fortier; Rhonda Mullins, trans. (Coach House Books)
♦ Hungary-Hollywood Express, Éric Plamondon; Dimitri Nasrallah, trans. (Véhicule Press)
♦ Too Much Light for Samuel Gaska, Étienne Beaulieu; Jonathan Kaplansky, trans. (Quattro Books)
♦ Testament, Vickie Gendreau; Aimee Wall, trans. (BookThug)
This fall, Marni Jackson, best known as a journalist and as the author of the non-fiction books The Mother Zone, Pain: The Fifth Vital Sign, and Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest, takes a page from Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence with her debut book of fiction. Jackson – a winner of multiple National Magazine Awards, a former columnist for The Globe and Mail and a co-host of the TVOntario series Imprint, – will publish the linked-story collection Don’t I Know You? with by Flatiron Books/Raincoast this September.
Such stuff as dreams are made on
Margaret Atwood is the latest author (following Jeanette Winterson, Howard Jacobson, and Anne Tyler) to appear in the Hogarth Shakespeare series featuring modern retellings of the Bard’s masterworks. This October, Atwood unveils Hag-Seed (Knopf Canada), her take on The Tempest. Featuring Atwood’s signature style, typified by linguistic play and acerbic wit, the novel focuses on the erstwhile artistic director of a theatre festival who emerges from exile to attempt a production of Shakespeare’s celebrated final play – and get revenge on those who have wronged him in the process.
Speculative fiction has become a staple of literary authors, with Margaret Atwood at Canada’s vanguard. This season, two writers adopt tropes of science fiction as inspiration in their new works.
Arguably, the most surprising of these is two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize winner M.G. Vassanji, whose eighth novel owes more to Philip K. Dick than Joseph Conrad. At an unspecified time in the future, physical immortality has become a reality. Unfortunately, the capacity of the human brain remains finite, meaning people who expect to live forever eventually need to have their memories erased. Nostalgia (Doubleday Canada) examines what happens when those overwritten memories begin to leak into people’s present lives.
Noted indigenous playwright and novelist Drew Hayden Taylor adapts traditional science-fiction scenarios by locating them within the context of Canadian First Nations settings and stories. The juxtaposition provides metaphorical commentary on issues such as colonization and alienation. Take Us to Your Chief and Other Stories (Douglas & McIntyre) is due this October.
A Canadian living in New York City, Ezekiel Boone spins a terrifying yarn about the reawakening of a long-dormant race of predatory and carnivorous spiders in The Hatching (Random House Canada), the first in a projected series.
World of wonder
Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue returns to fiction after a successful side journey into screenwriting. (The 2015 film adaptation of her novel Room won its star, Brie Larson, an Oscar, and Donoghue was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA for her screenplay.) Her new novel, The Wonder (HarperCollins), is a psychological thriller set in mid-19th-century Ireland.
Michael Helm, whose 2010 novel, Cities of Refuge, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, returns with an ambitious new work that mashes up three different genres: gothic horror, detective fiction, and apocalyptic literature. After James (McClelland & Stewart) follows three disparate characters – a neuroscientist, a failed poet, and a virologist – whose tales overlap and refract one another.
Kate Taylor’s Serial Monogamy (Doubleday Canada) contains two parallel strands: a contemporary story about a woman who discovers her professor husband is having an affair with one of his students, and a historical counterpart focused on a woman of the theatre who becomes a mistress to novelist Charles Dickens.
A man whose sister has gone missing discovers the things she has left behind: an oversized box, a lab rat, and a cryptic note that reads, “This is the only way back for us.” His attempt to unravel the mystery of her disappearance is a mash-up of classic noir and speculative fiction tropes that is being compared to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. The ambitous and mind-stretching debut novel by Jay Hosking, Three Years with the Rat (Hamish Hamilton Canada), appears in August.
The subject of witchcraft takes centre stage in the new novel from Ami McKay, set during America’s infamous Gilded Age. The titular trio of The Witches of New York (Knopf Canada) earn their living providing the city’s high-society matrons with cures and potions of all sorts. Trouble ensues when one of the witches starts seeing mysterious apparitions and is unsure whether they are real or she is going insane.
