Book Reviews in January/February 2006 Issue

Note from Editor
Editor's Note
by Olga Stein
As always, the January/February issue is as much about the previous year as the new one. The fall season brings a downpour of books, some of which are honoured with major literary prizes. Accordingly, we attempt to let our readers know what the fuss is about, bumping reviews of some other excellent fiction to the following year in the process.

Slow Man
by J.M. Coetzee

Secker & Warburg
265 pages $34.95 cloth
ISBN: 0436206110
Book Review
Birth and Rebirth
by Patricia Robertson
Elegant, taut, compassionate, Slow Man amply demonstrates why J.M. Coetzee deserved the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature. He has written no better novel since Life & Times of Michael K., which won Britain's Booker award (now the Man Booker) in 1983. His new work is not only a subtle exploration of loss, mortality, and love, but also a brilliant meditation on the creative process and, indirectly, an evocation of the new paradigm posited by contemporary quantum physics
Thirty-Seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences
by Jan Zwicky

Gaspereau Press
80 pages $18.95 paper
ISBN: 1554470013
Robinson's Crossing
by Jan Zwicky

Brick Books
84 pages $16 paper
ISBN: 1894078373
Book Review
To Know The Pine
by Abou Farman
No surprise, given her day job, that Jan Zwicky is a thinking poet. As a philosopher, she has dedicated a good deal of effort to nudging the discipline into a more poetic, rather than strictly analytic, style. It's an endeavour given as much to glimpsing truth via the refracting powers of metaphor as to grasping the precise outlines of things through a narrow focus on concepts; hers is a philosophy, in short, that would recognize "the necessity of both love and wisdom.
In The Scaffolding
by Eric Miller

Goose Lane Editions
91 pages $17.95 paper
ISBN: 0864924259
Book Review
Exemplars Of Possibility
by A.F. Moritz
Recently there's been a lusty debate over whether Canadian poetry's landscape-writing tradition isolates poets from contemporary influences. In his review of John Donlan's 1999 book Green Man, Paul Vermeersch complained of "the bulk of tired pastorales that have been giving Canadian poetry the reputation of being dull, folksy, and behind the times for the past 30 years or so.
Alden Nowlan & Illness Canadian Masters Series: Volume One
by edited by Shane Neilson

Frog Hollow Press
96 pages $125 cloth
ISBN: 097358470X
Book Review
The Charm of the Souvenir
by Robert Moore
Alden Nowlan & Illness, edited by Shane Neilson, is the inaugural volume in the Canadian Masters Series published by Frog Hollow Press. Established in 2001, Frog Hollow Press is a "private press", a category of publisher defined on its website as free "from outside control or interference" being "essentially the work of one person, the proprietor, who prints to please himself." In light of this, the usual rules of engagement between reviewer and text aren't likely to obtain.
Demilunes: Little Windows on QuTbec
by Translated & Introduced by David Solway

Frog Hollow Press
64 pages $45 paper
ISBN: 097327767X
A Set of Deadly Negotiations
by George Murray

Frog Hollow Press
40 pages $40 paper
ISBN: 0973277696
Book Review
Two Little Windows
by Matthew J. Trafford
Bearing the requisite fleur-de-lis on its cover and title pages, David Solway's Demilunes is intended to give readers a glimpse into the "unique phenomenon of QuTbTcois poetry and culture." These "little windows" reveal widely disparate interiors as the reader peers into QuTbec's "harsh and sustaining" landscape, fecund and complicated history, passionate devotion to its religious heritage, and luridly secular sensuality.
Hitchhiking in the Hospital
by Shirley A. Serviss

Inkling Press
65 pages $15 paper
ISBN: 0973767413
Book Review
Just Making the Rounds
by Shane Neilson
As a physician who occasionally prescribes poetry to patients, I believe in the power of poems to heal. Yet I have, on the whole, misgivings about poems written as therapy. Shirley Serviss is a poet who has been a writer-in-residence at a hospital in Alberta for the past several years. To my knowledge, there is no other program like it in Canada. As part of her job, she encourages patients to keep a journal and write poems.
An Audience of Chairs
by Joan Clark

Knopf Canada
354 pages $32.95 cloth
ISBN: 0676976557
Book Review
Been There, Seen That
by Lisa Salem-Wiseman
The latest novel by St. John's writer, Joan Clark, opens with an invitation to the reader to "[p]icture a woman playing a piano board at the kitchen table on a late December morning." The skillfully executed scene takes us inside the woman's head as she imagines "heavy velvet curtains drawing apart and lively notes rush[ing] onstage, where leaping and skipping, they perform a short, spirited dance.
The Walking Boy
by Lydia Kwa

