Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

The Triumph of Memoir

Oct 30, 2018

Congratulations to Darrel McLeod whose memoir, Mamaskatch, has won the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

I cannot help noting that each of the five finalists for this year's award is a memoir. I am not sure what that says about non-fiction writing in the country, if anything. Several years ago I was a member of a jury deciding on Canada Council grants to non-fiction writers and I recall how many of the applicants were writing memoirs. Where were the historians, the biographers, the science writers, I wondered? But my fellow jurors, one of whom was a memoirist himself, did not think it was a very important question.

Not that I have anything against memoir as a genre. I read them regularly. Two of the best books I read this year belong to the genre: Susan Faludi's provocative story of her transgendered father, In the Darkroom, and Susan Crean's difficult account of her family's Chinese servant, Finding Mr. Wong.

But still, five out of five certainly suggests that for the time being at least memoir has become our favourite form of non-fiction reading. Naturally, as a writer of history, I'd prefer to see some history titles in the mix. But I accept that these things go in cycles. Maybe next year.