Here, there be talking about animals and sentient robots. Locales familiar and exotic. And just about everything else in between. In the spirit of Heather Leighton’s post from last February, I’m offering my own list of 10 must-read books for 2015. This group of fiction writers, including two from Montreal, consists of burgeoning stars as well as veterans who we haven’t heard from for a few years. To round out the list, I’ve included three books by writers outside of Canada.
1. Emma Hooper’s highly anticipated debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James was released by Penguin Canada in January. Hooper, from Edmonton, fronts the whimsical musical group Waitress for the Bees—a fusion of folk, rock, classical, and electronica. And there’s evidence of similar cross-fertilization in this story of an elderly Saskatchewan woman (suffering from dementia) who makes an eastward trek across Canada. The prose has the charm of fables and the eccentricity of Hooper’s own song lyrics (see “Ankylosaur”). Readers can expect some magical realist elements, such as James the talking coyote, who accompanies Etta on her odyssey.
2. Next up is Mark Anthony Jarman, whose animals aren’t as companionable (see the wonderful story “Cougar” from the early 2000s). A well-known New Brunswick writer of short stories and fiction editor for The Fiddlehead, Jarman’s new collection Knife Party at the Hotel Europa (not his only title involving knives) will be released by Goose Lane in March. These are overlapping tales of pain and loss, including the story of a man who travels to Italy to recover from his failed marriage. But there’s also the raw, earthy sensuality and dark humor evident in previous work. Jarman is a “mad genius,” according to the Quill & Quire, and we should take them at their word.
3. The Daydreams of Angels (due out in April, from HarperCollins) is Heather O’Neill’s first story collection. She already made a splash with the novels Lullabies for Little Criminals (winner of Canada Reads in 2007) and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014). One story to intrigue readers is “The Robot Baby,” which concerns a robot’s emotional coming-of-age. And there’s some myth and fantasy woven into the collection as well, including “The Little Wolf-Boy of Northern Quebec.” O’Neill, one of two Montrealers on the list, is certain to please in this collection, in which her charming but dark prose is on full display.
4. Now, the first of two veteran Canadian writers back on the scene after a hiatus. There’s been a five-year gap between books for Jane Urquhart, but she’s returned with The Night Stages (August, McClelland & Stewart). As with Away and Sanctuary Line (her last novel, from 2010), Urquhart’s new novel is set in both Ireland and North America. Apparently inspired by an apocryphal story about Simone de Beauvoir, it takes place around the 1940s. Though the central protagonist Tamara traverses Ireland, Newfoundland, and New York, Urquhart has said the book is an homage to her many years living in a cottage in rural Ireland.
5. Daddy Lenin and Other Stories (April, McClelland & Stewart) is Guy Vanderhaeghe’s first collection since Things As They Are? (1992), and his first book in four years. The title story involves a middle-aged man’s reunion with a former university advisor, who earned the moniker “Daddy Lenin” for his charismatic and domineering personality. Though in recent years Vanderhaeghe has earned praise for his novels (like his Western trilogy), the new collection reminds us of his mastery of the short story form and his astute understanding of masculinity (as in the much anthologized “Cages,” from Man Descending).
6. “My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me. / Tell me where did you sleep last night. / In the pines, in the pines / Where the sun don’t ever shine / I would shiver the whole night through.” These lyrics, from the haunting traditional folk song “In the Pines,” inspired not only Nirvana’s famous unplugged rendition in 1993, but also Lynn Crosbie’s newest novel, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (May, House of Anansi Press). Recovering in a hospital ward after a drug overdose, the novel’s protagonist, angsty teen Evelyn Gray, befriends the spirit of Kurt Cobain. This latest offering from the Montreal native has some dark twists, particularly when Evelyn and the reanimated grunge rocker set off on a doomed search for musical stardom.
7. Neil Smith, whose story collection Bang Crunch made as big an impact as the title suggests, has followed up with a debut novel, Boo (May, Knopf Canada). The story concerns an outcast Illinois middle school boy whose pale complexion earns him the nickname Boo. Another coming-of-age tale, Smith’s novel also has some fantastical elements, evident when Boo wakes to find himself in the unsettling town of, well, Town. Smith has earned praise for his ability to capture the adolescent psyche.
8. American author Sara Gruen, whose bestselling Water for Elephants was adapted for the screen a few years ago, has returned with At the Water’s Edge (March, Spiegel & Grau), a historical novel set in the Scottish Highlands during World War II. The protagonist is Philadelphia-born Madeline Hyde, who has come to the small village of Drumnadrochit to search for the Loch Ness Monster. Advanced reviews promise a gripping tale bolstered by some impressive historical research.
9. Neil Gaiman’s a swell guy, and funny, too. In his “Bad Gaiman Challenge,” participants submitted horrible parodies of Gaimanesque fantasy; Gaiman himself read out the winning entries in November 2014. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (February, William Morrow) is Good Gaiman, displaying his proven mastery of genre fiction. As in previous works, Gaiman is adept at mixing multiple genres (science fiction, fantasy, and horror), and he does it all with grace and humour and the odd poetic flourish. The new collection includes a previously unpublished story, “Black Dog,” set in the mythological world of Gaiman’s American Gods (2001).
10. The final entry is another long-awaited release: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, the author’s first novel since 2005’s Never Let Me Go. Set in a dystopian near future society of amnesiacs, The Buried Giant is a richly woven tale that examines the consequences of burying the past. Readers should not be surprised to find themselves working out a mysterious puzzle, which, as in Never Let Me Go and Remains the Day, is revealed one piece at a time.
Which books would you have included in this list? Let us know in the comments.
Adam Lawrence is a writer and lives in Montreal. His work has appeared in Quills: Canadian Poetry and in Vallum: Contemporary Poetry (forthcoming in 2015).