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Posts Tagged ‘The Brutal Telling’

NBC has been filling up empty airtime around the Olympics with stories on all things Canadian: Royal Mounties, beer, cuisine, fashion, wildlife, actors and so on. As far as I know — I haven’t been glued to the set — we’ve seen nothing yet on Canadian writers, and I think I know why. They’re very much part of our  own  literary landscape. Only rarely do you hear the word “Canadian” in front of short-story virtuoso Alice Munro, novelist Margaret Atwood or beloved children’s author L.M. Montgomery. The late, great Robertson Davies was invariably identified as “Canada’s literary lion,” but I’d forgotten — if I ever knew –that  Douglas Coupland, W.P. Kinsella  and Nick Bantock are Canadians all. And more confusing, Carol Shields, winner of the 1993 Pulitzer for The Stone Diaries, had dual citizenship. She was born in Chicago but moved to Canada in 1957 when she married.

How much of a role Canada itself plays in their books varys from one author to the next, and sometimes from book to book.  It’s impossible to disassociate Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables stories from Prince Edward Island, and Atwood drew on a 19th-century Canadian crime in Alias Grace. But Atwood’s dystopias of The Handmaid’s Tale or The Year of the Flood are hardly Canada — or Earth — as we know it, and crime novelist Peter Robinson, who lives in Canada, has as his series protagonst a detective in Yorkshire, England.

That’s not the case with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, star of Louise Penny’s series of award-winning crime novels set in the quaint Quebec village of Three Pines.  The Brutal Telling, the fifth and finest so far, was published last fall to deserved acclaim. Sins of the past resurface, and the murder mystery stretches across the continent to British Columbia before Gamache makes an arrest. Setting and character matter very much in these well-crafted tales, in which Penny blends the conventions of the traditional village mystery of Agatha Christie with the psychological insight of Ruth Rendell. (Christie and Rendell, of course, are Brits, which just goes to show you that categorizing by nationality is beside the point.)

Margaret Atwood, who resists labels of all kinds, told me as much in an interview some years ago:

“I’m addressing the country of readers. That is the real divide — not between genders or nationalities. It’s not a matter of locale. It’s between those who read and those who don’t.”

I pledge allegiance to the country of readers…

Open Book: I own several editions of Montgomery’s books, and the  publisher of The Brutal Telling (St. Martin’s/Minotaur) sent me an ARC (advance reading copy) last fall.

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