BOOKS

Your weekly book selection: Stories set in Japan, Nunavut and the post-internet world

This month CBC Homerun's book columnists Heather O'Neill and her daughter, filmmaker Arizona O'Neill, have 5 suggestions for readers — all of them written by women.

Heather and Arizona O'Neill's book selections this month are all written by women

Award-winning novelist Heather O'Neill, left, along with her daughter, filmmaker Arizona O'Neill, are regular book columnists on CBC Montreal's Homerun. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

Every Wednesday, CBC Montreal's Homerun welcomes one of its five book columnists in studio.

Once a month, writer and novelist Heather O'Neill is joined by her daughter, filmmaker and avid reader Arizona O'Neill, to share their top picks.

Here are Heather and Arizona's reading recommendations for the month of November.


The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

This is a book about a woman whose very close male friend commits suicide, leaving her his Great Dane in his will.

Both the narrator and the dog grieve for the lost man, who was a philanderer and a pompous academic, but was nonetheless incredibly dear to their hearts.

The book is a hyper intelligent examination of grief and our relationship to animals and the condition of being a writer in the modern world.

It brings in Tolstoy, Edna O'Brien, Virginia Woolf and Rilke and many more. It begs such questions as: What is it that we see in the eyes of animals, and how are we able to deal with their innocence in the face of our own corrupt self-awareness? Why are writers so sensitive and hateful all at once? What does it mean to be a stray human being? And it is also, in the end, a beautiful story about a woman who puts everything aside to make sure a dog is safe and happy.

Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq is a famous Inuit throat singer. This is her first novel, and it does not disappoint.

Split Tooth paints a brutally honest portrait of what it is like to grow up in Nunavut, where the sun stays up for days on end before the moon takes its place.

Tagaq's book almost feels like it should be read out loud so that every word can be properly appreciated.

The raw realism of the storytelling slowly starts to morph into surreal Inuit folk tales. The main character, who at first feels a disconnect from her ancestry, has a love affair with the Northern Lights and is impregnated with twins.

The boy twin holds death and darkness within him, while his sister contains life and joy, and together they are one. The narrative is interlaced with prose, poems, and illustrations.

I am so happy that Tagaq took us on this ride with her. What a work of art.

The Emissary, by Yoko Tawada

An absolutely marvellous and mysterious book by the author of Memoirs of a Polar Bear. I have loved Japanese writer's Yoko Tawada's previous writings, but this one knocks it out of the park with its sheer sublime investigation of caring and time and what it means to be present in the world.

The Emissary takes place in a dystopic Japan that is cordoned off from the rest of the world. The elderly have been bestowed with a strange gift of immortality and grow feisty and more active the older they become, whereas the new generation of children are weak — feeble and confined to wheelchairs — teetering on the brink of mortality their whole lives.

By swapping the roles of the old and the young, Tawada explores what it means to have a knowledge of one's finite passage in the world. The children have such profound sense of wisdom about what is important and what is not worth holding onto. It is sweet and funny and poignant on so many levels.

Severance, by Ling Ma

This book is a fascinating exploration of the millennial condition.

A young woman continues working at her meaningless job despite the fact that the entire population is dying of a flu pandemic. Her job has literally no purpose anymore, but she continues to do paperwork, believing her immigrant parents' conviction that work in itself has meaning.

The flu has the odd effects of trapping people in a paralytic state of nostalgia, which also reflects the existential state of millennials who negotiate the reality of living in a post-internet world and replicate reality into nostalgic moments as they happen.

Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin

This is one of the most brilliant books I have read in years. It is almost written though it were a play.

At the beginning of the Fever Dream, we find a woman in a hospital bed and a small boy at her side. The boy asks cryptic questions, guiding the woman through her examination of past events that have led her to be in this sick, debilitated state.

We begin in absolute darkness and the narrative begins to create an odd story filled with sick animals, shape-shifting children and a neighbour in a gold bikini who may or may not be a foe.

It is terrifying and beautiful and profoundly strange. Everyone I know who has touched this book, has read it in one sitting.

I cannot promise you will understand the ending — I didn't — but you will be moved by the startling details and the sense of unease that only a mysterious child narrator can command. I have not been as pleased by the voice of an overly wise and possibly evil child since reading Agota Kristof's The Notebook.

Coyote Doggirl, by Lisa Hanawalt

The work of Lisa Hanawalt, who also happens to be the production designer and producer for Bojack Horseman, features unapologetic anthropomorphic animals. They aren't your run-of-the-mill Disney creatures either.

They are characters with deep levels of emotions that the reader and viewer can relate to.

This is why when I heard Hanawalt was writing a graphic novel about a coyote dog-girl in a Western setting, I jumped for joy.

Westerns are inherently sexist and always feature scared women running for their lives from pillagers.

Hanawalt writes a Western with a badass woman who just wants to be left in peace.

Coyote Doggirl fights and struggles through the whole book for her right to roam the countryside on her horse without being assaulted or killed, and it is awesome.

About the Author

Heather and Arizona O'Neill

CBC Homerun Book Columnists

Heather O'Neill is an award winning novelist, short story writer, and essayist who lives in Montreal. She is Arizona's Mom. Arizona O'Neill is a filmmaker and avid reader who lives in Montreal. She is Heather's daughter. Follow them on their Instagram @oneillreads

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