Canadian whimsy and a review in subtitles: Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

daydreams-of-angelsThis book in a nutshell:

Short stories, some funny and some sad but mostly sad; Giller Prize shortlister this year; whimsical tales with a whiff of magic realism; sweet and subtle CanLit in tiny, flavourful bites.

Other works and awards from Heather O’Neill:

  • Lullabies for Little Criminals (Canada Reads winner in 2007, Governor General’s Award shortlister 2007)
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (Giller Prize shortlister 2014)

A sampling of story titles from this collection: 

“The Gypsy and the Bear”
“The Dreamlife of Toasters”
“The Saddest Chorus Girl in the World”
“The Holy Dove Parade”
“The Wolf-boy of Northern Quebec”

A repeated trope I loved:

Grandparents as storytellers and purveyors of tall tales; the idea that narrative can be inherited, passed down from generation to generation, trusted if not entirely believed.

A repeated trope I disliked:

Listlessly sad women protagonists; women protagonists without passion or drive who are whirled around by circumstances and other people without an iota of control; women who are treated badly through and through – by stepfathers, sisters, and the people they love.

Best lines:

“Was a piece of paper with a daydream transcribed on it any more concrete than the daydream itself?”

“He was probably going to get a vicious strain of Canadian clap that no doctor would be able to cure.”

“She thought it was only a fairy tale that you could drink yourself to death.”

Final thoughts:

I prefer to read short stories one by one and digest them over time, and when I’m faced with a beautifully thick collection I feel the need to read them in a chunk- which is why I generally avoid short stories collected together in book form.

I originally wasn’t totally convinced that this should be a Giller Prize shortlister, but O’Neill’s sweet and subtle Canadian undertones give these short stories a wonderful colour – something I wish I could see more of in CanLit. I don’t know if I see it taking the big prize, but I’m glad to see it on the shortlist and I recommend it for short story lovers everywhere.


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