Montreal has a rich history of novels in the world of fiction. Here is a selection of 10 great novels about Montreal that will help you travel to this fascinating city without leaving your armchair.<
1. Perhaps one of the best known novels is The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. The book was made into a movie in 1973 starring Richard Dreyfuss and Randy Quaid. A great example of Richler’s satirical view of life, it is also a sympathetic story of a young man, a third-generation Jewish immigrant, who wants to succeed in the eyes of his father and grandfather.
2. Earth and High Heaven is a 1944 novel by Gwethalyn Graham. It reached number one on The New York Times bestseller list – a first for a Canadian novel – and stayed on the list for 37 weeks. A young woman from a wealthy Protestant family in Westmount falls in love with a Jewish lawyer from Ontario. They are forced to overcome the anti-Semitism of their society. The book won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1944.
3. Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner, won many awards including the Governor General’s Award for French fiction in 2005. The novel brings together three semi-nomadic 20-somethings living in the Plateau. Set in Montreal, the novel radiates deep, yet entertaining, musings on the meaning of home.
4. The House on Black Lake is a modern day gothic suspense/romance novel by an American novelist, Anastasia Blackwell. The book is a mesmerizing trip through the Montreal underworld, where Gypsies, fortune tellers and mystics create their own rules. The book tells the story of a woman’s obsession for a man leading her into secrets, betrayal and shocking fate.
5. Echo from Mount Royal takes place in 1951 Montreal, vividly re-created by the author Dave Riese. The novel tells the story of Rebecca Wiseman, an eighteen-year-old from a working class, Catholic-Jewish family in Outremont. A chance meeting with Sol Gottesman, the Jewish orthodox son of a wealthy Westmount businessman, begins an affair fulfilling her romantic dreams. When class, sexual inexperience and family secrets test their love, Rebecca struggles to control events with humor and compassion. But a late night phone call and its shocking revelation changes her life forever.
6. Montreal’s working-class history comes to life in The Tin Flute, Gabrielle Roy’s Governor General’s Award-winning novel. Set in the neighborhood of Saint-Henri, the novel depicts the gritty world of the area’s residents, many of them recent immigrants, who endure long working hours, cramped living quarters and an existence living from paycheque to paycheque. Roy tells much of the story in a mix of French and English slang called “joual,” the common spoken language of that time and place.
7. Lullabies for Little Criminals, by Heather O’Neill, is a story of childhood loss on the streets of Montreal. The author doesn’t dwell on the themes of poverty and abandonment, but explores the city through the eyes of Baby, an endearing character, who survives the harsh realities of an underground life ignored by Montreal society. The novel was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award in 2007 and the Orange Prize in 2008.
8. Bottle Rocket Hearts is a coming-of-age story of a gay, sexually-adventurous young woman during the 1995 separatist referendum in Quebec. While the character in Zoe Whittall’s novel is often self-involved when confronting her own fears and identity issues, she is also grounded in a real-world experience that helps her to grow up in uncertain times.
9. Through Black Spruce is narrated by Will Bird and his niece Annie Bird in alternating chapters. Will, a legendary Cree bush pilot, is in a coma. During his part of the novel he re-imagines the events of the previous year leading up to his current condition. Annie, a trapper, sits by Will’s bed and describes to a comatose Will the previous year of her life. She hopes that he tales of the glamorous nightclubs of Toronto, Montreal and New York City will help revive him from his coma. Through their quiet communion, the author, James Boyden, slowly reveals the bonds that hold a family, and a people, together. An exciting story of fierce love, ancient feuds and murder.
10. How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired is the debut novel by Dany Laferrière written thirty years ago while he struggled as a Haitian-Canadian in exile in Montreal. Despite its controversial subject matter and erotic story line, the satirical book was a success and helped to create an atmosphere of interracial understanding in Montreal in the mid-80s. Intelligent and funny, the novel is responsible for the career of a unique voice in Quebec literature.
For a reader, these novels are a doorway into different levels of Montreal society during the second half of the 20th century.
Bonne chance et bon voyage!