Consolation, Michael Redhill's haunting historical novel connecting Toronto's cultural amnesia to its shifting topography and lost archival history, has won the 2007 Toronto Book Award. Redhill received the news and an $11,000 cheque just one day before the Man Booker Prize (for which Consolation is already one of thirteen longlisted works) announces its shortlist.
If there is a single theme linking the finalists for this year's Toronto Book Award, it is history and the persistence of memory despite the erosions of time. Consolation, for example, pairs neatly with the wonderfully chosen archival images and fascinating historical texts of Sally Gibson's excellent Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors 1880s to 1920s (Cormorant). Similarly, Geoffrey James' photographic book, Toronto (Douglas & Mcintyre), captures a Toronto that seems almost to flicker and vanish even as it appears on the page. Uptown Downtown (Battered Silicon Dispatch Box) reads like a swan song for Toronto's eighty-something unofficial poet laureate Raymond Souster, its poems celebrating the present even amid its philosopher's shrewd perspective on the past (how greatly and yet how little we have changed, the poems seem to say). Vincent Lam's Giller Prize-winning story collection, Bloodletting & Other Miraculous Cures (Anchor) is perhaps the odd book out, although its comingling of ambition and mortality suit it to the list ("Gravity shapes everything," observes one of the characters, a comment suited equally to architecture as people).
Since 1974 the Toronto Book Awards have accumulated a valuable archive of Toronto's literary heritage while (at the same time) underscoring our city's cultural amnesia. Indeed, it is possible to trace the development of this city as vividly through its literature as by transformations in its architecture. In many cases the words have lasted longer than the buildings.
[This commentary first appeared at Reading Toronto.]