Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review of Earth and High Heaven

Gwethalyn Graham won a second Governor-General's Award for Earth and High Heaven. Earth and High Heaven is very much a novel of its time as it focuses on the rising global anti-semitism of the 1940s with particular focus on Montreal and its (oversimplified) tripartite division between Anglophones, Francophones, and Jews. While Graham's novel explores the social divisions, misconceptions, and bigotry among all three groups, she focuses particular attention on anti-semitism.

In the novel, Erica Drake, a wealthy young woman living in Westmount (an upper class anglophone section of Montreal) falls in love with Marc Reiser, a Jewish lawyer, originally from Northern Ontario. In the beginning of the novel, Erica must confront her own prejducies when she first meets Marc. However, these prejudices pale in comparison to those of her father and mother who refuse to have any interactions with Marc.

Graham excels at depicting the social milieu of Montreal and, in particular, the discrimination felt by Jews in this era, though it should be noted that she also pays attention to conflict between anglophones and francophones.

While the plot itself isn't particularly novel or interesting, Graham's excellent prose, witty dialogue, and detailed characters make it a very entertaining novel. Plus, it is hard to be too critical of a novel written in order to combat bigotry. Overall, it functions better as a historical work than high literature, but it is a very enjoyable book nonetheless.

Review of The Incomplete Anglers

The Incomplete Anglers by John D. Robins won the Governor-General's Award for Literary Merit for Nonfiction in 1943. The book tells the story of a fishing trip Robins and a friend took in Algonquin Park in Ontario. As the title implies, the book is not a heroic tale of man overcoming nature, but rather the misadventures of two inexperienced fishermen, which Robins makes very clear at the beginning. Throughout the book, Robins unfolds his narrative with humourous self-deprecation.

On the whole, it is a very entertaining read, and a worthy winner of the award. In fact, Robins' prose is so excellent that the book reads more like fiction. Of course, it also has the benefit of truth.

I know that I'm not putting many details here, and I have to admit that I'm writing this review a few weeks after finishing the book, but I do highly recommend it.