The Ontario Top 5 list is bursting with literary heavyweights. Is it something in the water of the Great Lakes? More likely, it's the population. In any case, Ontario offers up some fierce competition.
Away by Jane Urquhart What's it about?
A sweeping family saga that spans more than a century, Away
travels from the coast of Ireland to the Canadian Shield as it tells the story of three generations of Irish immigrants to Canada. What did the critics say?
Critics all over the world loved Away
for the beauty and power of Urquhart's storytelling. The Globe and Mail called it "dazzling" and the Times Literary Supplement called her writing poetic. What else do I need to know?
First published in 1993, Away
won Ontario's Trillium Award that year and remained on the Globe and Mail bestseller list for 132 weeks -- a record for any Canadian book. Listen to Jane Urquhart speak with Shelagh Rogers about her 2010 novel Sanctuary Line
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje What's it about?
A nurse, a thief and a nameless burn victim walk into an Italian villa at the end of the Second World War. It's not the set up for a joke, but the basis of Ondaatje's masterly modern classic: the novel won the Booker Prize and its film adaptation grabbed nine Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1997. What did the critics say?
Unsurprisingly, The English Patient
was immediately hailed as a masterpiece by critics the world over. It was translated into 40 languages and became an international bestseller. What else do I need to know?
Aside from the fact that Elaine Benes hates the film
? Seriously, though, The English Patient
is probably one of the most famous Canadian novels of all time at this point. Aside from the Booker, it also won the Governor General's Literary Award when it was published in 1992. And Anthony Minghella's film adaptation was a blockbuster (Ondaatje worked closely on the adaptation). But forget about the movie and just listen to Ondaatje read an excerpt from the book on this 1997 episode of Writers & Company
Far to Go by Alison Pick What's it about?
Inspired by Pick's own grandparents' harrowing journey from Czechoslovakia to Canada during the Second World War, Far to Go
is about an affluent, secular Jewish family whose lives, like so many, were forever altered by the tragic and horrifying events that led up to the war. What did the critics say?
Lots of good things. Pick's writing has been called "powerful", "beautiful" and "authentic." What else do I need to know?
Listen to Pick's conversation with Shelagh Rogers about the book on The Next Chapter
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies What's it about?
Set in 1969, Fifth Business
is a Jungian epic, full of archetypes and synchronicity, that takes the form of a letter from its narrator, Dunstan Ramsey, to his employer at the college school from which he is resigning. Dunstan looks back on his life, beginning at the age of 10, when a snowball meant for him instead hit his pregnant neighbour, causing her to give birth prematurely — an event for which Ramsey has felt guilty ever since. The book concerns Dunstan's life, his experience in the Great War and his ongoing interactions with his best frenemy Percy "Boy" Staunton. What did the critics say?
The first book of The Deptford Trilogy, Fifth Business
(first published in 1970) is considered one of Davies's best, and the book was a staple of the high school English curriculum for years. It was also named to the American Modern Library "reader's list" of the best 100 novels of the 20th century. What else do I need to know?
Davies was one of the first authors that Eleanor Wachtel interviewed when Writers & Company first started to air on CBC in 1991. You can listen to that interview here