The characters of the English patient and Kip in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient each employ different strategies of identity relating to nation and empire. These mirror the opposing strategies for criticism of Canadian literature. Robert Kroetsch "argues for a resistance to privileged metanarratives," but with a kind of homogenization of ethnic experience; Alison Conway and Linda Hutcheon argue against this homogenization, insisting that ethnic difference is crucial, and that "a double construction of ethnicity as social condition and as literary category…define[s] a coherent national literature." Ondaatje's novel—unlike the movie based upon it—privileges the idea of difference, interrogating the inclusive Romance of the English patient's love story as itself a metanarrative generated from imperial authority.
Jane Urquhart's The Underpainter takes a different approach than most Great War novels: it does not presume the implied authority of combatant's accounts, like Generals Die in Bed, but nor does it interrogate the war novel as a postmodern pastiche, as in Timothy Findley's The Wars. She presents a realistically conceived persona, while nevertheless questioning the authority of the unengaged artist to represent an historical event. Her extensive use of historical data is not applied in a postmodern method, but is rather inspiration for a fiction that refuses to grant itself full authority. Urquhart's The Stone Carversis similarly concerned with the paradoxical combination of control and detachment in the relationship between the artist and her work.
Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese and Mazo de la Roche's Jalna were both prize-winning, wildly successful novels, in the United States as well as in Canada, but each received a rather different critical response in this country. Jalna's suggestive anti-Americanism and its explicit British loyalism was evidently to be preferred over Wild Geese's more ambiguously North American (as opposed to what was then considered distinctly Canadian) aesthetic. This is despite its easy fit into T.D. Maclulich's classification as a Canadian "Northern" fiction (a tradition which includes Frederick Philip Grove, Ernest Buckler, Sinclair Ross, and others). As well, the intense and often violent eroticism of Ostenso's novel was more difficult for critics of the 1920s to tolerate than was the coy sexiness of Jalna. Although little critical attention has been paid to either author in recent years, Ostenso's literary reputation appears to have surpassed de la Roche's.
Alice Munro's epistolary narrative "A Wilderness Station," like all narratives, contains a subtext to be decoded, in which two or more readers (both Munro's readers and the fictional addressees) are addressed in different ways within the same text. The reader is invited to reappraise various official versions of a local history through the act of decoding the message in the letters. While critics like Ildiko de Papp Carrington read disingenuousness in the "letters" of Annie McKillop—indeed, see the subtext as suggestive of sinister motives and sexual crimes—a careful reading of Munro's characterization suggests the character's honesty. The distortions are those of social convention, in which the official version of history seems to be given precedence; it is these that are to be viewed with suspicion, rather than the character's motives.
Simultaneously a meditation on death and an enacted ritual towards renewal and consolation, the poems in Lola Lemire Tostevin's Cartouches are a tribute to the power of languages to provide a negotiation through grief and understanding, using the poet's Egyptian pilgrimage as the crucial point of journey and intuitive comprehension. Ruminating on the sacralization of death and renewal in another culture, Tostevin navigates grief and consolation through language and ritual. Hieroglyphs have "intuitive or emotional knowledge," and the Isis hieroglyph is invoked as part of the ritual of consolation, as a life-symbol rather than as a death-symbol. What evolves is a found site for interaction with the dead, and a renewal based on bodily inscription.
Brian Bartlett discusses the appeal of musicality, of subtle emotional impact, and of cataloguing oddities in poetry. Finding significance in the minutiae of nature and life is both comforting and important, and is a fine topic for poetry, though the ferocity of wind and sea is always fascinating as well. Poems are not only and always a matter of exclusion, of cutting out, but can be good vehicles for including a great multiplicity of ideas and images and sounds. Both long and short poems have their own distinct types of power and charm.