1. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
The 1970 novel by a Canadian playwright and professor Fifth Business has been named one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Depicting a character named Ramsay and his interest in saints, the novel is written in epistolary form — through letters written by Ramsay recounting the past. The story begins in the small Canadian town of Deptford but eventually follows Ramsay into the big city of Toronto. With good reason, you can find Fifth Business in the hands of Canadian students across the country, proclaimed one of the greatest works of Canadian literature. It is a novel that is both classic and contemporary, with themes as applicable today as in 1970.
2. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
Victoria college alumni Margaret Atwood has become one of the most internationally recognized Canadian authors. She has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, with one win, and has published dozens of books, including novels, short fiction, and poetry collections. Cat’s Eye is her 1988 novel about a painter named Elaine Risley, who reminisces about her life in Canada from World War II to the late 1980s, when she is asked to display her art in Toronto. It is a haunting story that remains heart-wrenching long after you have finished reading it, as it goes into detail of Elaine’s struggles and torments throughout her life. With this illustration of the agonies and alienation of young girls, Margaret Atwood is spot on. Cat's Eye is a must-read.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Gaining popularity since the 2010 film hit theaters, Scott Pilgrim is a graphic novel series about a young Canadian who has to defeat “seven evil exes” to be with Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams. Scott goes through a series of hilarious events, all while telling the story of a hopelessly romantic, 22-year-old, Canadian boy, bass guitarist of his band Sex Bob-omb. Set in Toronto, the graphic novel and movie alike show scenes of Toronto’s downtown streets, streetcars bustling by, and familiar storefronts. The series is great for graphic novel enthusiasts or video game lovers, but anyone who enjoys witty humour and an enthralling story will be hooked after Volume 1. The film is worth checking out, with a screenplay written by O’Malley and music featuring Canadian artists like Metric and Broken Social Scene.
4. The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper
A dark, unpleasant, dystopian view of Toronto is the setting of Pyper’s novel The Killing Circle. In this psychological thriller, Patrick Rush is a journalist who gets caught up in the mystery of a brutal murderer in the city who sneers at police with puzzling notes. Pyper does an extraordinary job recounting every reader’s nightmares as one compelling story, developing a part suspense, part thriller tale that will keep you up for countless nights. The New York Times selected this novel, Pyper’s fourth, as one of the notable crime novels of 2008. Pyper, who grew up in Stratford and studied at the University of Toronto, describes the city's atmosphere in a way that will have you looking over your shoulder at night.
5. Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj
Maharaj’s novel explores what it means to be a Canadian, and more specifically an immigrant Canadian. Samuel, a Trinidadian teenager, moves to Toronto to be with his long-lost father, who lives in Regent Park, a gloomy and run-down district in Toronto. In this “big mall of a country,” Samuel seeks guidance as he explores the big city and the curious people within it. Maharaj is able to portray a new perspective of the Canadian immigrant story that hits close to home, where a child is left to discover and explore a country on his own, trying to figure out how to adapt to a widely foreign place. Because Toronto is such a multicultural city, Maharaj gives an accurate description of a metropolis that can be really scary and bleak for a newcomer, and he tells the story of Samuel’s expatriate journey in a fascinating and compelling way.