Two more books on the 2008 Must-Read list: Mary Novik’s Conceit and Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. called Someone Knows My Name in the U.S.
Two of the more interesting things I do is review book for Quill and Quire and lead book discussions at Montreal-area libraries. Both give me the occasion to read many good books and to reflect on their meaning and the skill with which their authors tell the stories. This year two novels stand out from the 35 or so I read for work: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and Conceit by Mary Novik. Both Canadian writers have unique stories to tell. As it happens both, are historically based, but they differ greatly in style and subject.
Lawrence Hill has Aminiata Diallo or Meena Dee tell the epoch story of a woman captured into slavery in the mid-18th century and then transported to North America, back to Africa and finally to England. It is an enormous canvas—at one point Meena thinks about what a map of her travels would look like-0-but it also is an intimate story of a strong woman’s courage, intelligence an resolve.
Mary Novik’s story begins a hundred years before when John Donne’s daughter rescues his effigy from St. Paul’s Cathedral during the Great Fire of 1666. Where Hill’s narrative jumps around in time, but is generally straight forward, Novik’s his lyrical and filled with resonances too Donne’s poetry and scenes from period refracted by the lens of brilliant woman’s passion.
Both books were long listed for the Scotiabank Giller prize, but so far neither has won a big prize. A shame. They both deserve large audiences.