National Post columnist Barbara Kay really has it in for novelist Lisa Moore. The one-sided feud began last July, when Kay responded to Post reporter Katherine Laidlaw’s “gushy” profile of the two-time Giller Prize nominee, calling Moore’s most recent novel, February, “unreadably Canadian,” a prime example of the “navel-gazing narrative stasis” that defines Canadian literature. “Welcome to the unrelenting self-regard of CanLit,” Kay wrote, “where it’s all about nobly suffering women or feminized men.”
The only catch was that Kay had yet to read the book in question. However, the opinionated journalist rectified the situation on her summer vacation, reading February and a handful of other literary titles sent to her by Moore’s publisher, House of Anansi Press. Not surprisingly, Kay’s summer reading only confirmed her assumptions about the novel’s unmanly approach to character and plot. “February is 99% writerly foreplay, 1% readerly orgasm,” she writes:
Moore is an enormously talented writer, but like so many others of her sensitive, creative workshopped-to-death ilk, a writer’s writer privileging an artistic, leisured rendering of memory and feeling over prole-friendly dialogue, action and, above all, plot.
According to Kay, the woeful state of CanLit can be blamed on the impact that feminism has had on the industry (Canadian publishing is “highly feminized by comparison to 40 years ago,” she observes) and indulgent public-sector grants, which encourage writers to “start writing for bureaucrats, academics, theorists and literary elites, not for flesh and blood readers,” Kay argues.
Of course, it’s impossible to take seriously a critic whose pre-judgments are so ingrained and politically charged. Unfortunately for Moore, any number of authors could have stood in as the target of Kay’s screed.