Category Archives: General

Laura Salverson – An Overlooked Pioneer of Canadian Literature

Throughout my almost two decades of collecting Canadian literature, I’ve created numerous spreadsheets to track my various goals: historically relevant series – like the New Canadian Library, certain authors, and important Canadian literary awards. The assemblage I am most proud of is my collection of English language Governor General’s Literary Award winners. Over the years, I have managed to round up all but one winner of the fiction prize, all the poetry and drama winners when the award was split in the early 80s, and many of the winners from the non-fiction, poetry or drama, translation, and both children’s categories. In total, my GG collection is 187 books. But I’ll have more on this collection in a later post. What I’m interested in today is the author of the one book I’ve sought after that has been the bane of my book collecting journey: Laura Goodman Salverson. Ms. Salverson is perhaps the most overlooked author in the early development, and perhaps the entire history, of Canadian literature.

Laura Goodman was born in Winnipeg on December 9, 1890. Her parents were Icelandic immigrants, Lárus Guðmundsson and Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir. It has been recorded that throughout her youth, her parents explored western North America with their young daughter in tow; Laura did not even learn English until the age of ten. These explorations with her parents helped steep Laura in her family’s Icelandic heritage and the history of this ancient and proud culture. In 1913, Laura married George Salverson, a railwayman.

Laura Salverson’s writings were meant to supplement the family’s income. In the writing she produced in the first part of her career, she focused on the trials, adversities and drama of the early 20th century immigrant experience, particularly in Western Canada. She lamented the loss of culture of immigrant communities in the Canadian melting pot of the time and she was highly critical of the “American Dream.” Additionally, Salverson was a staunch pacifist and very outspoken against World War I.

So why is Laura Salverson such an important figure in Canadian literature that should never have been forgotten? Three reasons:

  1. In 1937 she won the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction for The Dark Weaver. Only the second year the award was given out, Salverson was the first woman to win the GG.
  2. In 1939 she won the Governor-General’s Award for Non-Fiction for Confessions of an Immigrant’s Daughter. The first woman to win in this category.
  3. Laura Salverson was the first person to win two Governor-General’s Awards and is still part of a very small group that has won GGs in multiple categories (a group that includes names like Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, and Hugh MacLennan).
  4. Her first novel, The Viking Heart, was a longstanding title in the New Canadian Library (series number 116)

None of these books are still in print and they have not been in print for many years. The Viking Heart, the story of 1400 Icelandic immigrants to Manitoba and their experiences from 1876 to World War I, was taken out of print as of the third series of the New Canadian Library (late-1970s/early-1980s). The Dark Weaver, a pacifist novel about a group of Nordic immigrants to Canada who volunteer to fight for the British in WWI, seems to have only been published once in Canada, the original 1937 Ryerson Press edition, and once in Britain, the 1938 Sampson Low, Marston & Co. edition. Confessions of an Immigrant’s Daughter, Salverson’s autobiography which is a deeply personal record of the Nordic community’s conflict and assimilation within the English majority, was reprinted as recently as 1981 by University of Toronto Press as part of its Social History of Canada series.

Salverson’s early works can be read through a variety of lenses (her later works drifted towards traditional Nordic romances and adventures that got away from her earlier Canadian based books). She can be read to gather insight into the early 20th century immigrant experience, anti-war sentiments around the time of WWI, Western Canadian settlement, and more generally, Salverson is a woman’s voice at a time when there were few women writers making waves. That is, I should add, these works can be read that way if you are able to get your hands on the text to read.

The Viking Heart and Confessions of an Immigrant’s Daughter are still relatively easy to find on used book sites. Abebooks has 25 listings for Confessions ranging from $4.00 for an 80s reprint to $250.00 for a signed original copy and The Viking Heart has 15 listings ranging from $10 for a New Canadian Library edition to $80 for a signed first edition. The Dark Weaver though has gained a reputation of being the unicorn for CanLit collectors. This book is notoriously hard to find – there are no listings anywhere on the internet for a used copy and libraries will typically not lend it out due to its rarity and age of the volumes on hand. Even finding a photograph of the book is challenging. The Dark Weaver is the only GG Fiction winner I do not have on my bookshelf. Since Salverson died in 1970, her work is not in the public domain, so it is also not on any ebook sites like Project Gutenberg Canada. The only available version of the text anywhere is on the Peel’s Prairie Provinces project page of the University of Alberta’s library website; the text available is a scanned image of each page of the 1937 edition. If you are hardcore enough, like me, you can go through and download the individual TIFF image file of all 416 pages (I believe this took me about three hours). So, you can read this book, but you must put some work in for it.

