Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Kindred Spirits

It’s always a good feeling to know you’re not alone. So I was predictably excited to find Amy Jo Espetveidt’s piece about the search for fiction set in Calgary on the Calgary Is Awesome blog. It focuses on Canadian writers, so it’s not perfectly in line with my own search; on the other hand, looking for references to Calgary in Canadian fiction is probably a lot like looking for references to Canada in world literature.

I found this through Sam Hester’s blog — which also features a reference to Wow – Canada! in the Notes section of one of her posts. (She’s even tracked down a reference to Canada in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, which I read years ago but don’t recall that clearly. I may have to investigate further.) The post itself talks about the importance of local settings, and raises the question of why certain cities are considered “appropriate” places to set novels while others aren’t. It also touches on the thrill of finding a book set in a place that you’re familiar with, which is relevant to what this blog is all about. I expect the thrill is greater in proportion to the obscurity of the place – no doubt people who live in New York don’t jump up and down for joy every time they come across a book set in New York.

Perhaps, if you live in a city that features constantly in fiction, you require a higher level of specificity to get you excited. I know I’m thrilled just to see the world “Canada” on the page, but maybe if you live in New York, you’re not that interested until you see a reference to your own neighbourhood, or even your own street, or the subway station where you board a train every day, or a park you walk past, or a favourite store.

Or perhaps, at a certain point, the process begins to work in the opposite direction: are New Yorkers sick of reading books about New York? Do they gag every time they come across the phrase “Brooklyn novelist”? There could be an untapped market here – Londoners sick of books set in London; Parisians who are bored of reading about Paris; New Yorkers who have been living next to the pulsing heart of the universe for so long that it has induced a throbbing headache.

They want to escape the ubiquity of the places they live. They’re desperate to read books set somewhere – anywhere – else, books that introduce them to a place they know nothing about. Books set somewhere like … Calgary. Why not?

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