Cat's Crossing, and list of Toronto-related fiction

February 12, 2008, [MD]

I’ve always loved reading literature or watching TV-series/movies about cities and places where I have been/are. When attending high school in Italia, it was a special treat reading a novel in Italian where the protagonist would explain that his mother was from Trieste, and his father from Milano… I lived close to Trieste, and I knew about the connotations - what it “meant” to have a father from Trieste. Or a mother from Milano. I love watching movies from Oslo, the joy of recognizing the street cars and the subway, the shopping center I also used to shop at. It’s also interesting to read books about professors at the university of Oslo - gives me the possibility to peer into someone else’s life, who share the same physical space with me.

I firmly believe that humans want their lives to be reflect… we want to recognize ourselves, and our places. Fiction helps create a sense of place, space, belonging. What is “Toronto” except a random jumble of houses and streets? It’s fun to walk around in Lund, Sweden and think of all the places that are mentioned in the Wallander detective novels. When moving around a lot, trying to read local newspapers (not just national ones!) and local fiction is a great way of “getting under the skin” of a new place. I have long been saddened by the lack of good movies or TV shows coming out of Toronto - that are proudly Torontonian, showcasing their city instead of hiding it. Luckily one doesn’t need a huge budget to write a book, and so I am often much more easily able to find a book about whatever I want to read about, than I am to find a film.

I have randomly come across a few books set in Toronto - Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow is set in Kensington Market, one of my favorite spots in Toronto, and where I used to live - I loved being able to look up the street address of the main character on Google Maps (I read it while in Mexico). However, without someone guiding you, it’s not easy to find Toronto-specific books. So when I came across a list of novels set in Toronto on Toronto Reads, I first wanted to blog about it, but then I decided to compress the entire post and all the comments into a simple list, and post it to Wikipedia. List of fiction set in Toronto was born. Hopefully others will add to it - especially movies would be great. Since I put it up a few days ago, someone has already added a collection of short stories, which is great. In the absence of page counters on Wikipedia, someone editing a page is pretty much the only way you know someone actually visited it.

I also ordered a few of the books at the UofT library, and just picked up three of them. I finished the first one, Cat’s Crossing by Bill Cameron on a few trips back and forth to UTSC on the subway, and it was a great read. It tells the stories of intertwining personal tales, with the unlikely protagonist being a cat (I am sure there is a Wikipedia page with “List of fiction told from a cat’s point of view” somewhere) that runs away from it’s overclass home, through the Toronto ravines and encounters a gaggle of interesting creatures, but there is also the rags to riches tale of a butcher, the cynical cop prowling the streets, a retired teacher sinking ever deeper into confusion, a wonderful apothecary, a TV personality… Sometimes I felt like the way of telling the story, and portraying the characters reminded me of a book written 50-80 years ago, like some of those early great American novels that I would borrow from my grandmother’s bookshelf and read as a young boy.

You often forget that he is writing about Toronto - but then it is brought right back to you. In fact, the whole city itself almost becomes a protagonist, it’s waterways described in scatological detail, it’s flows and pulses like veins pulsing through the fabric of the city, as if the city was a living breathing organism, sick and dirty the staggers forwards feeding off itself.

In the end, it was a great read, and I would love to check out other books by the same author, if he has written any. But in the meantime, I have two more Toronto novels waiting for me - and hopefully more to come. And I hope the list will keep expanding as I read of course. One thing I’d particularly like is to expand it to cover fiction about Toronto originally written in different languages - I remember reading a Chinese novel about Toronto, with a murder victim found dead in a hotel at Niagara, and the hero being a journalist in a Chinese newspaper office on Spadina. With such an incredibly diverse population, there is fiction written and shot about Toronto in all kinds of languages, and it would be great to make this more visible and accessible.

(thanks to Cold Cut @ flickr for the Toronto skyline photo)

Stian Håklev February 12, 2008 Toronto, Canada
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