Ultimately, I think Salverson is just one symptom of a greater problem in Canadian literature of important titles going out of print, but this is an article for another day. In three years, Salverson’s work will enter the public domain, so it is likely that availability will increase then. This, however, is a copout. I find the fact that some university press or academic publisher has not re-issued her most important works, in an edited ebook form at the very least, a great cultural shame. Salverson needs to take her place among the important Canadian writers of the 1930s and be held high with names like Stephen Leacock and Gwethalyn Graham.

References and Resources:

The Canadian Encyclopedia
Athabasca University Profile
Library and Archives Canada Profile
University of Alberta, Page scans of The Dark Weaver

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Back in Business – New Perspectives and New Styles

When I first started this blog in June 2010 I had modest intentions. My primary goal was to simply have a creative outlet to lay down some thoughts on the Canadian literature I was consuming as I had no one in my immediate social circle that had the same taste in books as I did. The site grew steadily and after just a few months I had a solid library of posts. In early 2011, I started getting emails from publishers, including well known Canadian publishers like Brick Books and Goose Lane; I was also having regular conversations with writers directly via Twitter. These editors and writers were actually asking me to review their novels, story collections and books of poetry. I was even getting unsolicited books in the mail from some of these publishers. I was once quoted on Canada Reads to start a discussion and I was interviewed by The Toronto Star about the death of a well known book reviewer. Once the novelty of all this wore off, I found the whole idea burdensome and took a break from posting. In the ensuing years, I would sporadically return with a few reviews or articles and then disappear again for months at a time. I could never put my finger on it but I would always quickly lose my passion for managing this blog. Then in 2015, shortly after my son’s second birthday and a career move, I unceremoniously gave up on the blog and left it in limbo.

In mid-2017 my family moved to a new house; after unpacking and getting comfortable in a new position I recently took, I got back into the habit of nightly reading and I started thinking about this site more and more. I started to wonder why I kept taking regular breaks from posting… why do I keep starting up again… should I give this site to someone new who is more engaged…. I came back to the question of “why did I start this blog up in the first place?” Looking back at my 27-year-old self in mid-2010, I would say my main goal was to talk about Canadian books. Full stop. In exploring my thoughts on a particular book I could take so many angles – characters, writing, plot, themes, humour, social relevance, historical relevance. I could go full on academic and put that English degree to work – apply a critical lens such as a Marxist reading, analyze the work using Foucault’s ideas of panopticism, venture down the road of new-historicism and explore the sociological context of the piece. The pattern I fell into, especially once publishers and writers took notice of my blog, was treating my posts more like critical reviews than anything else.

Throughout my formal education in literature (a BA with an English major and half of a Master’s degree), I approached literature in a starkly different way from a lot of my peers. My overarching view of literature (and all acts of cultural creation) is that every work is the intersection of history, geography and psychology. With the guidance of a few of my favorite professors in my younger days, I also came to understand that each time we read something, we re-evaluate each of those intersections on multiple levels because of our own contemporary contextual biases. This is how I approach everything I read and ultimately, I feel this is how I need to approach my writing about books.

One thing is clear, I am not a book critic. Most book bloggers aren’t critics yet they pretend to be (perhaps they are addicted to the free review copies). I pulled away from playing the critic a little bit once I stopped taking review copies from publishers and authors, but I still struggled to find my voice in my posts. After thinking about this lately, I feel ready to revive The Canadian Book Review with a fresh new perspective and approach. I am not interested in doing critical reviews of books. I am interested in talking about books – what spoke to me, what did I like to not like, how this relates to contemporary life, some historical tidbits of the book or author I find interesting – all within my particular window of how I see literature.

