Oversung and Underpraised: Overrated and Underrated Canadian Writers

by thiszine

BY JOHN COLEMAN

The National Post recently ran two pieces in its literary section, The Afterword, entitled Don’t Believe The Hype: 10 Overrated Canadian Authors, and, the next day, Flying Under The Radar: 10 Underrated Canadian Authors. The articles were penned by critics Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie.

In response to the articles, I would like to play devil’s advocate. Albeit I agree with some of Good and Beattie’s slams on big time CanLit monopolisers (I won’t sour you with my opinions), I feel that more than a few toes were stomped on in the more than pretentious analytical/critical slice of opinion. Below I reflect on what they think of CanLit today.

First off, the word Overrated. It’s no doubt that Yann Martel made the list, especially since his recent novel, Beatrice and Virgil, got almost all negative, and really negative, reviews. Yes guys, you saw the headlines too, thanks for the recap. Also on their hitlist are Douglas Coupland for being too much like Kurt Vonnegut; Michael Ondaatje for romanticising the new millennium in a cliché manner; and Anne Michaels and Jane Urquhart, more or less for having top sales.

If I may interject with one opinion, Joseph Boyden should not be on the overrated list. Good and Beattie knock Boyden’s two novels Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce for being stylistically and interpretively off the mark. Missed, however, is an acknowledgment of Boyden’s attempt to slash the colonial view of Native culture. Maybe if more than a handful of Native authors would be accepted into the scene, Boyden could be ruled out for bad writing. Until then, I praise any NativeLit authors, Boyden included, who truly represent Native culture in literature – a form, I remind, absent until the nineteen-eighties.

To give Good and Beattie some credit, they publicise writers who a lot of people don’t, although should, know in their Underrated list. And I agree, if it weren’t for corporate publishing labels worried most about the bottom line, there would be a chance for amazing writers currently dwarfed by Coupland, Michaels, Munro and Atwood. Almost all in the Underrated list were praised for stylistic mastering and pushing unconventional form, such as Sharon English, Clark Blaise, and Ray Smith. These authors, among others, are highlighted on the list for the average daily newspaper reader.

Enough about my take, what do you think? Is one of your favourites deemed overrated? Does an unsung writer you know fit the role of an underrated CanLit author? Are we just becoming too snobby? Or, is commercial literature an oxymoron – should it be chastised for ruining smaller writers’ chances? Leave a comment and have your say; one voice can’t speak for all of us.

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One Comment to “Oversung and Underpraised: Overrated and Underrated Canadian Writers”

  1. I think it’s interesting you mention that Boyden is on the overrated list and that the critics overlooked his anti-colonist themes. Kind of makes you wonder about the predominent themes in all of writing.

    Thougthful post. Thanx.

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