British Columbia

Actually, Vancouver has inspired great novels. Here are 7 of them

After a podcast host claimed the B.C. city lacked "culture and soul," hundreds of Vancouverites on Twitter said otherwise — including one book critic, who shared a list of novels inspired by the city.

List made after podcast host says city lacks 'culture and soul'

An aerial shot of a beach alongside a number of tall skyscrapers in Vancouver.
English Bay beach is pictured in Vancouver's West End. The owner of a bookstore and founder of a non-profit that helps fund literary events has also shared a list of books inspired by Vancouver, following comments that the city doesn't inspire great novels. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Despite the grand views of the ocean and mountains, it could be easy to assume artists, musicians and authors are uninspired by Vancouver, a city also full of concrete condos and office buildings.

But after someone from Toronto claimed beautiful B.C. lacked "culture and soul," hundreds of Vancouverites on Twitter said otherwise — including a book critic and bookstore owner.

Earlier this week, Canadaland podcast host Jesse Brown made a comment about how Vancouver is not the kind of city that would inspire someone to write a great Canadian novel or rock song.

On the episode, "WTF, Marc Maron is moving to Canada?" the American comedian and actor Marc Maron told Brown he applied for permanent residency and is considering moving to Vancouver.

Brown then said, "if [Maron] values culture ... [Vancouver] is the worst city in the world for that.

"Nobody has ever been inspired by Vancouver to write a good novel," he said, remarks he stood by when contacted later by the Globe and Mail. 

"It never struck me as a city that could or would inspire someone to write a kick-ass rock song or write a great novel about it," he said. "It's just not that kind of place."

Those comments prompted outrage from many ready to defend the city, including Vancouver-based journalist and book critic Michelle Cyca who said she felt "obligated" to write a Twitter thread listing seven great novels inspired by the city — which itself garnered hundreds of comments and retweets from people who felt the same.

"I just kept thinking ... there are so many books and authors here that we can celebrate, so I just thought I would share a couple of my favourites and I was really, really surprised so many people shared my indignation," Cyca said on the CBC's The Early Edition on Friday.

 

Patricia Massy, owner of Massy Books and founder of Massy Arts Society — a non-profit that helps fund literary events across the city — says she disagreed with Brown's comments so much, she responded by making a list of books set in Vancouver.

"There's some phenomenal writers in Vancouver that live here and create here. In my short life of being a bookseller and putting on events, I've already seen people go from submitting one poem to a magazine to writing full-fledged books," she said. 

"There's definitely inspiration to be found here and a very robust literary scene."

 

Here are seven of many great books set in Vancouver, recommended by Cyca, in no particular order:

Eden Robinson's Trickster trilogy

Son of a Trickster is a novel by Eden Robinson. (Red Works Photo, Knopf Canada)

Though Robinson calls the area around Kitimat, in northwestern B.C., home these days, her much-lauded Trickster series is indelibly connected to Vancouver, particularly the Commercial Drive neighbourhood where scenes of supernatural danger meld with grittier details of the modern city.

The first book in the series, Son of a Trickster was shortlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a Canada Reads finalist in 2020.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians is a novel by Michelle Good. (HarperCollins, Silken Sellinger Photography)

This national bestseller and winner of multiple awards, including a Governor General's Literary Award and 2022 Canada Reads Award, is about five residential school survivors who, as teenagers make their way in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, confronting both past and current traumas.

Jessica Johns' Bad Cree

Composite image of a red book cover and a woman with dark hair and glasses.
Bad Cree is a novel by Jessica Johns. (HarperCollins Canada)

Based on a 2020 Writers' Trust Journey Prize-winning short story, Jessica John's debut novel — published earlier this year — is set both in Treaty 8 First Nation territory but, Cyca notes, "indelibly captures the bleak spirit of the Kitsilano Whole Foods" grocery store in Vancouver.

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

Jen Sookfong Lee is the author of The Conjoined. (CBC)

Jen Sookfong Lee has set many novels in Vancouver, but Cyca's favourite is The Conjoined, a story of a young social worker making a grisly discovery against the backdrop of the city's Chinatown neighbourhood. 

Disappearing Moon Cafe by Sky Lee

A black-and-white photo of a woman beside her book, Disappearing Moon Cafe.
Sky Lee is the author of Disappearing Moon Cafe. (New West Press)

Another novel set in Chinatown, this debut novel from Sky Lee is considered a Canadian classic, telling the story of a Chinese Canadian family over the course of four generations.

Greenwood by Michael Christie

A composite photo of a book cover featuring a green forest and the book's author, a man white short hair looking straight at the camera.
Michael Christie is the author of Greenwood. (McClelland & Stewart, Cedar Bowles)

The second novel from Michael Christie, Greenwood tackles forestry, opium addiction, hidden family secrets and forbidden love. A 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize contender, it is currently on the longlist for the 2023 edition of Canada Reads.

The Man Game by Lee Henderson

A man with glasses beside a book.
Lee Henderson is the author of The Man Game. (Bryan McBurney/Penguin Group Canada)

The synopsis for this 2009 novel reads, "On a recent Sunday afternoon in Vancouver, a young man stumbles upon a secret sport invented more than a century before, at the birth of his city."

It's "a very fun novel that makes me wonder why a naked Fight Club has never caught on as a form of entertainment," Cyca said.

With files from The Early Edition and CBC Books

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