So with that, I am happy to say that The Canadian Book Review is back in business. I hope this new iteration of my blog does not disappoint.

Canada Reads 2015 – Picks and Predictions

This is the second time that I’ve read all of the Canada Reads finalists before the show starts, the last being 2011. Even when I haven’t read all the books, I’ll still usually make a pick on who I’d like to see win. In the weeks leading up to the 2015 edition of the program, I re-listened to every year from the beginning for a second time in the last few months to get some insight (and because I just generally enjoy the old broadcasts). The difficulty I’m having this year in picking who I think will win is that I don’t know anything about any of the panelists, in fact I haven’t even heard of any of them…the only thing I knew about them is that Martha Wainwright is Rufus’s little sister.

Before I make my picks and predictions, here are some very brief thoughts on each of the books and their pros and cons that will likely come up during the debates:

When Everything Feels Like the Movies – A very strong book with a strong pedigree even though it’s only a year old: the first Young-Adult novel on the show, the GG winner for Children’s lit and a magnet for controversy. Raziel Reid’s novel is an unflinching look at a fascinating character. The “message” of the book is one that can easily stand up to debate but the somewhat graphic nature of the language and sexuality may be its Achilles heel. I’m hoping the discussion delves deep into the complexities of Jude.

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes – An excellent look at the immigrant experience and the contemporary Middle East. Kamal Al-Solaylee’s memoir successfully takes on a lot of topics – being an Arab, being gay in an intolerant society, making Canada your adoptive home, assimilation, and the complexities of immigrant family relationships. The one con in my opinion is that the book would be very interesting to those interested in politics and the Middle East, but this may not appeal to everyone. I’m also wondering about the classic argument that’s sometimes dragged out on the show that this book is “too Toronto.”

Ru – Kim Thuy’s novel was a GG winner for French fiction and shortlisted for the Giller after it was translated. It is the story of a Vietnamese immigrant in Quebec coming to peace with the life she has led and what faces her in the future. This book was told through vignettes that more so resembled prose poems than fiction. While the prose was beautiful, this book is, as I said in my review, an example of form over function. I think that the underdeveloped characters and scattered narrative will make it hard for Ru to make it far in the debates.

And the Birds Rained Down – Jocelyne Saucier’s look at living and dying on your own terms. This was the most “traditional” novel of the three on the list. While the themes were fascinating and some of the characters really interesting, the novel started much stronger than it ended. This was a very heavy book that dealt with huge themes but seemed almost incapable of interjecting some humour in something that really is a clearly humerous – I mean, a bunch of old people are living in the woods running a pot farm!

The Inconvenient Indian – The best known of the five books, and Thomas King being the best known author of the five, is clearly seen by the peanut gallery as the front runner. This was a fascinating book with accessible language and logical arguments. For me, this book really did break barriers, which is the goal of this season. But, the real weakness is that this book is not a narrative like the three novels and memoir, so it will be difficult to compare with the other titles in the same way. Of course, this could also be an advantage because it will force it to stand out.

So here are my thoughts:

Ru and And the Birds Rained Down were my least favorite and I think will be the first two to be voted off.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies is the dark-horse. This is a powerful book that I could easily see winning or in the final two.

The Inconvenient Indian is the frontrunner for the title. But, as we’ve seen many times in previous editions, the frontrunner rarely wins.

My horse in the race, the book I would like to see win this year is… Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee. This was a fantastic book, takes on many stereotypes and issues, and is very timely considering what is going on in the Middle East today. On a more personal level though, this is a very emotional memoir filled with honesty and vulnerability. With Intolerable, you’ll learn something, you’ll feel something, you’ll laugh and cry, and your perceptions will be influenced.

Canada Reads 2015 – The Finalists

CanadaReads2015

My only explanation for the selections for both the longlist and the finalists of Canada Reads 2015 is that the producers read my last blog post on the subject and said, “well…we’ll show him.” I jest, but I was very happy with all of the selections for this year and am pleased there was a return to Canada Reads traditions of the past with a mix of well-known and not-so-well-known titles making the list. Also, I was quite happy that the list contained a number of titles from smaller independent publishing houses. In terms of panelists, judging from their opening remarks during the unveiling on Q, I am hopeful that this season’s discussions will return to same literary focus that was more prevalent during the Bill Richardson years.

