Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Literary Cities?

In many novels (maybe even the majority of them) the setting of the story becomes almost a character, letting the author describe emotions or the passage of time through visual cues. In A Year in Provence, for example, the weather seems to get worse as the renovations on the house continue for months on end, and often the day after a good meal dawns clear. This may be the way Peter Mayle remembers things (and may well be the way things happened), but it also serves to create an over all sense of character for Provence that is widely accepted and quite similar to other literary portrayals of the region.

In Canada, though, we seem to lack that kind of agreement when it comes to our cities. As Toronto Star columnist Geoff Pevere pointed out in his piece on Sunday, Toronto, literary city that it is, doesn't have much of a literary character. Even books that are set in Toronto are all over the map in terms of how they treat the city's presence in the narrative. In Quill & Quire's Quillblog, Steven Beattie asked whether or not a literary Toronto really can exist.

I'm not sure there's any one answer to that. Canadian cities, maybe more than cities elsewhere, seem to be collections of neighbourhoods all grouped under one municipal office. Because of that, the way the city's character is portrayed depends on the neighbourhood you're looking out of. The Montreal described in Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals is very different than the Montreal described by Mordecai Richler. And that is how it should be.

I like that Canadians cities are undefinable in our literature. It makes them more interesting and thus makes CanLit more interesting: If you never know what you're going to get when you open a book, then there's always a reason to keep reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Real Time Web Analytics
Powered By Ringsurf