Keep an eye on this Canadian author, especially if you live in Toronto. His hugely successful novel Fifteen Dogs was such a pleasure to read and this one I liked even better! Fifteen Dogs, winner of the 2015 Giller Prize, recently made it onto the Canada Reads shortlist and one of the dogs in that story, a black poodle named Majnoun, makes a guest appearance in this book. And the setting is so recognizably Toronto: Liberty Village, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Parkdale, Rosedale, Queen St., King St. and various condos by the lakeshore, and more.
Inspired by Treasure Island, the premise of The Hidden Keys caught my attention immediately. A highly accomplished but strangely honourable thief, makes a promise to an aging heroin addict that he will help her solve a mysterious inheritance puzzle left by her wealthy father. Willow believes her Dad set the treasure hunt before he died, but her siblings do not. So Willow needs Tancred, her friend the thief, to steal the objects needed to gather the pieces and solve the puzzle. Of course the quest gets complicated, both by Tancred’s very good friend who is a police detective, and some thugs who are threatening to get in the way or worse, make off with the treasure. The novel kept my interest and is well paced, but also has a reflective side, raising questions about what it means to be faithful and good and whether money can ever really bring happiness. The book is a strange combination of elegant writing and funny adventure. Only in Canada, will you find a crime/mystery novel with a hugely polite and thoughtful thief at the centre of the story!!
Post-apocalyptic is not usually my cup of tea, but I loved this one. It came highly recommended by someone who’s reading taste is similar to mine, and I was not disappointed. This is an elegant literary novel about memory, art, and survival. It is beautifully written and artfully atmospheric. Partially set in Toronto and partly in a world that has been devastated by a pandemic flu, the author seamlessly weaves together the past and the present. The book combines some interesting aspects of culture: quotes from Star Trek (“survival is insufficient”), Shakespearean plays, symphony orchestra performance, and comic book art. When everything is lost, what do we long for, what do we remember? Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.”
The story begins on a Toronto stage. The actor who is performing King Lear, collapses from a heart attack mid-scene and a paramedic in the audience rushes up to do CPR. But it is too late for Arthur, and for the world that is at that moment on the threshold of an unimaginable collapse. It is quite sobering to think about how vulnerable we really are, how little control we have, and how quickly the “world as we know it” could become a distant memory.
I don’t want to say more because this book needs to be experienced. While I was reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I know it will stay with me for a very long time. Though similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and is unsettling, I found this book less depressing and more hopeful. It is very thought provoking. Station Eleven is an excellent pick for book clubs and will definitely be one that will be talked about in many literary circles! It is one of those gems that is both approachable and extraordinary. Definitely not just for sci-fi fans!