2006 Giller Prize short list update

In a previous post (November 14, 2006) I set myself the goal of reading the five novels on the 2006 Giller Prize short list for fiction. So far I've read three of the five and I'm here to report back, as promised. Keep in mind that it has been a while since I finished the first two mentioned here but I'l try to represent my sense of them and my reaction to them as closely as possible.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam (Winner)

In a collection of related short stories, the novel follows four young medical students attending the University of Toronto in the 1990s. Each chapter describes another chapter in their lives, often focused on one or two of the students and their various adventures in medicine and relationships. Although it is set in a familiar time and city, I couldn't connect with the stories of this book. The narrator's voice got under my skin somehow; maybe it's the direct and casual tone Lam uses that left me feeling a bit cynical. Of the four main characters, the only one who develops over the course of the novel is Fitz. While my mom felt dynamic tension in the novel and was anxious to see how the story played out, I wasn't drawn in. Living in Toronto during the SARS epidemic I feel I should have identified and empathised with the circumstances of the story more closely, but instead I felt let down by a lack of drama or angst. Rather than "well written" I'm going to say this novel is accurately written, so far as fiction can be accurate. To me Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures feels more like disconnected reportage than fictional prose.

The Immaculate Conception by GaƩtan Soucy

This novel was first written in French, translated by Lazer Lederhendler and submitted for the Giller Prize. It may be the translation itself that makes the writing in The Immaculate Conception feel a bit awkward but I think that's only part of it. The writing style intentionally evokes an earlier period, the 1920s in a suburb of Montreal. A socially inept bank clerk is the main character but other characters come forward to tell the aftermath of a large fire that kills 75 people in the community when an arsonist destroys a restaurant. The characters are memorable for their oddness and the story haunts me still for the insights it offers to community politics, intrigue, expectation and assumption. The meta-narrative and various micro-narratives that evolve during through the novel are retold from numerous perspectives and the reader gains a clearer picture of the events from each re-telling. Obvious from the title and reflective of the setting, the story is shot through with Catholic iconography and references. Soucy works very hard to build some mystery into the story and the reader waits a very, very long time to read about the initial incident that really sparks the story. Ooooh, sparks - I slay me. Essentially, it's an interesting novel for its character development and portrayal of community dynamics, but it's also very slow. When the initial incident was finally revealed to me, it wasn't the shock or the resolution I had been expecting/hoping for. If you have any interest in early Montreal or sparse, emotional writing reminiscent of Kafka or Camus, then try out The Immaculate Conception, just be prepared to be patient.

DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage

My sister gave me a copy of DeNiro's Game for christmas - thanks Kath! Set in Beirut, Lebanon during the civil war (1970s and '80s), the story follows Bassam, a young Christian, as bombs fall on his neighbourhood and his friends enlist in the militia. To the reader, Bassam's emotional detachment from the death around him, including losing both of his parents, is a thin ruse. He claims to be apolitical but refuses to fight even when his best friend enlists and starts to carry a Kalashnikov rifle. Bassam does get himself a handgun, and asserts himself throughout the novel so he's no pushover pacifist - far from it. When I started reading DeNiro's Game, I wondered how far into the story I would even get. I didn't know much at all about the Lebanese civil war, and this didn't seem like the way to learn about it. Usually I find stories set in countries and cultures that I'm ignorant of quite difficult to follow and thus boring. It's surprising then that this is my favourite of the three novels. Hage manages to describe the often irrational but necessary actions of everyday people in war times with clarity and without moral judgement. He leaves the reader to judge the actions of his characters, a fact I came to appreciate as the plot took twists and turns through moral minefields. The ending drew the story together for me and I won't ruin it for anyone by telling you why, but take my advice if you're having any trouble sticking with this book: keep at it and hopefully you'll find the same satisfaction of having read a finely crafted story that I experienced when I finished the last page.

Two left on the list. I'll pick them up soon and write up the details. So far I've been really suprised - by the winner, by my response to DeNiro's Game, and by the eloquence of a tale written in contemporary times that really embodies a past time.

Look ma, I'm getting my Can con.!



Giant sinkhole swallows homes in Guatemala City neighborhood; 2 killed



A 100-metre-deep sinkhole killed two teenage siblings when it swallowed about a dozen homes early Friday and forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people in a crowded Guatemala City neighborhood.

Officials blamed the sinkhole on recent rains and an underground sewage flow from a ruptured main. The two bodies were found near the enormous fissure, floating in a river of sewage.

The pit emitted foul odors, loud noises and tremors, shaking the surrounding ground. A rush of water could be heard from its depths, and authorities feared it could widen or others could open up.

Edward Ramirez said he and other residents had been hearing noises and feeling tremors for about a month before the ground opened up before dawn, waking many in the poor neighborhood.

Read more at the Globe and Mail. My jaw dropped when I read about this and saw the amazing photo. Can you imagine a worse way to die? Ok, there must be worse ways, but drowning in sewage sludge in a hole that opened beneath your feet, while at home, has got to be near the top of the list. Those poor kids.



My little sister was visiting last weekend and we spiced up her time here with an evening of snow tubing. Yeehaw! They offer tubing at Cypress Mountain and even at $17 for 2 hours, it was totally worth the travel and the money. I recommend going on a Saturday evening when everyone else is at the bar because we had the run of the slopes and the attention of the attendants. Attendants hang out at the top to push you down the slope and to spin you in your tube. Super whiz bang fun!

