With great selections and thoughtful annotations, Elise Moser offers her English-Quebec Fiction reading list. Elise Moser's novel Because I Have Loved and Hidden It was published by Cormorant Books. She is currently president of the Quebec Writers' Federation, lives in Montreal, and reads a lot of English Quebec fiction. She also notes that, of course, there are MANY more than six wonderful English Quebec books...
Earth and High Heaven, Gwethalyn Graham
First published in 1944, there is nothing dated about it, in style or content. Graham creates a vivid picture of Montreal in wartime, deftly managing all manner of issues (sexism, anti-Semitism, Canadian/Quebec politics, cities versus “the regions”) without ever falling into didacticism or losing her focus on the human drama. Heroine Erika Drake (“of the Westmount Drakes”) is a riveting figure of intelligence, flair, and powerful integrity.
The Speaking Cure, David Homel
This book is full of striking images: poets who are also war criminals, a woman who wears a bulletproof shirt during sex, asylum inmates clinging to their refuge while supposedly sane people wage an insane war outside. This amazingly ambitious novel attempts to understand the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia – and, by extension, the moral responsibility of each of us for the world we live in. Complicity is unavoidable -- and yet, so is love, and neither releases us from our responsibility to struggle for a better way to live in the world.
Return to Arcadia, H. Nigel Thomas
Joshua Éclair, amnesiac, is in a Montreal mental hospital. As he gradually recovers his identity, memory by memory, the reader assembles the pieces of a much wider picture. Through the events of Joshua’s childhood on a fictional Caribbean island, a complex history of racial, sexual, and economic domination emerges. Reinforced on a daily basis within the individual lives of plantation owners, labourers, and the children who embody their many secrets and multiple shames, this history comes to life in a beautifully written story of one man’s struggle for wholeness.
Shuck, Daniel Allen Cox
A fabulously sexy, intelligent, wild and sad novel. A young hustler inhabits the back room of a New York shoe store while struggling to feed himself, boost his porn-modelling career, and, oh yeah, write. Daniel Allen Cox is not burdened by shyness, coyness, or dullness in any form; his creativity throws sparks off every page of this slim, original, and very deep story.
Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neill
O’Neill’s unique voice, with its studied insouciance and effervescent blend of nostalgic reminiscence and keen observation, carries the reader through this lively story of a bright, damaged girlhood. The drugs, pimps, and pubescent hookers do not evoke New York or even Toronto; they could only be here, inhabiting a gentrifying Plateau neighbourhood described with wit and sensitivity even as it is unmoored from real geography. Montreal, much like O’Neill’s tender main character Baby, is caught in the moment of becoming a new self.
Cockroach, Rawi Hage
This insect’s-eye view of Montreal, although it must reflect the daily experiences of millions of the city’s inhabitants, has rarely made its way into our fiction. Every surface is an edge, every door in the act of closing -- but our immigrant hero persists, hungry both for food and a meaningful life. He scuttles through walls to raid the refrigerators of the complacent bourgeois who, casually satisfied with their power, cannot begin to imagine his reality. Hage can. His forceful imagination and skilful storytelling propel us through emotional and physical gutters. No one comes out unscathed, least of all our protagonist, even as he finds a way to make a life.
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