Whether they’re written by Cervantes or Kerouac, there are few novelistic devices more guaranteed to drive a plot forward than putting characters on the road. Besides providing a plot with built-in forward momentum (literally), the road trip offers plenty of opportunity for authors to mine deep veins of comedy and conflict (as anyone who has been on a family road trip can attest).
Ashley Little’s new book, Niagara Motel (Arsenal Pulp Press), features a pre-teen in the early 1990s whose mother is a narcoleptic stripper, and who believes his father is Sam Malone, the bartender on the television sitcom Cheers. The lead joins up with a pregnant 16-year-old for a voyage to California in a stolen car, and their arrival in Los Angeles coincides with the Rodney King riots.
Canada’s most populous city was recently declared by BBC Radio to be the most diverse metropolis in the world. Despite its constant scrabbling to be considered “world class,” Toronto continues to provide fodder for fiction writers who mythologize the place and its people.
André Alexis follows up his Scotiabank Giller Prize winner, Fifteen Dogs, with a quest narrative based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The third book in his ongoing quincunx of novels aiming to resuscitate neglected genres, The Hidden Keys (Coach House Books), is set in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, and focuses on a thief and a heroin addict who join forces to steal a series of objects they believe form a map to a large inheritance.
Cormorant Books is bringing out journalist and playwright Graham Jackson’s novel The Jane Loop, about a suburban teenager in the 1960s whose discovery of his homosexuality coincides with a recognition of the disturbing undercurrents that roil beneath the city’s polite facade. The novel is set to appear in October.
Quattro Books, meanwhile, is set to publish Corrado Paina’s Between Rothko and 3 Windows, a novel that examines our increasingly globalized society through the prism of ethnically diverse downtown Toronto. It is also a mystery about a murder at the city’s art gallery. The novel, which appears in September, is translated by Damiano Pietropaolo.
Donna Morrissey returns with The Fortunate Brother (Viking Canada), about a family grieving the loss of their son, and the murder of a local ne’er-do-well. • Katherena Vermette won a Governor General’s Literary Award for her poetry collection, North End Love Songs. She returns in September with her debut novel, The Break (House of Anansi Press). • University
of Guelph professor Stephen Henighan is back with The Path of the Jaguar (Thistledown Press), a novel set in the Guatemala of the late 1990s through the first decade of the new millennium. • Jowita Bydlowska trades her memoirist’s cap for that of a novelist with Guy (Buckrider Books). • Journey Prize winner Devon Code presents Involuntary Bliss, his first novel, appearing from BookThug in October. • A woman going through her deceased mother’s belongings discovers the corpses of two children in a freezer in Jen Sookfong Lee’s novel The Conjoined (ECW Press). • Riel Nason follows her 2011 debut, The Town that Drowned, with a sophomore novel, also published by Goose Lane Editions. All the Things We Leave Behind is out in September. • Alice Zorn traces the interconnected lives of three very distinct characters in Five Roses (Dundurn Press).
Sadness and redemption
One of CanLit’s most innovative chameleons, Anosh Irani – a prior shortlister for the Man Asian Literary Prize and CBC’s Canada Reads – returns this fall with his first novel in six years. In The Parcel (Knopf Canada), Madhu, a transgender sex worker in Bombay, decides, at 40, to move on from her former trade. She is dragged back into the world she thought she left behind when a notorious brothel owner informs her she must take care of a “parcel” that is arriving: a young girl who has been sold into sex slavery by her aunt. Irani’s novel does not flinch from its dark subject matter, and is already being buzzed about as one of the most provocative works of the fall season.
Such a long journey
Eager readers will have to wait until next year for Joseph Boyden’s full-length follow-up to his 2014 Canada Reads winner, The Orenda. Fortunately, Hamish Hamilton Canada does have a new Boyden novella on tap in the interim. Wenjack is about an Ojibwe boy who flees a residential school in Ontario and must navigate the wilds of the wooded country in an attempt to find his way home. He is accompanied by Manitous and other native spirits that act as a kind of chorus, commenting on his progress.
