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.