Key Porter Books
308 pages $32.95 cloth
ISBN: 1552636933
Book Review
Ying and Yang of a Novel
by Barbara Julian
The Walking Boy attempts to ascend a Himalayan mount of ideas, history, and Eastern exotica, but in language too pedestrian to reach the heights it aims for. On the other hand, the novel manages to sustain tension and an atmosphere of danger, while exploring a theme of "two-in-oneness"-in the sense of androgyny, and in the philosophical sense of the "myriad wonders" in the yin-yang of all things. The pacing isn't smooth, but it covers a lot of ground.
The Loss Of Leon Meed
by Josh Emmons

338 pages $33 cloth
ISBN: 0743267184
Book Review
Meed Spotting
by Nancy Wigston
This brooding, wise, and very funny first novel by Josh Emmons takes place in the mythical northern California town of Eureka, "a weathered city", population forty thousand, where folks arrive and settle down, despite the "almost granular fog and high cloud cover." No surprise, then, that the people we meet in Eureka are not the go-getters of San Francisco or the trend-setters of L.A
A Perfect Night to Go to China
by David Gilmour

Thomas Allen
180 pages $26.95 cloth
ISBN: 0887621678
Book Review
Purgatory without Paradise
by Todd Swift
Ernest Hemingway spent some time in Toronto, before his legend took hold. David Gilmour's sixth novel, A Perfect Night To Go To China, returns him there. The terse, retro-prose recalls the story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" ("Last week he tried to commit suicide," one waiter said) with snappy dialogue and anachronistically pugilistic behaviour from the tragic protagonist. This is a homage to Hemingway's achingly beautiful, doomed classic, The Sun Also Rises (a.k.
A Perfect Pledge
by Rabindranath Maharaj

Knopf Canada
401 pages $32.95 cloth
ISBN: 0676976476
Book Review
Futile Struggle
by Tim McGrenere
If Ernest Hemingway came back to life and read the first sentence of Rabindranath Maharaj's latest novel, he would likely shoot himself again. A Perfect Pledge begins with a tortuous seven-liner comprising fourteen commas, one colon, and two lists of exotic smells and foods.
Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin
by John Geiger

Disinformation (distributed by Consortium)
320 pages $37.5 cloth
ISBN: 1932857125
Book Review
George Fetherling
by George Fetherling
Few of the other figures associated with the Beat movement were smarter or more gifted than Brion Gysin, the vanguard visual artist and writer who died in Paris in 1986. Yet he never attained their level of recognition, partly because he was not skilled at husbanding his c.v. Here is how his biographer John Geiger describes him in 1950, at the midway point in his life: "In half a lifetime he had accomplished many things, but by any conventional measure he had also accomplished very little.
Yesterday's People
by Goran Simic

125 pages $22.95 paper
ISBN: 0973597178
Book Review
The Runoff Of War
by Matthew Fox
At a recent panel discussion at Toronto's Spoke Club, novelist Wayne Johnson decided to teach the local hipsters a few things. "There is no such thing" as a unifying theme in Canadian literature, he said. "In fact, it's going the opposite way. There's a global atomisation. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way the world works, and the world is working more and more that way." Indeed.
A Short History of Indians in Canada
by Thomas King

Harper Collins Canada $24.95 cloth
ISBN: 0002007029
Book Review
Coyote's New Guise
by Michael Harris
Postcolonial thought, or its antecedents, influenced the liberal education of many these past few decades. Sometimes, as might be the case with Thomas King's latest offering, the stance seems to amount to a litany of outrage and apology. Other times, as in King's groundbreaking novel, Green Grass, Running Water, postcolonial work has borne truly remarkable, heartbreaking, mind-altering fruit.
My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973
by Harry Mathews

Dalkey Archive Press
203 pages $16.34 paper
ISBN: 1564783928
Book Review
Undetermined Persona
by Jeff Bursey
On the back of My Life in CIA appear two words, "autobiographical novel", which have caused reviewers to sweat over what is true, what is false, what is blurred, and what is going on in the latest novel from Harry Mathews. Writing in the London Review of Books, Daniel Soar, after summarising what he thinks Mathews's life was like in Paris in 1973, says: "This might have been Harry Mathews's story. But it isn't.
Here is Where We Meet
by John Berger

