Top spot goes to Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues. © Venturi & Karpa
In 2011, Canadian writers took the world by storm in two ways. Relatively unknown writers, specifically Esi Edugyan and Patrick deWitt, got worldwide attention, and many of the year's strongest books - by Helen Humphreys, Michael Ondaatje and deWitt's and Edugyan's award winners - are set outside Canada. Here's our wildly diverse list of the best of the year.
1. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
This rare story of black jazz musicians struggling under Nazi occupation in Paris is at once about survival in war-time and love-hate relationships among friends. Edugyan's jazz-inflected dialogue is wholly original, and when she writes about the music, you can feel it vibrating in your bones. The right choice for this year's Giller Prize.
2. Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
In this crafty magic realist story set in 1930s New York, the author of slasher stories is haunted by one of his doomed female characters who refuses to go down without a fight. Oyeyemi ruminates on creativity and intimacy and the difficulty of keeping one's characters under control. She also offers a feminist response to the murderous preoccupations of male writers.
3. The Reinvention Of Love by Helen Humphreys
Seizing on the true story of the critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve's affair with Adèle, the wife of Victor Hugo, Humphreys unleashes her poetic powers to comment on art, ego, jealousy and the heartbreaking restrictions of 19-century social strictures. Criminally ignored by this year's literary juries.
4. Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan
(Douglas & McIntyre)
Lundrigan's haunting tale about broken people desperately searching for normalcy - often making the wrong personal choices along the way - is drenched in dread but never drowns in it. Lundrigan is not a household literary name, but she should be.
5. There But For The by Ali Smith
A man attends a dinner party and then barricades himself in an upstairs bedroom and refuses to leave. Smith mines this spectacular premise to comment on media excess, art and chi-chi pretensions. A gas.
6. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
On its surface, deWitt's western - winner of the Governor General's and Writers' Trust fiction awards - about two brothers who ply their trade as assassins recalls the Coen brothers' deadpan sensibility. But there are some tender underpinnings here that give the book a unique texture. This one creeps up on you.
7. The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
Lynn Coady's story about Rank, a college hockey enforcer unhappy with his role - and the dad who forced him to play it - is an unusually brave meditation on masculinity.
8. Don't Be Afraid by Steven Hayward
Hayward digs deep into the souls of a grief-stricken family. What sets this apart from other stories of family trauma is its tone, which is both poignant and outrageous.
9. The Guardians by Andrew Pyper
Pyper's been cranking out thrillers for a while, but this haunted-house story - with a hockey subplot - takes his game to a new level.
10. Six Metres Of Pavement by Farzana Doctor
Doctor takes a big leap from her debut in this story - lovingly set in Toronto - about a bureaucrat still recovering from the death of his toddler decades ago.
IRMA VOTH by Miriam Toews (Knopf )Toews returns to the well - her Mennonite upbringing - in this story of a teenaged girl in a Mennonite community whose life is transformed when she's hired as a translator for a film shoot. Culture clash like you've never seen it.
VARIOUS POSITIONS, by Martha Schabas (Doubleday) A young girl attending a ballet academy deals with competitiveness and her attachment to her teacher. The year's best debut.
VITAL SIGNS by Tessa McWatt (Random House) A man whose wife has an aneurism probes the human desire for control and our hubris in imagining we know the worst.
NOW YOU SEE HER by Joy Fielding (Doubleday) Dropped threads and ludicrous coincidences sink this superficial story from the bestselling author.
THE HIGH ROAD by Terry Fallis (Emblem/McClelland & Stewart) Stereotypes, clichés and a total absence of conflict. Politics is either deathly dull or Fallis is a mediocre writer.
THE GUILTY PLEA by Robert Rotenberg (Simon & Schuster) If you're gonna write a legal thriller, please put at least one of your characters in some danger.