When the longlist came out, I hadn’t read any of the choices and hadn’t even heard of many, in fact I had only one of the fifteen titles on my shelf, All My Puny Sorrows, so needless to say a few dollars were dropped shortly after the announcement when I bought the entire longlist. This year’s theme, One Book to Break Barriers, was specific enough to give some kind of point of reference but broad enough to allow lots of interpretation in nominations.

So, we have Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King, Ru by Kim Thúy (translated by Sheila Fischman), When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid, and And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier (translated by Rhonda Mullins). One of my first choices and four of my second choices were picked from the finalists. So just for some context, here are some interesting tidbits about Canada Reads 2015

  • This is Thomas King’s second title on the show; he joins Mordecai Richler, Margaret Atwood, and Joseph Boyden as authors who have had more than one title appear.
  • This is the first year that two French-Canadian novels have been featured at the same time and the first year since 2010 to feature any French-Canadian books.
  • Ru is Sheila Fischman’s fourth translation to compete. This title is also only the second Governor General’s Award for French Language Fiction to appear.
  • When Everything Feels like the Movies is the first winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature to appear on the show and is the first Children’s/Young-Adult/Juvenile/Whatever-you-want-to-call-it book to compete.
  • All of the titles came out in the last five years.

I have not read any of the titles, so I’m devoting the four-weeks prior to the show to pounding through them. All are relatively short so it should be doable. My big worry about this year was the decision to allow both fiction and narrative non-fiction to be chosen; my concern was the comparability of the titles. But, I must say, these five finalists, on the surface anyway prior to reading, seem quite comparable despite the different genres – history, memoir, juvenile, fiction, etc. You can look at these books through the lens of “the other” – being gay, native, or an immigrant; through different life stages – young versus old; and in many of the titles, what does Canada represent.

I’m expecting a heated, yet elevated and respectful debate and I’m hopeful that Wab Kinew will respect his role as moderator and host and not be as loud and brash as he was as a panelist last year. For the first time in a number of years, I’m very excited for the show – especially since Jian Ghomeshi is gone (I’m not just jumping on a bandwagon…I never ever liked him).

The titles I’m most looking forward to reading are The Inconvenient Indian and When Everything Feels like the Movies. The former because of the near universal praise it has received and its interesting take on Native history; and the latter because it’s a genre and subject that is wholly foreign to me so I’m looking forward to something new. Reviews will be coming starting mid-February and once I’ve finished I will of course pick a horse.

Literary Award Roundup aka Christmas Shopping List

Christmas is the busiest book buying seasons of the year. The GG award announcement was actually moved to the fall many years ago to coincide with the holiday shopping rush. It’s sometimes hard finding something to buy, so literary award winners are a good place to find suggestions (at least I think so since they’re something of an academic interest of mine). This list is by no means exhaustive in any way, shape or form and is completely free of editorial commentary.

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize: Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

Scotiabank Giller Prize: Sean Michaels, Us Conductors

Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour: Bill Conall, The Promised Land

Canada Reads: Joseph Boyden, The Orenda

Governor General’s Award for Fiction: Thomas King, The Back of the Turtle

Governor General’s Award for Non-fiction: Michael Harris, The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection

Governor General’s Award for Poetry: Arleen Paré, Lake of Two Mountains

Governor General’s Award for Drama: Jordan Tannahill, Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays

Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature: Raziel Reid, When Everything Feels Like the Movies

Governor General’s Award for Children’s Illustration: Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer

Governor General’s Award for French to English Translation: François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas: A Critical Biography

Trillium Book Award for Fiction: Hannah Moscovitch, This Is War

Trillium Book Award for Poetry: Souvankham Thammavongsa, Light

Amazon.ca First Novel Award: Wayne Grady, Emancipation Day

Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction: Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

RBC Taylor Prize: Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing: Paul Wells, The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006

Toronto Book Award: Charlotte Gray, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country

Thomas Head Raddall Award: William Kowalski, The Hundred Hearts

J.M. Abraham Poetry Award (Atlantic Poetry Prize): Don Domanski, Bite Down Little Whisper