237 pages $35.95 cloth
ISBN: 0747573174
Book Review
Documenting Old Europe
by Jerry White
There is no living writer quite like John Berger. I insert that adjective "living" with considerable sadness, because the writer who was most like his peer, most in solidarity with his political and especially aesthetic aims, was Susan Sontag. Berger dedicated his 1978 essay, "Uses of Photography", to Sontag, no doubt because she had just recently published her own book On Photography (1977).
Half Life
by John Mighton

Playwrights Canada
96 pages $19.85 cloth
ISBN: 0887548164
Book Review
Selective Forgetting
by Judith Claire Thompson
On New Year's Day, dark fruitcake in one hand, sparkling wine in the other, I had a surprising conversation with one of Canada's most brilliant actors. When he learned that I was writing a serious review of John Mighton's play, Half Life, he laughed loudly, declaring dramatic texts to be like blueprints or musical scores, incomplete without a production.
The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister
by Peter C. Newman

Random House Canada
462 pages $37.95 cloth
ISBN: 0679313516
Book Review
Careless Talk
by James Roots
As we all know by now, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made a jackass of himself by unloading his personal opinions into a tape-recorder wielded by Peter C. Newman over a period of ten years that covered his entire time in office. Then Newman proved himself a duplicitous 'friend' by not only publishing the results but excerpting huge chunks for magazines, newspapers, and a CBC movie. Each man then issued a lame mea culpa. Like Groucho Marx trying to halt publication of Richard J.
Running the Rapids: A Writer's Life
by Kildare Dobbs

Dundurn Press
240 pages $35 cloth
ISBN: 1550025945
Book Review
Kildare Dobbs, Scribbler
by Eric Miller
The versatile Kildare Dobbs, who was born in 1923, chose to give his memoir Running the Rapids the subtitle of "A Writer's Life". Dobbs's authorial struggles and successes are impressive, but it is more illuminating to ponder the possible significations of the phrase "running the rapids". Dobbs's swift prose seats the reader in a canoe, as the memoirist manages, with the economy of retrospection, to steer around unanticipated rocks in the midst of history's profuse foam and spray.
Eudora Welty: A Biography
by Suzanne Marrs

652 pages $37.95 cloth
ISBN: 0151009147
Book Review
A Tendency to Saintliness
by Joan Givner
"Atendency to saintliness is your only fault," a friend once wrote to Eudora Welty. That phrase might well serve as the epigraph to this authorized biography, which comes perilously close to hagiography. In fairness, it should be said that Welty had many qualifications for sainthood.
Anna of All The Russias: A Biography of Anna Akhmatova
by Elaine Feinstein

McArthur & Company
322 pages $39.95 cloth
ISBN: 0297643096
Book Review
Anna, The Great
by Patrick Watson
Late in 1988, UNESCO declared that the following year would be known as The Year of Anna Akhmatova, the centennial of the great Russian poet's birth. When she died, early in 1966, having lived through the last years of the Romanovs, through the Kerensky revolution, through Lenin and Stalin and two World Wars, ...
Olga's Story: Three Continents, Two World Wars and Revolution-One Woman's Epic Journey Through the Twentieth Century
by Stephanie Williams

Doubleday Canada
357 pages $35.95 cloth
ISBN: 0385659865
Book Review
Journeys of a Russian
by Clara Thomas
The life of Olga Edney, the heroine of this book and the writer's grandmother, encompasses "three continents, two world wars and revolution-one woman's epic journey through the twentieth century." So claims the publisher's publicity, and the book fulfils its promise.
Wise Virgins
by Leonard Woolf

Persephone Books $24.5 paper
ISBN: 1903155339
Book Review
Who's Afraid of Leonard Woolf?
by Michael Greenstein
Published on the eve of World War I, Leonard Woolf's neglected second novel, The Wise Virgins, has generally been regarded as a roman a clef, shedding light on the character of his wife Virginia and their respective family circles.
The Martyr's Oath: The Apprenticeship of a Homegrown Terrorist
by Stewart Bell

John Wiley
254 pages $36.99 cloth
ISBN: 0470836830
Loss of Faith: How the Air-India Bombers Got Away With Murder
by Kim Bolan

