This was a year when good books came from some of Canada's most reliable sources - Atwood, MacDonald, Gowdy. The surprises, including the number-one book, came from first fiction writers. Here's what kept me turning the pages in 2003.
1 Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Scribner/Simon & Schuster) Ali's awesome first novel tops the list because it touches so many urgent issues - the immigrant experience, the clash of modern Western and traditional Muslim gender values, and divisions in the Bengali community in the wake of 9/11. Nazneen, in her early 20s, is sent from Bangladesh to London for an arranged marriage to Chanu and goes through a political and sexual awakening. In Chanu, who grows from unlikeable patriarch with a bureaucrat's soul to a man honestly aching for his national roots and dignity, Ali has created the year's most fascinating character.
2 Oryx And Crake by Margaret Atwood (McClelland & Stewart) In this crafty satire of science gone sick, Atwood imagines the apocalypse in a world where scientists rule and ego and greed are out of control. Brilliant and funny, too, but in a terrifying way.
3 Virtual Clearcut by Brian Fawcett (Thomas Allen) Fawcett returned with his son to his hometown of Prince George to find out how the place had changed. Thanks to a massive forest clear-cut, it was completely transformed. A surprisingly emotionally charged book.
4 The Way The Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Knopf) OK, it's not Fall On Your Knees, but this evocation of life in the 50s at a Canadian army base is still an amazing achievement. MacDonald recreates the 50s lifestyle in deep detail - right down to the canapes' contents - but it's the heart-poundingly powerful prose, especially in the scenes featuring a predatory teacher, that stands out. And the protagonist, Madeleine, really draws you in.
5 Still Life With June by Darren Greer (Cormorant) A young addictions councillor poses as one of his dead clients in order to visit the dead man's mentally challenged sister, June. A book that creeps up on you from a writer to watch.
6 Mrs. Proust And The Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor (Doubleday) This three-strand novel about art, grief and the Holocaust uses the diaries of Marcel Proust's mother as its centrepiece - the Dreyfus affair figures prominently - while tracking the life of a child sent to Canada on the eve of her parents' deportation to Auschwitz. An important contribution to the growing literature about children of the Holocaust.
7 Who Killed Daniel Pearl? by Bernard-Henri Levy (Melville House) Jewish intellectual Levy roamed the same Pakistani streets journalist Pearl haunted before he was killed to find out just how the barbarous murder could have taken place. The best book of investigative journalism since All The President's Men.
8 Tempting Faith DinapolI by Lisa Gabriele (Doubleday) In a year when a host of female Catholics expressed irreverence and regret, first-novelist Lisa Gabriele stands out with this funny and whip-smart debut. An episode in which Faith loses her virginity to a rubber-gloved border guard is funnier than you'd think possible.
9 garbo laughs by Elizabeth Hay (McClelland & Stewart) Hay's comic novel set in Ottawa about a mother of two who sees life through a celluloid filter rightly made it to the Governor General's shortlist. Hay lulls you into the softly lit world of film fantasy and then slashes the screen with stabs of reality. Very smart.
10 international date line by Dawn Howat (Great Plains) Howat's themes in this entertaining novel are unabashedly unliterary - 30-something T.O. female runs around Hungary drinking and trying to get laid - but who gives a shit? Howat writes like the blazes. More, please.
Elle by Douglas H. Glover (Goose Lane). A riot of a riff on the collision of cultures during Jacques Cartier's Canadian invasion was this year's worthy Governor General's Award winner.
The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy (HarperCollins). A gripping meditation on the perils of loving an alcoholic.
The Five Books Of Moses Lapinsky by Karen X. Tulchinsky (Polestar). This story of a Jewish Toronto boxer growing up in the 30s - as told by his son, now a gay professor - breaks new ground in queer history and takes Tulchinsky's craft to a new level. waste of trees
Good Faith by Jane Smiley (Knopf). Smiley's story of real estate chicanery in the 80s is way too predictable. We expect more from a Pulitzer Prize winner.