Griffin Poetry Prize – Canada: Anne Carson, Red Doc>

Griffin Poetry Prize – International: Brenda Hillman, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction: Sean Michaels, Us Conductors

Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction: Chantal Hébert, The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was

A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry: Sina Queyras, MxT

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Annie Baker, The Flick

Pulitzer Prize for History: Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832

Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography: Megan Marshall, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: Vijay Seshadri, 3 Sections

Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction: Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

National Book Award for Fiction: Phil Klay, Redeployment

National Book Award for Nonfiction: Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

National Book Award for Poetry: Louise Gluck, Faithful and Virtuous Night

PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction: Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Man Booker Prize: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award: Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Sound of Things Falling

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (Orange Prize): Eimear McBride, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah Everyone!!!

The Current State of Canada Reads

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Wab Kinew was recently announced as the new host of the show, the fourth in its history (Mary Walsh hosted in 2002 and Bill Richardson, my favorite moderator to date, hosted until Ghomeshi took over in 2008). Coincidentally, I recently finished listening to all 13 editions of the program so I thought it would be a good time to spout some thoughts on this important literary institution.

First of all, here’s some Canada Reads facts: After 13 years, 65 books have been featured; Margaret Atwood is the most represented author with three books entered (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood); only two others have had two books appear:  Mordecai Richler (Barney’s Version and Cocksure) and Joseph Boyden (Three Day Road and The Orenda); two books of poetry have been listed: Whylah Falls and Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets; three panelists have subsequently had their books appear on the show: Nalo Hopkinson, Lisa Moore and Dave Bidini; six French language books in translation have appeared and two have won; and in terms of award winners, five Giller Winners, six GG winners (various categories), one Booker winner, and four Leacock Medal winners have been on the list. A victory guarantees No. 1 best-seller status.

In the Skin of a Lion, Next Episode, Rockbound, King Leary, and Nikolski are some of the previous winners Canada Reads; Whylah Falls, Sarah Binks, Beautiful Losers, No Crystal Stair, Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets, Brown Girl in the Ring, The Song of Kahunsha, Children of My Heart, Icefields, and Fruit were some of the previous contenders on Canada Reads. What do these two lists have in common? None of these titles – all absolutely fantastic books– would even register on the Canada Reads radar in its current incarnation. And this is a great disservice to the Canadian reading public.

In recent years, I have been growing ever more despondent with the titles and nature of the discussions on the show. The show is no longer a civil, elevated, and respectful discussion about Canadian writing. Canada Reads has become a game show. Gone are the days when panelists compliment others’ books without being forced to by the host; gone are the days where someone votes against their own book because they were swayed by someone else’s arguments (perhaps a foreshadowing of some sort of Justin Trudeau’s political career); and gone are the days where panelists don’t take votes against their title like a personal attack against them. The show has become a spectacle where the personalities of the panelists are the star, not the books (further evidenced by the live studio audience). In the last few editions, the panelists with the most articulate, literary arguments – like those made by Stephen Lewis, Jay Baruchel, or Sara Quin – are drowned out by the more aggressive, loud, and frankly loud panelists – like Wab Kinew or Ali Velshi.

In terms of titles, the last couple years have been a bit of a letdown. I own at least 30 books that would never have crossed my radar had it not been for this show. But, the switch to crowd sourcing for titles has ensured that, barring some kind of social media campaign by an author, only “big” books that are already in the public literary consciousness make the cut instead of a mix of well known titles and more obscure choices. 2011, the first year this approach was taken, there were two new books to add to my shelf; in 2012 there were three to add but only one that I wasn’t already aware of; and in both 2013 and 2014 I had already owned every title.

I suspect that 2015, especially given that the host wants “topical” books, is going to be a disappointment. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to make numerous suggestions, pick a horse, listen to every episode and hope it wins. So, here are my five picks – a mix of the well know and the obscure – for Canada Reads 2015 One Book to Break Barriers:

The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

The Road to Confederation by Donald Creighton

Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway

Player One by Douglas Coupland

Knife on the Table by Jacques Godbout

CanLit on Film – Volume 6

This is my final post on film adaptations of Canadian literature, and it is the one I was most looking forward to. The National Film Board (NFB) is known for its amazing animated shorts; the three below, all based on Canadian literary classics, are now iconic and are a real cornerstone of Canadian cultural history. Rather than discussing them, I am simply posting them with a link to their respective NFB site – the videos will speak for themselves.