McClelland and Stewart
380 pages $36.99 cloth
ISBN: 077101130X
Book Review
Dangerous Citizens
by Martin Loney
National Post reporter Stewart Bell has played a central role in alerting Canadians to the threat posed by foreign and Canadian-born terrorists in Canada. His previous book Cold Terror (BiC, Sept 04) explored the activities of Tamil Tigers, Sikh separatists and Islamic militants who had found, in Canada, a comfortable base from which to wage their murderous struggles.
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed
by John Vaillant

Random House
256 pages $21 paper
ISBN: 0676976468
Book Review
Golden Growth
by Theresa Kishkan
On January 20, 1997, a former timber-cruiser, Grant Hadwin, cut into an ancient spruce tree growing on the Yacoun River on the Queen Charlotte Islands, a process that precipitated the tree's fall several days later. It was a rare mutant form of Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis 'Aurea', intensely golden in colour, a tree sacred to the Haida people with an honoured place in their culture.
by Anne Compton

Fitzhenry & Whiteside
95 pages $15 paper
ISBN: 1550413449
Book Review
The Longevity Of Love
by David Hickey
If a processional can be said to consist of those rituals observed during a ceremony of faith, it should come as no surprise that Anne Compton's second collection of poetry bears witness to those denominators most common to us all: loss, love, grief, and perseverance. These concepts appear in Compton's poem as secular rites, each of which proceeds in fits and starts through the slow, calculated progression of her lines
Predicting Cracks and Ruin
by Erling Friis-Baastad

Simon Winchester interviewed by Erling Friis-Baastad

My first encounter with Simon Winchester was a clipping of "In the Eye of the Whirlpool" from Smithsonian magazine. The person who sent me the article knew of my fascination with the effects of physical geography on human behaviour-the challenges and opportunities the land and sea throw at people and by which individuals and civilisations are moulded.

Letters to Editor
Letters to the Editor
Dear Editor, If I might be permitted a belated response, I'm writing to express my disappointment with W.J. Keith's review of Nick Mount's When Canadian Literature Moved to New York in the October 2005 of Books in Canada.
Remembering Layton
by Michael Harris, David Solway, Peter Van Toorn, Andy Wainwright, Jeffery Donaldson
Unfortunately, I watched Don Winkler's fine film biography of Irving Layton-A Red Carpet for the Sun-on TV last night until about 2 in the morning, after which I browsed through the bulk of Layton's Selected Poems until the sun came up. I say "unfortunately," as I'd intended at some point to write out what I'd wanted to say this morning about Layton as a teacher. I had the sense then, in the small hours, that I might well have managed a moving, fact-filled, brilliant piece of writing.
Going Down
by David Markson

Shoemaker & Hoard
278 pages $20.5 paper
ISBN: 1593760647
Brief Reviews
Brief Review. Fiction
by Jeff Bursey
An updated version of Malcolm Lowry's Mexico is the setting for this reprint of David Markson's fifth novel (originally published in 1970), and in Going Down readers will hear echoes also of Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and William Gaddis. As Lowry readers know, Markson was a friend of his, and wrote an early critical appreciation of Under the Volcano.
Spirit of Haiti
by Myriam J. A. Chancy

Mango Publishing
294 pages $22.95 paper
ISBN: 190229419X
Brief Reviews
Brief Review. Fiction
by Irene D'Souza
The Winnipeg-based, Haitian born, Myriam Chancy's first work of fiction begins with The Myth of King Christophe and the Citadelle. The opening sequence draws the reader into the brutal birth of Haiti, that weird twilit place where the dead are believed to walk the streets and where voodoo spirituality is practiced. Spirit of Haiti is one of the most in-your-face attempts to deconstruct the nation's mosaic and expose the dire predicament of Haitians for contemporary readers. In doing so, Ms.
The Scorpion's Claw
by Myriam J.A. Chancy

Peepal Tree Pressn
320 pages $23.95 paper
ISBN: 1900715910
Brief Reviews
Brief Review. Fiction
by Irene D'Souza
Myriam Chancy's fiction transforms life in Haiti from brief sound bytes we catch on television into an a luminous portrayal of a country in shambles. Her fiction recreates both the charmed society life that existed during the Duvalier regime and the confusion, lawlessness and horror that occurs in the aftermath of the downfall of the Duvalier dictatorship. As in her previous novel, Spirit of Haiti, she's looking acutely at her native territory.
Quests and Kingdoms: A Grown-Up's Guide to Children's Fantasy Literature
by K. V. Johansen

