House of Anansi Press, 2017
Reviewed by Chynna Moore
What happens when nearly 100 years of war, colonialism, industry, and growing nationalism culminate in a new wave of home-grown literature?
Arrival is the story, history, and biography of Canada’s “literary boom” from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s, as told by Nick Mount, a professor of English literature at the University of Toronto. Mount aims to tackle all aspects of this explosion of works, from the authors and their new successes, to the publishers, to an emerging national storytelling scene.
Mount also explores the events and attitudes that influenced these authors. Everything from post-war economic freedom and industry, to the wave of immigration, activism, and perhaps most notably, nationalism.
Mount approaches the material with a strong voice and dry sense of humor. Each author and poet in Arrival is introduced like a character, from early life to associates. Lists of literary luminaries include women like Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn McEwen, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, and Marie-Claire Blaise; Indigenous writers and writers of color are underrepresented here by Maria Campbell and Harold Sonny Ladoo, but much of this writing happened in the 80s and later.
Mount also references literary hotspots in Canada’s major cities that provided many CanLit icons with their start, underscoring how interconnected these creative networks were and are. Thoroughly researched and sourced, each chapter illuminates these intimate regional worlds with statistics and anecdotes.
The need to define a “distinct” Canadian identity in the literary sphere means struggling against foreign influence. The federal government offers grants to writers and institutions as wll as publishers to encourage the literary world in its own backyard and the two solitudes of the Quebecois and English-Canadian strongholds.
Many books mentioned reflect their time, for better or worse. Mount’s “mini-reviews” of seminal titles offer humorous takes on everything from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz to The Swinging Flesh. He notes their impact at the time and half a century later. Not all the books were as beloved as The Double Hook or The Lives of Girls and Women, but Mount shines a light on these authors too, many largely forgotten today.
Mount balances history and biography and creates a narrative bound to inform and entertain even the uninitiated reader.