Monday, April 30, 2007

Away From Her

A nice coup for our Friends of the Library tonight with their “Reel Mondays” film series. Tonight they are showing Away From Her, a film directed by Sarah Polley (of Anne of Green Gables fame). The film debuted to great acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival this past fall. It isn’t due for general release until May 4, so the Friends’ showing may be an Edmonton or even Alberta premiere! [Leave a comment if this incorrect].
Away From Her stars Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis. It is based on an Alice Munro short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” which was published in her 2001 collection, Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage. The story and the film focus on a husband losing his beloved wife to Alzheimer's. For a stunning theatrical look at the same topic, check out Theatre Network's production of a world premiere play by Eugene Stickland: Closer and Closer Apart. James DeFelice as the ailing father and Sue Huff as the concerned daughter are absolutely fabulous. The play runs to May 6.

The Globe had a piece by Joanna Schneller on Sarah Polley on the weekend. 28 year old film veteran! On the Cannes festival jury!

** Update May 4 - Outstanding reviews for the film's debut:

  • 3 1/2 stars from the notoriously stingy Globe (Liam Lacey)
  • 90 points from the NY Times (A.O. Scott): "I can't remember the last time the movies yielded up a love story so painful, so tender and so true."
  • 84 overall rating from Metacritic

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Governor of the Northern Province

We are pumped, as the young folks say (Do they? Perhaps not. We'll stick with pumped and call it kicking it old school if asked).

Why pumped? Toronto author RANDY BOYAGODA is coming to the Library this Saturday, April 28th. He'll be speaking at 2:00pm in the Program Room (main floor).

His 2006 debut novel, Governor of the Northern Province, got rave reviews all over the place as well as a nomination for the Giller prize. The book shows what happens when an African warlord ends up as a convenience store clerk in small town Ontario. Great satire. A nice balance to some of the more earnest Can Lit fare.
Boyagoda is also a professor of American literature at Ryerson University in Toronto. You may have seen his reviews or essays in places like Harper’s, The Walrus, the National Post and The Globe and Mail. He reviewed Norman Mailer's new novel for the Globe recently.

Here is some critical raves to convince you that you MUST come down Saturday and meet a rising star:

“Scathing and unpredictable ... a novel of considerable accomplishment; Randy Boyagoda's merciless prose marks him as a talent to watch."–Trevor Cole, author of Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life

"Nice liberal Canada skewered for dinner: A T.O. smartypants creates a war criminal to send up smug Canuck hypocrisy and gets a Giller Prize nod for his trouble" —Toronto Star

"Lively...zeroes in on various targets without slackening pace: colonialism, foreign aid, Anglo reserve and the exalted status of hockey all take stinging hits. Despite this novel’s scathing wit and sardonic tone, a hint of idealism sneaks in after all. An auspicious debut" — National Post

"Boyagoda’s writing is precisely calibrated to expose and ridicule the cruel, the absurd and the merely foolish.”“…scathing portrayal of Canadian smugness and naivete, brilliantly funny, and meant to sting.” “…a sharply intelligent novel, both entertaining and disquieting." —Winnipeg Free Press

"...a defiantly satirical novel..." "Richler’s successor?" — Embassy

[No, I don't know what "Embassy" is either. Perhaps a hip Toronto zine? A must-read blog? Regardless, an excellent quote. Awfully big shoes are Mr. Richlers!]

Monday, April 23, 2007

We Need to Talk About Kevin

There’s no explaining the inexplicable, but anyone interested in the issues raised by the Virginia Tech shootings might give Lionel Shriver’s novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin a try. It doesn’t offer facile solutions but it is a dark and thought-provoking look at teen violence and the limits of parental responsibility. In a series of letters to her estranged husband, a mother tries to understand how her teen son, Kevin, became a school-shooter killer.

Nineteen Minutes is Jodi Picoult’s take on the school shootings topic, with the story told from differing perspectives, including the shooter, a bullied high school loner named Peter. Picoult is popular and prolific, so tends not to be included in the “serious writers” crowd, but her books are favourites with book clubs, as they are well-written and she has a knack for examining difficult subjects. Some have called this her best novel.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Victory at Vimy

Canadians are modest folks, even about war. But at the end of World War Two we had the world’s 4th largest armed forces. We burned down the White House during the War of 1812. It is our nature to second-guess military victories with relentless revisionism. This is a good thing as sober second thought keeps us out of jingoistic nightmares like the Vietnam or Iraq wars.
But the Great War’s Battle of Vimy Ridge is somewhat of an exception. The victory was barely won before it began to take on legendary status, at least in Canada. Over the 90 years since the battle the belief has grown that ‘Canada was born at Vimy’. And anyone appearing to question this will get an earful. Michael Valpy’s thoughtful piece in the Globe & Mail discussed the mythology of Vimy, and he was rewarded with a great deal of harrumphing “how dare he” vitriol in response. These folks had best keep away from a new book, an interesting, yes, revisionist, new collection of essays on the battle by Canadian and British historians, Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment.

Traditionalists need not fear. Another new Vimy book, by journalist and military author Ted Barris shows where it stands with its title: Victory at Vimy: Canada Comes of Age. Barris shares with Pierre Berton’s classic, Vimy, the idea that Canada ‘became a nation’ with the Vimy victory. Berton’s book is still an excellent read. Barris includes more first-person narratives in his book.

Many of the people criticizing Valpy’s article on the Vimy legend may have missed his excellent piece on the Vimy memorial itself. Paul Fussell’s stunning book, The Great War and Modern Memory broke new ground in thinking about the First World War and memory. UWO history professor Jonathan Vance made use of Fussel’s ideas in a Canadian context in his book, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War. Vance shows how the idea of Canada as a nation born out of the war began.
Personally, I think it is important to remember Vimy as a great Canadian victory. Working together as Canadians, using characteristically Canuck ideas (innovation - the creeping barrage, the tunnelling, the methodical preparation; egalitarianism – gathering ideas and sharing plans with and from everyone, regardless of rank) and with the courage and hard work that carved a country out of icy wilderness, our boys did what the big countries had been unable to do. It is something to be celebrated.
But, as many of the writers I’ve mentioned have noted, Vimy and other WWI memorials are war memorials, not victory memorials. The Vimy memorial gave physical form to the immense, incalculable grief caused by that obscene, senseless slaughter of a conflict. Jane Urquhart’s excellent novel, The Stone Carvers, speaks about loss and remembrance and the Great War. Her novel includes characters carving the memorial under the direction of its creator, Toronto sculptor Walter Allward. And one can’t go wrong, as well, with Timothy Findley’s classic novel, The Wars, which makes the insanity of war, the Great War in this case, explicit.