The Sweater (Based on The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier)

 

My Financial Career (Based on the story by Stephen Leacock)

 

The Street (based on the story by Mordecai Richler)

 

And that is the end of my six post series on CanLit on film. My point with these posts was to simply imform my readers that many great adaptations of our national literature, be it movies, TV, or shorts, have been made. I’m sure there are dozens of titles I have left off, but I’m sure I’ve introduced you to a few new ones you haven’t heard of. For the whole series of posts, click here.

CanLit on Film – Volume 5

There have not been a great many TV shows based on Canadian books. Here are a few that I could think of; feel free to add somemore in the comments.

JPod

I haven’t read this Douglas Coupland novel, but it is on my to-read list (I loved Microserfs, and JPod is apparently an unrelated “sequel”). This show was very funny; in a way, it is a Canadian version of The Office. The show focuses on a group of video game programmers who work in JPod – thus named because all of their surnames all begin with the letter J. This show has a great mix of intellectual, low-brow, and awkward humour. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for one-13 episode season in 2008 before it was cancelled due to low ratings by the CBC (who stuck it in the Friday night death slot). | IMDB | DVD

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

This is based on Vincent Lam’s fantastic Giller Prize winning short story collection. I have not yet seen this show, but from what I’ve heard, it is well written, acted, and faithful to the source. This 2010 series was produced by TMN and ran for 10 episodes. It is not yet available on DVD, but it is available on many “on-demand” services. | IMDB

Jake and the Kid

There have been a variety of TV series adaptations of this W.O. Mitchell classic over the years. In fact, prior to TV productions, the CBC produced several radio adaptations between 1949 and 1954. The first, and probably best known, adaptation was a single, 13 episode, season produced by CBC in 1961. This show contains all of the warming hallmarks of 1960s family television. There was also a longer running adaptation that debuted in 1995, but this one is so poorly done that it is not even worth discussing. None of the series are available on DVD, but likely can easily be found online. | IMDB

Emily of New Moon

I really really don’t like this show. Everyone on Earth has seen this and its sister show Road to Avonlea. I’m just going to leave it at that. | IMDB | DVD

CanLit on Film – Volume 4

Here is the second half of made-for-TV movies and miniseries based on CanLit:

The Robber Bride

This 2007 CBC adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s bestselling novel does an adequate job in telling this bizarre story. The movie has a decent cast, starring Mary-Louise Parker and Shawn Doyle in the leading roles. The Robber Bride hasn’t been released on DVD, but that is no great loss to civilization. If it is on TV or is streaming online somewhere it might be worth a watch, but I wouldn’t trip over myself or spend money to watch this. | Trailer | IMDB

Anne of Green Gables

This behemoth, 1985, made for TV epic of Anne with an E was a joint production between CBC and PBS. Everyone in North America has seen this and has been enchanted by Megan Follows’ portrayal of everyone’s favorite redheaded child. There were a few sequels to this miniseries, but unfortunately they didn’t measure up to the original. (Also, I just want to point out that Anne was not from the Island, she was originally from Nova Scotia – take that, tourists). | Part 1 on YouTube | IMDB | DVD

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

In 2012, CBC adapted Stephen Leacock’s best known book into a 1 hour TV movie. I am not sure how they managed to squeeze it in. I am honestly not a huge fan of this book – I much prefer Leacock’s Literary Lapses or Nonsense Novels to this collection. I recorded this on my DVR when it first came out but returned my cable box before I bothered to watch it. It looked like it was well made and starred Gorden Pinsent (who is AWESOME), so I’m sure it was ok. If I get an Indigo or Amazon gift card and I have nothing else to buy I might order this, but honestly I have no driving urge to see it. | Commercial | IMDB | DVD

