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Heather O’Neill, championing The Future by Catherine Leroux, wins Canada Reads 2024 | CBC Books – best news

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A woman with short hair wearing a flowy white top hold up the book The Future.
Award-winning author Heather O’Neill wins Canada Reads 2024. She championed the novel The Future by Catherine Leroux, translated by Susan Ouriou. (Joanna Roselli/CBC)

After a thoughtful few days of debates, Heather O’Neill has won Canada Reads 2024. The book she championed, The Future by Catherine Leroux, translated by Susan Ouriou, survived the elimination vote on March 7, 2024. 

Novelist, short story writer and essayist O’Neill successfully argued that The Future best fits the theme as “one book to carry us forward.” 

The Future is set in an alternate history of Detroit where the French never surrendered the city to the U.S. Its residents deal with poverty, pollution and a legacy of racism. When Gloria, a woman looking for answers about her missing granddaughters, arrives in the city, she finds a kingdom of orphaned and abandoned children who have created their own society. The Future is the translation of Leroux’s French-language novel L’Avenir.

“Leroux reverses the dystopian genre and makes it into the idea that disaster can actually herald change and that we’re living in a time of great catastrophe, all of us, all over the world,” said O’Neill during the finale. “It’s hard to watch the news, but there is a way for us to come together as a community and come out of that. And I feel that idea of hope.”

“Winning Canada Reads in a year that deals with the particular theme of the future and how to carry forward is so meaningful to me,” said Leroux told CBC. “In writing this book, disseminating it and meeting readers over the years, I’ve continued to think about the very question that started it all: how do we look towards the future, how do we go forward? I hope that the answers I offer in the book will inspire Canadians all around.”

LISTEN | Heather O’Neill and Catherine Leroux discuss The Future:  

The Next Chapter24:50Canada Reads panelist Heather O’Neill and The Future author Catherine Leroux discuss the annual battle of the books

Acclaimed Montreal writer and past Canada Reads-winning author Heather O’Neill on why she chose to champion fellow Quebecer Catherine Leroux’s novel The Future in this year’s debate. Leroux shares what inspired her to create a dystopian, French-speaking version of Detroit.

Previously, The Future won the Jacques-Brossard Award for speculative fiction. 

Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji was the runner-up. Actor Kudakwashe Rutendo championed the linked short story collection. 

Shut Up You’re Pretty is a short fiction collection that tells stories of a young woman coming of age in the 21st century in Scarborough, Ont. The disarming, punchy and observant stories follow her as she watches someone decide to shave her head in an abortion clinic waiting room, bonds with her mother over fish and contemplates her Congolese traditions at a wedding. 

Ultimately, Shut Up You’re Pretty lost to The Future in a 4-1 vote on the final day. 

O’Neill is is the first person to win Canada Reads as both an author and a contender. Her debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals was a Giller finalist and won Canada Reads 2007 when it was defended by musician John K. Samson. In 2013, La Ballade de Baby, the French translation of Lullabies for Little Criminals was defended by journalist Brendan Kelly on Radio-Canada’s Combat des Livres which is the French version of Canada Reads.

O’Neill was also the first back-to-back finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for The Girl Who Was Saturday Night in 2014 and her short story collection Daydreams of Angels in 2015. 

Her novel The Lonely Hearts Hotel won the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and was longlisted for Canada Reads 2021. When We Lost Our Heads is her most recent novel that follows two extraordinary young women — Marie Antoine and Sadie Arnett — 19th century aristocrats living in Montreal’s wealthiest neighbourhood, the Golden Mile.

The 2024 Canada Reads winner brought a reflective and anecdotal perspective to the debates, both making a strong case for The Future and acknowledging the merits of the other books in contention. And while density of The Future‘s prose was a major point of discussion in the finale, O’Neill felt that it added to what makes the book so special. 

“I feel like Canada can handle this book,” O’Neill said. “Yes, sometimes you have to go back and read a line again. Yes, you may have to pause and think about things, but I just want Canada to have a challenge.”

Leroux is a writer, translator and journalist from Montreal. She was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize for The Party Wall, which is an English translation of her French-language short story collection Le mur mitoyen. Leroux won the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for English to French translation for her translation of Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. 

Ouriou is a French and Spanish to English translator, a fiction writer and a playwright. She has previously won the Governor General’s Literary Award for translation for her work. She lives in Calgary. 

A portrait of the cast of Canada Reads 2024 in the television studio.
The cast of Canada Reads 2024, from left to right: Naheed Nenshi, Kudakwashe Rutendo, Dallas Soonias, Heather O’Neill and Mirian Njoh. (Joanna Roselli/CBC)

The other three books were eliminated earlier in the week. Romance novel Meet Me at the Lake by Carley Fortune, championed by Mirian Njoh, was eliminated on Day One. Denison Avenue by Christina Wong and Daniel Innes, defended by Naheed Nenshi, was eliminated on Day Two. Bad Cree by Jessica Johns, championed by Dallas Soonias, was eliminated on Day Three. 

This year’s show was hosted by Ali Hassan. The contenders and their chosen books were:

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