Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Arrival: The Story of CanLit

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Arrival: The Story of CanLit

Article excerpt

Literature, arts, and criticism

Nick Mount, Arrival: The Story of CanLit (Toronto: Anansi Press, 2017), 448 pp. Cased. $29.95. ISBN 978-1-7708-9221-7.

Nick Mount's Arrival covers the 'long decade between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s' (p. 12). He follows Margaret Atwood's 1972 Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, and the witty 'survival/arrival' rhyme is not coincidental. However, writing a few decades after the CanLit boom means that Mount has meaningful perspective but also more ground to survey as he maps the changing landscapes of the Canadian literary scenes. Surprisingly for a survey-type book published in English, CanLit en français is both present and well-explained. Mount's overview is admirable, if perhaps overly scrupulous at times (in an insightful section on Michel Tremblay, we are reminded that 'joual' is 'the French of working-class Montreal' (p. 255)).

Arrival 's 18 chapters are full of sometimes bawdy anecdotes - for example, Margaret Laurence once 'tried to have sex with Al Purdy, but they were both too drunk' (p. 185) - but its many tales are firmly kept in check by two types of glue. First the superglue: Mount downplays the popular story that Big Government stoked the CanLit fires. Instead, he adopts a rather materialist viewpoint, convincingly arguing that affluence (a word that appears 25 times) fuelled the flames. Writers such as Margaret Atwood and Dennis Lee 'became writers just as the largest, most affluent generation in Canadian history became readers' (p. 33), just as consumers were looking for ways to lighten their pockets. Indeed, the 'proliferation of coffee-table books was driven by the proliferation of coffee tables' (p. …

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