Last of the Curlews

Fred Bosworth’s short novel The Last of the Curlews is one of my all-time favorite works of Canadian literature. It is heartbreaking on many levels, extremely well written, and has a moral without being even slightly preachy. This 1972 animated adaptation was done by none other than Hannah Barbera (The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, etc) and has the honour of being the first in the long running series of ABC Afterschool Specials. The animation is filled with that 1970s Saturday morning charm and is very close to the original story. My one problem with this adaptation is the narrator; he falls into the trap of being a snotty didactic preacher. But, I suppose since this is an afterschool special, whose job it was to teach, this can be excused. The whole special is on YouTube and definitely worth the watch. | Part 1 on YouTube | IMDB

The Diviners

Of all of the movies and miniseries I have mentioned in these last four blog posts, the 1993 CBC adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s magnum opus The Diviners is, without question, my favorite CanLit film. The casting is spot on (especially Sonja Smits in the role of Morag), the writing is phenomenal, the pacing is fantastic, and it is quite close to the book (there are a few omissions, but it is a massive novel). One of the great crimes against humanity is that this movie has not been released on DVD; it was released on VHS but is only ever available at academic libraries – and is usually in poor shape. I first saw this on Showcase in 2003 when I was getting ready to read the novel for a Canadian fiction course; it excited me so much that I ripped through the 500 page book in 3 days. In 2007, Bravo broadcast this movie and I recorded it on my DVR and then watched it at least once a month until I returned my cable box a few weeks ago. Losing this movie was one of the great heartbreaks I have suffered in my 30 years of existence. | IMDB

Coming in the next few days are posts on TV shows and animated shorts based on CanLit.

CanLit on Film – Volume 3

Canadian TV, especially the CBC, has produced numerous TV movies and mini-series based on Canadian writing. It would take forever to list them all, so I have chosen ten highlights (5 today and 5 tomorrow). These are  adaptations that either I have seen or were very popular.

Lives of the Saints

Based on Nino Ricci’s first novel, this CTV miniseries is a very power adaptation of this Governor-General Award winning contemporary Canadian classic. The miniseries has a run time of over 3 hours, so the viewer becomes immersed in the world of this Italian family. This adaptation has a strong cast that is on top of its game, with Sophia Loren in the lead role of Teresa Innocente. It is certainly worth watching and is widely available on DVD. | Trailer | IMDB | DVD

Elizabeth Rex

I saw this TV movie on Bravo about 3 years ago, but I think it was originally produced by CBC. This adaptation of Timothy Findley’s award winning play translated very well onto the small screen, likely because the source is a high-production value stage play. The cast is solid, it is very faithful to Findley’s book, and the movie is, above all, entertaining. | IMDB | DVD

Billy Bishop Goes to War

This 2010 TV movie was one of CBC’s best CanLit adaptations in recent years. It stars the playwrights – John Gray and Eric Peterson – and sticks to the original source script and score. The actors, while getting on in years, can still elevate Canada’s first war hero, Billy Bishop, like no one else. CBC also made an adaptation in 1982, but I have yet to see it. Unfortunately, this has not yet been released on DVD. | Trailer | IMDB

St. Urbain’s Horseman

This 2007 three hour miniseries adaptation of my favorite Mordecai Richler book is an absolute delight to watch. I bought this for myself as a Christmas present last year and have watched it at least once a month since. The casting is perfect (they all have their names above the title on the DVD box, but I haven’t heard of any of them), the pacing is spot-on, and the right amount of liberties are taken to effectively adapt this goliath of a novel for the small screen. If you have a free Saturday and feel like wrapping yourself in the warm sardonic blanket of Mordecai Richler’s wit, watch Duddy Kravitz, this movie, and Barney’s Version (and if you are lucky enough, watch Joshua Then and Now as well). Of the various Richler adaptations, I think this is my favorite. | IMDB | DVD

The Englishman’s Boy

Produced by CBC in 2008 and starring Bob Hoskins (yes, Mario himself), this mini-series adapts Guy Vanderhaeghe’s Governor-General Award winning historical novel. I forgot this existed until I started these CanLit film posts. I have ordered the DVD and will report back once I watch it (it does look quite good). | Trailer | IMDB | DVD

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