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A Musical Journey through Canadian Literature

Ah, Canada. Land of moose, ice hockey, and maple syrup. It’s also home to some of our most celebrated authors, including Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Miriam Toews, and Michael Ondaatje. Tributes to Canada, however, are sadly lacking; it’s unlikely we’ll see either its lush landscape or textured culture receive the same sort of adulation that London or New York City get.

We’d like to rectify that. For your consideration: a musical journey through Canadian literature.

“She’s Got You High” (Mumm-ra)
Oryx and Crake

Everyone heaps praise upon The Handmaid’s Tale, and rightly so. But for me, the standout Margaret Atwood novel is Oryx and Crake. (I’m ambiguous about the rest of the MaddAddam trilogy; for now, I’m imagining O&C as a stand-alone.) Oryx is enough of an enigma that I’d argue she’s a fully-fledged character in her own right. She doesn’t disclose her mysteries, and in doing so, owns her position among them all.

If there’s an anthem for her, it’s surely this.

“All the While” (The Pines)
Fugitive Pieces

No work captures all the broad themes of Canadian literature quite so well as Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces. It’s mournful and hopeful in turn, beaten down and still searching, and utterly soaked in nature. It’s impossible to find a song that quite matches the sheer, potent lyricism of Michaels’ prose, but the simple earnestness of The Pines’ guitar riffs comes close to matching its honesty.

“Electric Pow Wow Drum” (A Tribe Called Red)
The Orenda

I haven’t finished this one yet, so I’m drawing inspiration for what I’ve read thus far, from CBC Canada’s remarkable soundtrack for Joseph Boyden’s book.

“Wolf” (First Aid Kit)
Lullabies for Little Criminals

Heather O’Neill knows teenage girls. I’m also a big fan of the way that Montreal plays on her pages; it’s not made quaint or any less dangerous. In keeping with the way Baby made those streets her own, irrespective of her mortality—or in blind defiance of it—I present First Aid Kit’s seductively self-aware “Wolf.”

“Under Your Spell” (Timber Timbre)
The Sisters Brothers

I don’t know if Patrick deWitt’s novel can really be placed into the category of ‘Canadian fiction,’ given that the majority of his novel takes place in Oregon and California. However, he is Canadian-born, and The Sisters Brothers is steeped in good, old-fashioned mischief and a (Canadian’s?) stolid determination to go plodding on. Also: it gives me the chance to air Timber Timbre.

“Pretty Girls” (The Darcys)
Alice Munro, in general.

Again, taking my cues from CBC Canada.

“Nightcall” (Kavinsky)/“Love Song” (Dawn Landes)
Station Eleven

Ah, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Another of those odd, neither-here-nor-there books, when it comes to Canadian literature. Which justifies my (double!) choice of (odd?) songs. It’s a tricky one: Station Eleven exists on that knife-edge of the celebration of human culture and how we exist throughout it, but is also about how difficult it is to find one another—especially in the direst of situations.

One song is not sufficient.

Vivienne Mah is a journalism graduate who’s written for Express Media, Australian Stage, Movie Mezzanine, and HeyuGuys. She reads submissions over at Pithead Chapel and Lakeside Circus. Currently, she’s undertaking an internship with the Finborough Theatre. She tweets at @viv_mah.

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