The best Canadian fiction of 2018
2018 was a great year for books. But which books were the best books? Here are CBC Books's top 25 Canadian works of fiction that came out in 2018.
In this debut novel by Sharon Bala, a ship carrying 500 Tamil refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia. A man named Mahindan and his six-year-old son have survived a harrowing journey and hope to start a new life in Canada. But Mahindan is immediately taken into detention and left to wait there as politicians, journalists and the public squabble over the fate of the "boat people."
The Boat People was defended by Mozhdah Jamalzadah on Canada Reads 2018 and was on the shortlist for the 2018 Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
The unnamed narrator of Theory is constructing an all-encompassing thesis on the past, present and future of art, culture, race, gender, class and politics. Their dissertation is inevitably impacted by three passionate love affairs, one following the other, which each re-shape and reorient the narrator's life and work.
Mixing the contemporary with the surreal, Paige Cooper ties her debut collection of short fiction together with the overarching theme of love. Her book tells stories of Russian spies, monstrous creatures and nine-year-old girls who build time machines. Originally from the Rocky Mountains, Cooper now lives in Montreal and has been published in literary magazines like the Fiddlehead and Briar Patch.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club follows a neurosurgeon named Jake Baker, as he reflects on a life-changing childhood summer in 1980s Niagara Falls. Then 12 years old, Jake was convinced by his eccentric Uncle Calvin to investigate the town's macabre urban legends. As the summer unfolds, Jake discovers the painful memories that have shaped Calvin into a paranoid, conspiracy theorist.
Patrick deWitt's tragicomic novel looks at the fates of Frances Price and her adult son Malcolm, who live in aristocratic elegance in New York. When the vast fortune accumulated by the Price family's late patriarch runs out, the pair head to Paris with their cat Small Frank, whom Frances believes is her dead husband.
In Heartbreaker, Claudia Dey's second novel, Billie Jean has disappeared. She's lived in a small town for almost 20 years, and still feels like she doesn't quite belong. Those who love Billie Jean set out to find her, and the search results in a fantastical journey about the mysteries of life.
Songs for the Cold of Heart by Eric Dupont, translated by Peter McCambridge
Billed as a "big fat whopper of a tall tale," Montreal writer Eric Dupont's fourth novel traverses time and space with comedic ease. From Rivière-du-Loup in 1919 to Nagasaki, 1990s Berlin, Rome and beyond, Dupont's winding tale is carried by a cast of idiosyncratic characters as they contend with the worldly events of the last century.
Washington Black tells the story of 11-year-old Washington Black, a slave on a Barbados sugar plantation. His master is Englishman Christopher Wilde, who is obsessed with developing a machine that can fly. The two develop a bond, but when a man is killed, Wilde must choose between his family and saving Washington's life — and the choice results in an unforgettable adventure around the world.
In Kim Fu's second novel, an overnight kayaking trip goes awry when a group of girls attending Camp Forevermore are stranded in the wilderness. Each camper has a role to play in the group's survival, and as the story fast forwards into their adult lives, readers can discern the indelible scars left by childhood trauma.
From the author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach comes the story of a secret society that gives proper burials to those who were denied them for reasons such as being an atheist or being gay. Pavlov, a 20-year-old undertaker, joins the society after his father's death and what unfolds is an examination of what it's like to live through war, and what it's like to face death.
Beirut Hellfire Society was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the 2018 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
In Sarah Henstra's novel The Red Word, a group of feminists at an American university plot to bring down a notorious fraternity after Karen, a college sophomore, wakes up one night on the fraternity's front lawn. As part of an elaborate plan for payback, Karen finds herself immersed in fraternity party culture while becoming further integrated into feminist activism. The Red Word examines consent, rape culture and politics as they play out on a mid-1990s college campus.
It's 1992 and the town of Big Running, N.L., is facing collapse as its biggest resource, cod, abruptly disappears. Residents abandon their homes in search of work, but stalwart 10-year-old Finn Connor is determined to stay in what is increasingly becoming a ghost town.
In That Time I Loved You, residents of a small suburban neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ont. take turns describing the aftermath of a series of shocking suicides in their community. These interconnected short stories explore a wide range of experiences — racism, homophobia, domestic and sexual abuse — revealing that hard truths can be hidden within a well-kept home.
When a deadly flu rips through America, Polly Nader makes a drastic decision in order to save her partner Frank. A company called TimeRaiser agrees to pay for life-saving treatment if Polly time travels 12 years into the future, where she can be reunited with Frank and work as a bonded labourer. But Polly is accidentally sent 17 years into a future where Frank is nowhere to be found.
In Such a Lonely, Lovely Road, Kabelo Mosala is a young man growing up in South Africa. He's an upstanding citizen in every sense of the term and dreams of working at his father's medical practice someday. But Kabelo has a secret: he's in love with his friend, Sediba. They form a strong bond as they grow up, but Kabelo struggles to come out to his community, which is in the grips of an increasingly urgent AIDS crisis.
Something for Everyone is a collection of stunning short fiction by Newfoundland writer Lisa Moore. With a knack for exploiting beauty in bleak circumstances, Moore writes of shoe store employees contemplating lust and loss, a middle-aged woman conned out of her life savings and a grief-stricken young woman concerned that her neighbour is a serial rapist.
Michael Ondaatje, author of the acclaimed novel The English Patient, is once again writing about the Second World War. Set in London in 1945, the novel tells the tale of two young siblings who have been separated from their parents in the aftermath of Nazi bombings.
The Italian Teacher tells the story of a man who spends his life struggling to gain his father's approval and live up to his artistic legacy, while also seeking closeness and connection with those around him.
A northern Anishinaabe community loses power just as winter arrives, burying roads and creating panic as the food supply slowly runs out. Newcomers begin to arrive on the reserve, escaping a nearby crisis, and tension builds as disease begins taking lives. As chaos takes hold, a small group turns to the land and Anishinaabe tradition to start rebuilding and restoring harmony. Rice is also the host of the CBC Radio show Up North.
Combining memoir with fiction, Tanya Tagaq writes about a young girl's coming of age in 1970s Nunavut. She is a witness to the mythic wonders of the Arctic world, which juxtapose harshly against the violence and alcoholism in her community. Split Tooth is the first book by Tagaq, a Polaris Prize and Juno-winning Inuk singer.
Set during the split second between seeing his mother on her bed, and not knowing if she is alive or dead, and learning the answer, Liminal explores a man's relationship with his terminally ill mother — and what grief and death can mean for the living.
Named after its narrator, Kim Thúy's novel Vi is the story of a young, prosperous family's escape from the Vietnam War to a new life in Quebec. Vi, the youngest of four children, paints loving portraits of those closest to her — her mother, her brothers, a family friend named Ha — and quietly grows into her own as an independent young woman.
In Miriam Toews's powerful novel, eight Mennonite women come together to talk. Why? They have 48 hours to make a decision that will impact every woman and child in their community. Women Talking is inspired by the real-life case in the 2000s, when women in a Bolivian Mennonite community began whispering that they were waking up groggy, in pain, feeling like they had been sexually molested.
Starlight is the final novel of beloved Indigenous writer Richard Wagamese. The novel was not completed before Wagamese died in 2017, and includes a note from the publisher. Set in 1980 in the B.C. interior, Starlight is about an Indigenous farmer named Frank Starlight whose quiet life is dramatically changed by the frantic arrival of a woman named Emmy and her young child. Emmy and her child have escaped an abusive home and end up forming a bond with Frank.
Jonny Appleseed is about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man who has left the reserve and becomes a cybersex worker in the big city to make ends meet. But he must reckon with his past when he returns home to attend his stepfather's funeral.