Every year, once Hallowe’en has been safely put to bed, The Search begins. It occupies much of my screen time for weeks and brings me great joy. It is the search for The Book of 2012. Not the book I liked the best, or the book that I thought was the most well-written, but the book that I will shamelessly bestow upon every adult on my Christmas list.
As with all the best things, The Search started out by accident, but over the years it has become a Thing. Now, my mother-in-law in Ireland will read The Book at the same time as my mother in Ontario so they can discuss it together. My husband’s cousins will get The Book later on and will pass along their two cents as they do. Over the course of 2013 the family is bound together by reading one book.
Last year’s choice, The Sisters Brothers, was an unqualified success. Not a single person in our family who read it didn’t love it or pass it along to someone else to read. So the pressure, though positive, is on.
Because our family is spread out over three continents and four English-speaking countries, I tend to favour Canadian fiction. (In my family, it’s unlikely that someone in say Australia has already read the latest in Can Fic.) The Book also has to have broad appeal as it is as likely to end up in the hands of my 80+ years young grandmother as it is to end up in the hands of a cousin-in-law in their early 20s.
You are more than welcome to weigh-in. Here are the finalists:
The World, by Bill Gaston
The Plot: Five interconnected stories about life’s cruelty and the hope that can be found within it.
What the author has to say about the book (to the National Post): “I think my heroes, the people I most admire in my real life now are those who are in dire straights — let’s say they’re dying, or something — and they retain a kind of humour and a kind of nobility,” Gaston says. “They can kind of keep their seat, and they don’t panic, and they somehow see that life is still worth living in this moment, even though they’re losing everything around them.”
The Plot: Maggie might be going insane following the suicide of her mother.
What the author has to say about the book (in Zoomer): “It was challenging to write. I was leaning toward a lot more ambiguity but I had early readers who felt very strongly that a more definite resolution was needed. In the end, it mattered less who or what and more what Maggie got out of it and what she was willing to do.”
The Imposter Bride, by Nancy Richler
The Plot: A young woman’s quest to find out who her mother really was after finding out that her mother had stolen another woman’s identity.
What the author has to say about the book (in Macleans): “As I wrote, it’s like somebody walks through life with an eraser. People didn’t know anything, they had their parents and that was it, they didn’t know anything before. […] And we know we’re affected by it, now we’re finding out that it affects our genetics, that we have some sort of genetic memory. So it isn’t just imagination, it’s something that really does affect us all.”
The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak
The Plot: The story of Catherine the Great’s rise to power as told from the point of view of Barbara, a servant turned court spy.
What the author has to say about the book (to bookreporter.com): “The idea of a court spy came from the 18th-century complaints of many travelers to Russia that all servants were spies who traded in secrets and from Catherine herself. Reading Catherine’s letters to Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, I came upon the following sentence: Three people who never leave her room, and who do not know about one another, inform me of what is going on, and will not fail to acquaint me when the crucial moment arrives.”
A Matter of Life and Death or Something, by Ben Stephenson
The Plot: 10-year old Arthur finds a notebook behind his house written by a sad but mysterious man and decides to investigate.
What the author has to say about the book (to his publishers): I think what I wanted to achieve was, personally, to know I could tell a story that meant something to someone. I mean I had like, aesthetic opinions and rules and ambitions while writing it, but I think my real want was just to feel like I’d made something that could allow someone to feel a little less alone, for a few days or hours. Or one second. I also wanted to tell a story that could end in a hopeful way and not be contrived or feel like a fraud. I don’t know if I totally succeeded or not, but I hope so.