View From The Glen

Monday, November 21, 2011

Apologia: CanLit

The other day at a luncheon, I made a careless sweeping statement.

I used to love Canadian Literature, I said. But now I find it boring.

What a generalizing, broad, unfair thing to say. And it's not true, not really.  Here then is my apologia - in defence of my words and with an explanation of perhaps what I really meant.

I studied Canadian Literature in university. In particular, I was fascinated by the role landscape plays so often, how it is (understandably) a major force that drives our literary heritage. From Susannah Moodie, to Margaret Atwood, from WO Mitchell to Jane Urquhart, from EJ Pratt to Anne Compton (ahem, my 18th century lit prof, I might add, though that is not why I include her here), the geography and vastness of this land is part and parcel of how we define ourselves and our artistic expression has always included these elements (Group of Seven, anyone?).

Landscape is character, I have argued countless times, often to anyone who even looks like they might be interested. Landscape engulfed some early writers (Roughing it in the Bush is Moodie's attempt to keep the frightening, unfamiliar landscape at bay), was co-opted by others (Mitchell, one of  our great Prairie writers, used it to underscore the turmoil of the inner landscape of human beings), and has been intimately embraced by writers such as Urquhart and Elizabeth Hay.

But somewhere along my reading journey, these great landscapes, mirrors of the internal struggles humanity faces, and beautifully, poetically crafted in so much Canadian literature, began to muddle together. I had this growing sense of homogeneity that sifted through the novels I was reading so that I was no longer able to recognize and differentiate the stories. At the same time, I began to crave character-driven narratives, to move away from subtlety into action and a more direct style of writing. I felt Canadian literature no longer gave me what I needed and instead I jumped with both feet headlong into historical fiction, an old love, and into genre fiction which fit into my busy lifestyle . These booksgave me what I wanted in small, compact, neatly packaged doses of mystery, romance, suspense, history...all with a happy ending, which so much Canadian fiction, ever true to the realities of life, did not provide.

After my bold proclamation at lunch, I felt cheap, like I had said something for effect, rather than because it was true. The tide is ever shifting, and what I said made me realize that it's time to revisit Canada's literary landcape once again. Not from my mired in the muck perspective, not from my nonchalent dismissive perspective, but from a balanced one that appreciates the nuances of Canadian fiction and what it offers.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I launch my literature review: Books I recommend and Books I plan on reading. I'm starting with Canadian Fiction. What are YOU reading?


Julie said...

The Frye festival in Moncton later this week includes Ms. Anne Compton, plus other notables in the NB literature scene.

Finola said...

First of all, nothing you say could ever be taken as just for effect. You are thoughtful, interesting and inspiring.

When I was assigned The Stone Angel to read in grade 11 English, I stayed up until 3am reading, and I had it finished the next day. I have been hooked on CanLit ever since. I can't wait to hear what's coming next.

Leanne Haines said...

I'm looking forward to your list. I have to admit, I've felt the same things you expressed toward Can Lit, but I don't think I ever really read enough of it to give it a chance. I'm developing an appreciation for it now. I just finished The Birth House and really enjoyed it. Not sure what I'll dive into next. Maybe I'll finish Dragonfly in Amber?...