B Reads Canada Reads: Did Nikolski Deserve To Win Canada Reads 2010?

Last Friday was the last day of CBC's Canada Reads 2010 and Nikolskiby Nicolas Dickner was crowned this year's winner.

For those of you who missed the debates you can find them online at the Canada Reads website. If you'd like the lowdown on what happened, hop on over to the Books @ Torontoist rundown. To break it down for you, no one really loved Generation X (other than its champion, Rollie Pemberton), everyone was eager to topple the giant, Fall On Yours Knees (except for its passionate champion, Perdita Felicien), nice things were said about The Jade Peony but the underlying feeling seemed to be that it was really just plain boring and Good to a Fault attracted a couple of real haters and a couple of passionate advocates who nevertheless couldn't keep the book from toppling.

In the end was left one book, Nikolski. Why?

When the final vote was announced all of the panelists was fairly supportive of its win. This struck me as a little funny since Perdita had come out swinging against the book earlier, saying something to the effect that it was confusing. In the end she said that it was a quick read and enjoyable but her enthusiasm was hardly palpable, nor was anyone else's. The book's champion, Michel Vezina, who by the way did an excellent job of illuminating Nikolski's strong points without shoving them in anyone's face, was audibly ecstatic and shocked that his book had won. It was, after all, the dark horse of the bunch.

This is a great underdog's tale but, let's get real here, is the book really that fantastic, as in winning CBC Canada Reads fantastic? I feel that the other books, through their various weaknesses, cannibalized each other, leaving the multi-layered but by no means perfect Nikolski standing.

Nikolski is a model winner. It's by an unknown (Canada Reads the starmaker!), it's by a French Canadian and set partly in Montreal (Canada Reads loves diversity!) and it's not your typical melancholy backwoods tale filled with images of tired Canadiana (Canada Reads the innovator!). It contains three interwoven voices that are only loosely related. It ducks and weaves into nooks and crannies of Canada that are rarely seen and if they are they appear drenched in nostalgia. Its meditation on garbage feels modern and the theme of belonging is universal.

Yet, I didn't love the book in the end. It could have been Canada Reads fatigue but the book seemed to contain a lot of threads and not enough knots. As James Grainger said in his Quill & Quire review, "The novel never throws up any challenges to the characters’ narrow and obsessive worldviews." Maybe, as Michel would say, I read it too "thinly" but in the end I think Nikolski is a better winner than it is a book.


Teddy Rose said...

The only one I have read out of the bunch was Fall on Your Knees. I really liked it but it had it's short comings as well. Most books do. LOL! I rarely read books just because they have won a prize as I am often disappointed. However, Nikolski is on my TBR and I still plan to read it one of these days.

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

I'm feeling less than excited about this year's debates. It seemed to me that rather than debating the actual merits of the individual books, panelist were more concerned with securing their own spots.
Then again I am bitter over how Fall On Your Knees was voted off --- really it came to a tie-breaker that round and the only reason it got knocked off was because the deciding voter thought it didn't need anymore publicity??
Oh right, back on topic, Nikolski - it was a good read but I wasn't blown away by the writing, style or subject.
I'm feeling rather Ho-Hum about the whole CanadaReads this year :(

B.Kienapple said...

Err Joanne I am going to have to disagree with you here. Fall On Your Knees was selected as an Oprah book, I just don't think it's fair to the vast amount of underrepresented CanLit out there for a former Oprah pick to get top spot on again on Canada Reads! I understand that it's a great book but if it won, the show should be called Canada Re-Reads. I think Canada Reads is about discovering a great new book to pick up, not reading something most people have already read (and if they haven't, they didn't want to in the first place, like myself).
I think it just comes down to the fact that the picks this year weren't stellar.


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