Canadian Literature

Article excerpt

Faye Hammill, Canadian Literature, Edinburgh Critical Guides (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 220pp. Paper. £14.99. ISBN 978-0-7486-2162-0.

It is surprising, given the popularity of Canadian literature courses in Britain, that up until now there has been no critical overview of that literature in either English or French produced by a British scholar. Thank goodness for Faye Hammill's cleverly constructed guide for students, which addresses English-Canadian literary history and contemporary theoretical debates through discussion of a wide range of novels, short stories, poetry, drama and life-writing.

The book is organised into four thematic chapters that treat the most significant topics in Canadian literature: Ethnicity, Race, Colonisation; Wilderness, Cities, Regions; Desire; and Histories and Stories. In every section the texts selected cover a historical span and a variety of theoretical approaches. The first chapter beautifully illustrates Hammill's methodology. Beginning with a comprehensive discussion of colonial encounters, postcolonialism, immigration and multiculturalism, Hammill then offers nuanced postcolonial readings of the first Canadian novel in English, written in 1769 by Frances Brooke, followed by the poems of the late nineteenth-century part-indigenous performance artist E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), before moving into the twentieth century with Joy Kogawa's Obasan, and plays and novels by Canada's most famous indigenous writers, Tomson Highway and Thomas King. This wide-ranging choice of texts illustrates the multiple perspectives on ethnic and racial identity that characterise Canadian literary production into the twenty-first century with writers like Michael Ondaatje, Anita Rau Badami and Dionne Brand. …