Library Moments: Canadian books set somewhere other than Canada

Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Hello, I’m Erin Kernohan-Berning from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

There’s an old writing adage that goes something like “write what you know.” As such, Canadian Literature has been resplendent with those places that Canadian authors are well acquainted with – whether the craggy, salt drenched shores of the east coast, the rocky dense forests of the Canadian Shield, the big sky country of the plains, the towering Rocky Mountains, or the vast tundra of the north. But for one reason or another, many Canadian authors set their sights beyond the land they call home and set their stories somewhere other than Canada. Whether to gain a wider audience, another place in the world has captured their imagination, or wishing to explore their roots abroad, there are many reasons a Canadian author might not write about lighthouses and log cabins.

Today on Library Moments Sherrill Sherwood and I will each talk about a book written by a Canadian author set somewhere other than Canada.

the-silent-wifeSherrill Sherwood, Collections Development Coordinator: Susan Harrison, writing under the name A. S. A. Harrison, was the author of four books of nonfiction. The Silent Wife, her debut novel, was published to critical acclaim and has been translated into twenty-seven languages. Susan was at work on a new psychological thriller when she died in 2013. She lived with her husband, visual artist John Massey, in Toronto. Previous to publishing The Silent Wife, Susan wrote two murder mysteries featuring a detective figure who was also an animal-rights activist. Neither was publishable, but her husband says that in the process of writing them “she taught herself what she actually wanted to do. She was fascinated by psychology and she wanted a greater sense of that in her work.” The Silent Wife was not a whodunit (we are told on page 2 that Jodi will turn to murder) but was about the twists of fate, emotions and character that can drive a person to destroy another being – in this case a philandering husband. It was Susan’s agent who suggested that if she wanted a U.S. publisher, it would be best to set her thriller in Chicago. Susan did not know the city personally but did her research and contacted people there to help with the geography. Her research skills obviously worked – I can find numerous online reviews regarding the setting in this book with readers happy that it was in a city they were familiar with. One blogger even rated it as one of her top five contemporary books set in Chicago, stating that it drew her into the sights and sounds of the city and brought Chicago to life in its pages. While I can’t find a date for its release, a movie adaptation of The Silent Wife is reportedly in the works.

cauchemarErin: Alexandra Gregorescu’s debut novel, Cauchemar, takes us to the swamps of Louisiana where twenty-year old Hannah finds herself living alone after her adopted mother and protector dies. Now by herself, she begins to have nightmares – both asleep and awake – of something white and scaly outside the house trying to get in. Meanwhile, her estranged biological mother, Christobelle, who is rumoured to be a witch who drains the vitality of the men she keeps, comes back into Hannah’s life. Hannah tries to find love and come to terms with a past that won’t stay behind her, as the moss draped Louisiana swamp threatens to reveal it’s secrets.

Gregoescu wrote Cauchemar in snow covered Toronto – the farthest place from the novel’s sultry setting. To create the setting, she drew from artefacts from the American South, cuisine, and memories of visits there. While the setting of the novel certainly provides atmosphere – which the books has in spades – it does seem to suffer from never really being more than just a backdrop. The location never quite comes alive, as it might written by someone more familiar with the area. Depending on what drives you as a reader, this may or may not affect your enjoyment of this fast paced gothic novel.

Canadian authors certainly don’t need to stick to their knitting when it comes to setting, but for any writer it can be a challenge to write about places far beyond our backyards. That’s it for this week’s Library Moments. Thank-you for listening to us on the radio station in your own backyard, 100.9 CANOE FM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM, December 4-10, 2016.

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