Here's a picture the attendant took before we went going down in a big group of 7 people all hooked together.

There's a couple videos of single and group tubing from our night on Kath's friend Rob's site.


Vegan cook along

I found a blog that I've now started to read regularly. It might not be to everyone's taste, but I find it's kind of fun. The Vegan Cook Along blog was started by a handful of friends who are all interested in vegan cooking and in trying new recipes. Someone suggests a recipe on the blog once a week (or so) and over the next week various people try it out, photographically document the process, and submit a blog report on the recipe.

Anyone can join by sending an e-mail request to pink.vegan@gmail.com and new people join all the time. I haven't joined yet but have tried one of their recipes called Mock Makhani Chicken. It was pretty darn tasty! Next I'm going to try the jerk tofu, and maybe the superb borscht.

Just a neat idea. Even if you are a tried and true carnivore, vegan cooking every once in a while is an easy and tasty way to cut fat, lower cholesterol, and try new foods. Have fun exploring!



Yes, we have crocuses! In your face, winter!

edit: This photo is found at http://www.mygarden.me.uk/


Casino comments

On our third attempt, we finally got to see the new Bond movie, Casino Royale, this afternoon. Two previous attempts were foiled by mobs of people but since the Superbowl was on today, we figured our chances of getting in were good. We were right. For those of you who have seen it, I have a few comments. For those of you who have yet to see it, I don't think these comments will spoil the movie for you in any way, and what's holding you back? It's really *very* good!

  1. Much like the infamous SNL skit "We Need More Cowbell", someone, probably the director, obviously was pleading for more, even More, and MORE jumping in the first chase scene. "I just, I just gotta have more jumping! C'mon! MORE jumping!"
  2. The scenographer or maybe the script writer really has a hard on for construction sets! Like, seriously!
  3. Frick that Bond girl is annoying. I was really hoping she was going to get offed early, early in the movie. No such luck. (No, this shouldn't spoil it for you.)
  4. Anyone remember Terminator 2? Daniel Craig took a page out of the robot cop's book to craft the Bond run. Pump those robo-arms!
  5. I've heard complaints from other people that the card game scenes stretch on endlessly (and needlessly) but I felt much more strongly about the sap sappy sapolicious scenes later in the movie. I think they couldn't decide which sap scene to use so they just left them all in. C'mon, only one avowal of devotion is needed, even for thick headed audience members. We got it.
  6. We need more jumping!
  7. Ok, the scene in the condemned building in Venice is totally awesome. Just...awesome!


Cerise Creek trip, Jan. 27-28 2007

Last weekend I was back out in the backcountry again with friends. Cerise Creek is a couple hours North of Squamish, on the road to Lillooet. We skinned up to a cabin called Keith's Hut, but everyone of our gang slept in tents since there were enough people (including one cougher) sleeping in the hut. The weather was gorgeous with barely any clouds, bright sun, and moderate temps. The skiing conditions were not. Like, really, NOT. Sure, 30 feet of snow sounds like great conditions but the 2-3" ice crust covering every snow surface made skiing not only difficult but treacherous! Still, it was a very fun time with great people, good conversation, and lots of laughter. The food was also amazing.

Shya the dog came with us. She's a beauty.

The hut had a sleeping loft. This shot is taken looking down from the loft on folks relaxing before dinner. I'm in the lower left corner, toque intact.

Did I mention the food? The people supplying dessert went all out. You're looking at chocolate pudding, chocolate fondue, and a plethora of fresh fruits that arrived carefully protected from potential bruising. Amazing!

The weather really treated us well. The night was clear, lit by the moon and stars to the point that headlamps were not necessary.

Day two was sunny but a hell of a lot of hard work. My thighs are still recovering. This is the gang taking a break after only descending about 400m which took us almost 30 minutes.

It was great trip even if the conditions were shite. Props to the photographers, Ian, Dave and Anton. More pics (including these ones) are available on Anton's and Dave's websites.


Faulty living

According to CBC Radio this morning, BC is at high risk of a major earthquake right about... now. The story reports that we are at higher risk for the next week as small tremors have been detected, moving North along the Cascadia fault line. The news was certainly not what we wanted to hear first thing this morning when brains are still foggy. I used to vent at length about "idiots who choose to live in seismically active areas" but look at me now? The dynamic techtonic activity that formed the Pacific Northwest coast created an amazing playground that offers a superb lifestyle. I love it here! It is weird to have news of an impending quake hanging over our heads (or simmering under our feet for that matter). A tourism site that ironically advertises Vancouver by describing the imminent catastrophe of a major quake claims we are due a massive seismic event and that the results of such an event would be the destruction of the city.

I found a great book a couple years ago when I first started at UBC. Vancouver, City on the Edge is a brief, well illustrated and interesting geological description of the Fraser Basin. The Duchess took a look at it and claimed this book alone could teach an introductory course on geology at the University level. I think I'll dig it out to learn more about where the quake could occur and who might be hardest hit depending on the location of the epicentre. I suspect that living on the Oak Street hill means we are in an ok position, domestically, but UBC could shear off into the ocean. Remind me to stay away from that place for the next week!