Biblioasis: the long and the short of it
Ontario press Biblioasis is producing some of the best short fiction in Canada, and this season appears to be no exception, with a trio of upcoming titles from veterans in the genre.
♦ John Metcalf, who won editor of the year at the 2014 Libris Awards, returns with his first collection of original stories since 1993’s Shooting the Stars. September sees the publication of The Museum at the End of the World, a suite of comic stories and novellas.
♦ Leon Rooke, one of Canada’s most respected and innovative writers, similarly returns with a collection of stories and novellas, this one called Swinging Through Dixie.
♦ Kathy Page follows her previous collection, the Scotiabank Giller Prize–longlisted Paradise and Elsewhere, with The Two of Us, a group of stories that (as the title suggests) focuses on duos in various permutations and situations.
Exile Editions continues its anthology series – which has in previous seasons focused on zombies, the post-apocalypse, and steampunk – with a collection intended to cut across cultures and communities. Those Who Make Us: Creature, Myth and Monster Stories explores the uncanny nature of our relationship to the natural world in a manner that is typically and eerily Canadian. Contributors to the anthology include Kate Story, Andrew F. Sullivan, and Chadwick Ginther.
Deconstructing Silicon Valley
A new story collection from Douglas Coupland focuses on the nature of consciousness in the digital age. Bit Rot (Random House Canada) takes its title from the manner in which digital files can degrade or decompose. This new book contains both short fiction and works of essay-length non-fiction.
Short, sharp shots
♦ House of Anansi Press follows Russell Wangersky’s 2014 thriller, Walt, with a new collection (the author’s last, Whirl Away, was shortlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize). The Path of Most Resistance offers stories that examine the workings of passive-aggressiveness in contemporary society.
♦ Danila Botha returns to short fiction after taking a detour into novels with last year’s Too Much on the Inside. Her sophomore collection, For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known (Tightrope Books), is about relationships, often of the dysfunctional sort.
♦ Calgary writer Rea Tarvydas has a debut collection on tap with Saskatchewan literary publisher Thistledown Press. How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square examines the experiences of a group of expats in Hong Kong, and is partially based on the author’s own experiences.
♦ The first collection from Toronto writer Shari Kasman contains stories that range across literary modes, from the surreal to the fantastic. Everything Life Has to Offer is due from Invisible Publishing in November.
Sing, Heav’nly muse
A plethora of poetry presents itself this fall, including:
→ Short Takes on the Apocalypse, Patricia Young (Biblioasis)
→ The Description of the World, Johanna Skibsrud (Buckrider Books/Wolsak & Wynn)
→ Witness, I Am, Gregory Scofield (Nightwood Editions)
→ Defending Darkness, Pamela Porter (Ronsdale Press)
→ Jogging with the Great Ray Charles, Kenneth Sherman (ECW Press)
→ Acquired Community, Jane Byers (Caitlin Press)
→ The Witch of the Inner Wood: Collected Long Poems, M. Travis Lane (icehouse poetry/Goose Lane Editions)
→ Selah, Nora Gould (Brick Books)
→ Stranger, Nyla Matuk (Signal Editions/Véhicule Press)
→ How to Draw a Rhinoceros, Kate Sutherland (BookThug)
It’s a mystery
Devoted readers of crime novels and thrillers will enjoy this season’s offerings. Howard Engel’s iconic sleuth, Benny Cooperman, is back for the 15th time in Over the River, due out from Cormorant Books in October. • Shari Lapeña made news when her upcoming thriller, The Couple Next Door, sold in 23 territories. It will be published domestically by Doubleday Canada in August. • Cathy Ace is back with a new mystery in her Cait Morgan series, each of which takes place in a different global locale. The Corpse with the Ruby Lips (TouchWood Editions) unfolds in Budapest. • Edmonton writer Wayne Arthurson sets his new mystery, The Traitors of Camp 133 (Turnstone Press), at a German POW camp located in Alberta during the latter part of the Second World War.
