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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Dazzling Debuts, As Picked by Mark Medley, Jared Bland, Steven W. Beattie, and Kerry Clare

Not all first novels are assured enough to hold their own among titles from more established names, but those that are are singularly exhilarating. Four of CanLit's most prolific reviewers share their favourite debuts so far in 2014.

First novels, as a lot, are exciting phenomena because they carry so much of an author's energy and ambition. The best of them are electric, marked with a confidence and uniqueness that sets them apart from the rest.

In today's post, Mark Medley, who's just moved from the National Post to the Globe and Mail as books editor; Jared Bland, arts editor at the Globe; Steven W. Beattie, review editor at Quill & Quire and author of the blog, That Shakespearean Rag; and our own Kerry Clare, editor here and author of the popular lit blog, Pickle Me This, choose their favourite Canadian debuts so far of 2014.


Mark Medley's Picks


"Reading Nick Cutter's debut horror novel, The Troop, is just about the most fun I've had this year. Okay, I know Cutter is actually Giller Prize-nominated author Craig Davidson, but this is his first novel under the pen name. A violent yet surprisingly tender portrait of boyhood—forget Richard Linklater! I was also blown away by Emily Carroll's debut collection of illustrated stories, Through the Woods. These are old-school, slow-burning ghost stories that'll leave you checking under the bed for monsters. She's a monstrous talent. I also dug Sean Michaels' first novel, Us Conductors. He was Knopf's only New Face of Fiction this year, and a worthy heir to the throne. It's a finely crafted novel about science, about music, about politics, and, most of all, about love."

Steven W. Beattie's Picks


"Ghalib Islam’s Fire in the Unnameable Country is a strong debut, in large part because it eschews the historical romanticism that remains the default setting for much CanLit. The author’s influences (Borges, Orwell, Kafka) are more European and Latin American than American, British, or Canadian, which is also refreshing. That said, there’s a strong modernist tinge to the writing, so the book definitely won’t appeal to everyone.


Another book that won’t appeal to everyone—albeit for entirely different reasons—is Chelsea Rooney’s debut, Pedal. It delves into situations and characters that many people will find uncomfortable (there is, among other things, an empathetic portrait of a pedophile), but does so in a manner that is intelligent and in no way exploitative. It’s a brave book, which is something that can’t be said for the vast majority of what gets published these days."

Kerry Clare's Picks


"One of my favourite debuts this year has been Steve Burrows' A Siege of Bitterns, which is fortunate because it's meant to be the first of a series. I'm no birder, but I am intrigued by the phenomena, and I do so love murder mysteries, and so that the idea of a "birder murder" was irresistible. Even better, Burrows is a great writer (an element of the mystery involves grammar, no less!) who knows how to plot a mystery right and his Detective Jejeune is intriguing. I can't wait to read more books in the series. (I love a further birder connection—it was at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge where I picked up a copy of this one!)


I also appreciated After Alice, by Karen Hofmann, a novel whose comparisons to The Stone Angel might have put me off (because, um, The Stone Angel is not my favourite novel) but I loved it. It had a gothic, English sensibility, but conjured Didion or Stegner with its sense of place. And the small, understated Dear Leaves, I Miss You All, by Sara Heinonen, which is not a novel, but a short story collection huge in its depth, and also very funny."

Jared Bland's Picks


Anne-Marie Turza’s The Quiet: "Brilliant, haunting, strange, sad, beautiful."


Brecken Hancock’s Broom Broom: "Bizarre, rhythmic, linguistically daring, perceptive."

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