It has been a truly remarkable year for Canadian first novels, a year that has seen the publication of such fine books as Tamarind Mem, by Anita Rau Badami, The Year of Lesser, by David Bergen, The Photographer's Sweethearts, by Diana Hartog, Stolen China, by John Fraser, The Reconstruction, by Claudia Casper, and Hunting Down Home, by Jean McNeil, as well as the six finalists listed below. Given the exceptional quality of all these books, I wish a dozen finalists could have been chosen-and I sincerely empathize with the judges who have to choose one winner.
Cereus Blooms at Night,
by Shani Mootoo (Press Gang)
The Cure for Death by Lightning,
by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Knopf Canada)
Fall on Your Knees,
by Anne-Marie MacDonald (Knopf Canada)
by Anne Michaels, (McClelland & Stewart)
In Another Place, Not Here,
by Dionne Brand (Knopf Canada)
by Yann Martel (Knopf Canada)
Here are fragments of the short reviews of these books in the First Novels column:
Cereus Blooms at Night: "Such `magic realism', when handled as adroitly as Mootoo handles it, is deeply compelling, a lush flowering of the imagination: one willingly suspends disbelief."
The Cure for Death by Lightning: "Anderson-Dargatz [traces] Beth's rite of passage to womanhood, with precision and empathy. The result is a powerful novel that illuminates the myths at work in personal lives."
Fall on Your Knees: "[MacDonald] keeps you reading, not with gimmicks but with gripping, unforgettable characters so archetypally resonant, so realistically evoked, that they live themselves right off the page."
Fugitive Pieces: "The book is beautifully written, Michaels the poet being everywhere evident, and it is unsettling in the best possible way-like turbulent water disturbing what lies in the depths."
In Another Place, Not Here: "As with all novels written in poetic prose, [the book relies] on the writer's ability to shape the language.into the very spirit of the characters themselves. . The result is startling, as if we had entered the heart of another human being."
Self: "In a voice that doesn't falter, [Martel] explores the complex issue of identity, how one's language, culture, and body coalesce into that elusive idea called `self'." . Self .is as complex as the word itself."