Life is a cabaret
Cree playwright and author Tomson Highway presents a deluxe gift-book edition of his musical cabaret The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito (Fitzhenry & Whiteside). In addition to Highway’s unexpurgated script, the book contains lyrics, a glossary of Cree vocabulary, and illustrations by artist Sue Todd.
Not for just anyone would McClelland & Stewart bust out a book of poetry in the fall. But then again, Anne Carson is the closest thing CanLit has to a rock star poet. (She is the only poet to date to win the Griffin Poetry Prize twice: once in 2001 for Men in the Off Hours, and again in 2014 for Red Doc>.) Carson’s latest, Float, marries her formal innovations with an idiosyncratic presentation: the collection is made up of discrete chapbooks that “float” in a transparent case, and may be shuffled around and read in any order.
Yes, nope, and whatever
Toronto’s Mansfield Press has steadily produced quality volumes of poetry from new and established voices. The fall 2016 season sees the addition of four more.
♦ First up is former Q&Q marketing manager Meaghan Strimas’s third collection, Yes or Nope, which is said to feature “bad relationships, unhealthy friendships, and creepy neighbours.”
♦ Tara-Michelle Ziniuk returns with her third book, Whatever, Iceberg.
♦ Veteran poet Pier Giorgio Di Cicco has a new collection coming October. My Life, Without Me is described as a “spiritual autobiography.”
♦ Stephen Brockwell completes the quartet with his new collection, All of Us Reticent, Here, Together, a mixture of autobiography, satire, and long conversation poems.
“When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move into the Jewish Home.” So reads the opening sentence in Jonathan Safran Foer’s third novel. Here I Am (Hamish Hamilton Canada), is an ambitious work about an earthquake that hits the Middle East, precipitating an Arab invasion of Israel, which takes place simultaneously with the fracturing of a Jewish family in America. By juxtaposing the two, Foer asks salient questions about family and history and what constitutes a home.
Michael Chabon returns with his first new work of fiction since 2012’s Telegraph Avenue. His new novel, Moonglow (HarperCollins), takes the form of a deathbed confession given by the narrator’s grandfather.
Eimear McBride follows her acclaimed debut, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing (which won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Goldsmiths Prize), with a novel set in London in the mid-1990s. The Lesser Bohemians (McClelland & Stewart) follows an 18-year-old drama student who falls in with an older actor.
Zadie Smith also sets her new novel partly in London (and partly in West Africa). Swing Time (Hamish Hamilton Canada) tells the story of two girls who aspire to be dancers, though only one of them has any talent.
South Korean author Han Kang won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for the English translation of her sophomore novel, The Vegetarian. September brings the release of the English translation of Kang’s novel Human Acts (Portobello Books/Publishers Group Canada), about a boy searching for the corpse of his friend in the wake of a violently suppressed student uprising. The book is translated by Deborah Smith, who also undertook the earlier volume.
A former Scotiabank Giller Prize juror and 2015 Baileys Prize winner (for her novel, How to Be Both), Ali Smith returns to short fiction with her new collection, Public Library and Other Stories (Hamish Hamilton Canada). Due out in October, Smith’s latest work should be required reading for the government of Newfoundland.
Scandinavian crime thrillers show no sign of slowing in their popularity; best-selling Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir is one of the authors taking up the mantel of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell. Her new thriller, Why Did You Lie? (Hachette UK Canada), appears in November.
Hachette is also set to release Rather Be the Devil, the new Edinburgh-set thriller from Ian Rankin.
Another literary Ian – Ian McEwan – returns in August with a novel that is being touted as among the author’s best. Nutshell (Knopf Canada) is a thriller that takes up McEwan’s staple themes of deceit and betrayal.
Colson Whitehead looks back to the pre–Civil War antebellum South for the setting of his new novel. The Underground Railroad (Doubleday) tells the story of a slave on a cotton plantation who makes a dangerous bid to outwit authorities and slave catchers to secure her freedom.
Q&Q’s fall preview covers books published between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. All information (titles, publication dates) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at press time. Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.