Sybertooth Inc
464 pages $34.35 paper
ISBN: 0968802443
Children's Books
Kids' Lit
by OR Melling
Teachers and booksellers will both concur that fantasy is no longer genre fiction but mainstream reading for the young . How timely, then, is this "tour through the history of fantasy for children" written by a research fellow in Children's Literature at the University of New Brunswick and a children's writer herself (her Torrie and the Pirate-Queen was nominated for this year's Silver Birch).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by JK Rowling

Raincoast Books
199 pages $41 cloth
ISBN: 155192756X
Children's Books
Kids' Lit
by OR Melling
"Where is that person leading our children?" asked the people of Hamelin. I asked myself the same question as I read this sixth installment of the Harry Potter series. Dark and disturbing, it patently paves the way for a final showdown between Harry and his arch-enemy Voldemort; it's a confrontation that can only bring our hero terrible suffering and possibly, in the tradition of mythic sacrifice, death.
The Crazy Man
by Pamela Porter

216 pages $9.95 paper
ISBN: 0888996950
Children's Books
Kids' Lit
by Olga Stein
Winner of the 2005 Governor General Literary Award for Children's Literature, the book is 214 pages, though the narrative's actual length is perhaps a little over that of an average short story. It is typeset as verse, but it isn't poetry in any way other than arrangement of text on the page
The Rent Collector
by B. Glen Rotchin

Vehicule Press
221 pages $19.85
ISBN: 1550651951
First Novel Award
First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella
The Rent Collector by B. Glen Rotchin (Vehicule Press, $19.85, 221 pages, ISBN: 1550651951). With a prayer shawl and a cell phone, Orthodox Jew, Gershon Stein spends his days collecting rent in a large, family-owned building in the deteriorating garment district of Montreal.
by Jason Anderson

ECW Press
330 pages $18.95
ISBN: 1550227149
First Novel Award
First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella
Showbiz by Jason Anderson (ECW Press, $18.95, 330 pages, ISBN-13:9781550227147). A cover in the worst possible taste won't enhance sales for this remarkably strong book about a comic who becomes famous doing a delightful impersonation of a beloved President, only to die figuratively the day the President is assassinated in real life. Though the names Vaughn Meader and John Fitzgerald Kennedy are never mentioned, it is clear where the inspiration for this story came from.
by Allan Donaldson

Nimbus Publishing
162 pages $14.95
ISBN: 1551095505
First Novel Award
First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella
Maclean by Allan Donaldson ( Nimbus Publishing, $14.95, 162 pages, ISBN:1551095505) has to be the most unrelentingly depressing book I've read in five years of monitoring first novels. Set in 1943, this short novel covers a day in the life of Maclean, a shellshocked, alcoholic veteran of the First World War, as he wanders around a small town in the maritimes, trying to scrounge some money for booze, and for a birthday present for his aged mother.
Relative Happiness
by Lesley Crewe

Vagrant Press
306 pages $19.95
ISBN: 1551095491
First Novel Award
First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella
Relative Happiness by Lesley Crewe (Vagrant Press, $19.95, 306 pages, ISBN: 1551095491). If they still made movies of the week this would be perfect material for one. With a beautiful cover designed by Margaret Issenman, we have here a fast-paced story set in the Maritimes about four sisters, their parents, assorted friends, lovers, and sweethearts. There are weddings, funerals, births, affairs, and betrayals.
by Sheila Heti

House of Anansi
109 pages $19.95
ISBN: 0887841910
First Novel Award
First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella
Ticknor by Sheila Heti (House of Anansi, $19.95, 109 pages, ISBN:0887841910). Here, according to the jacket of this very attractive book, is what it may be about: "George Ticknor has been invited by his oldest friend, William Prescott, to attend a simple dinner party. He is reluctant to go. Prescott's success as a historian, husband, and charming paragon of the Boston social set, sharpens Ticknor's sense of inferiority.
by Lisa Moore

House of Anansi
303 pages $29.95
ISBN: 0887841953
First Novel Award
First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella
Alligator by Lisa Moore (House of Anansi, $29.95, 303 pages, ISBN: 0887841953). It is certainly curious that this very average first novel was on the shortlist for the Giller Prize. There are a group of interesting characters who interact, but the novel's main shortcoming is that it is no one's story. There is no central character. Beverly is a grief-stricken widow; her teenage daughter Colleen is a tramp, and a failed eco-terrorist.

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