2009 Giller shortlist; Booker winner

Well, both halves of today’s book prize announcements confirm past practice — KevinfromCanada and prize juries don’t have much in common. I liked Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room for the Booker but Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall wins — not really a surprise when you consider the historical novels that were on the short list. As for the Giller, of the four books I listed as my favorites in a comment yesterday, not one made the 2009 Giller Prize shortlist (although the two I had tied for fifth both did). I’m still quite happy with the list, admittedly because it does not include Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, a book that I was very much not looking forward to reading. Four of the five have been reviewed here — the fifth has been read by Shadow juror Alison Gzowski and I’ll try to get a full review up here next week. The shortlist:

echlinThe Disappeared, Kim Echlin

A young Montreal woman falls in love with a Cambodian and follows him back to his home during the era of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields. A very readable book, perhaps lacking in depth for me — I read it some months ago when it first appeared so I may need to revisit it before Nov. 10 prize day. Full review here.

lyonThe Golden Mean, Anabel Lyon

A story concerning Aristotle and his young pupil, Alexander (not yet The Great), it is the only finalist that I have not read. Shadow jury member Alison Gzowski has and here are thumbnail thoughts: “The golden mean is the perfect balance between extremes, and in this case Aristotle and Alexander are those extremes, a lonely man of ideas, an immoderate young man of action. There’s a “cast in order of appearance” at the front (a list of the characters and how they relate) as the beginning does introduce quite a number. The main ones though are Aristotle, his wife and of course Alexander. Lyon does a good job of putting the reader in that place and time and, as reviewers have noted, of getting inside Aristotle’s head. I liked the women in the book – Aristotle’s wife Pythias and their tart-tongued slave.” I’ll try to get my review up as quickly as possible.

macintyreThe Bishop’s Man, Linden MacIntyre

A novel that has become very topical — the real-life Bishop of Antigonish (who is the fictional bishop of the title) resigned recently after being charged with two counts of possessing pornography. The bishop’s man of the title is an “exorcist” responsible for disciplining wayward priests. That chore and his return to a parish in his native Cape Breton Island have produced a crisis of confidence and identity, surfacing a number of past conflicts. I didn’t love it by any means but can certainly see its appeal . Full review here.

mcadamFall, Colin McAdam

A “school” novel set in Ottawa, the central character is 17-year old Noel, son of a Canadian diplomat, and his relationship with Julius, the son of the U.S. ambassador to Canada. The “Fall” of the title is Fallon, the beautiful female student whom most of the male students have crushes on. I like school novels (and McAdam’s first novel as well) and was quite looking forward to it — for me, however, the execution did not work and this was the most disappointing of the four shortlist books that I have read. Full review here..

michaelsThe Winter Vault, Anne Michaels

Avery Escher is an engineer, in charge of moving the temple of Abu Simbel from its original location on the Nile which will be flooded when the Aswan Dam is completed. Many communities also need to be resettled. His Canadian wife, Jean, is with him — the two had met on a somewhat similar project, the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada, which also dislocated communities. The second part of the book moves to Toronto and, in its own way, explores the dislocation of Warsaw caused by the Nazis. I found the first part strong, the latter weak — it has been many months since I read it and I do plan a reread in the next few weeks. Full original review here.

Shadow Giller international judge Trevor Berrett has not read any of these books but is eager to meet the challenge in the next five weeks and will be posting reviews on his blog, The Mookse and the Gripes. I will be posting excerpts from his reviews here (along with some additional comments of my own) and our fellow Shadow juror Alison will offer occasional comments on both sites. Comments from visitors — on books already reviewed here and on Trevor’s reviews — are certainly welcome. The Shadow Giller jury will be announcing its winner in advance of the Real Giller decision on Nov. 10.

Hilary Mantel has won the 2009 Booker Prize for Wolf Hall. I did not like the book but cannot say that I am surprised at the decision — when three long historical novels are on the short list, you have to think that represents the jury’s taste. I can certainly understand why people like the book, but it is not one that suits my taste. On the other hand, that is a question of taste not judgment — if you like historical fiction, it is a fine book.

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19 Responses to “2009 Giller shortlist; Booker winner”

  1. bookermt Says:

    Kevin
    How would you rate this year’s crop? The Booker was I think one of the better years. The inclusion of Fall perhaps indicates to an outsider a less than vintage year?
    I’m looking forward to the Echlin which looks intriguing and I’ll read your review when I’ve finished it.
    I notice the Macintyre is going to be out in the Uk in March published by Cape I believe but not sure the Lyon has a UK publisher yet.

    Not at all surprised the Mantel won the Booker though it was not my favourite.

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    For those who have missed it, bookermt was the 2008 international judge on the Shadow jury — we chose Barnacle Love which was in a virtual tie with the Real jury choice, Through Black Spruce.

    Thanks for the question, bookermt, because I have been thinking about it. There is no short story collection this year which means I have nothing to compare to Barnacle Love. Spruce and The Bishop’s Man do have some grounds for comparison — I liked Spruce better, but that might just be me. The Michaels and Lyon do give this year’s list more history (although The Boys in the Trees did fill that role last year).

    So I would say the lists are comparable. My personal tastes would have a preference for last year’s list (then again, my top four choices did not make this year’s shortlist) but I don’t think there is a huge difference.

    As for the Booker, I agree that it was a good year for overall quality. Once we saw the tilt to long historical novels that was apparent in the longlist and confirmed in the short, I would have been surprised if Wolf Hall had not won. Clearly, the jury had a taste for historical fiction (that’s an observation, not a criticism) and I don’t think any judge can completely set aside his or her taste. And of the historical works, Mantel was the best — even though it would not have been my choice. I struggled with it but I still think it is a better book than some recent winners.

  3. KevinfromCanada Says:

    One more note, bookermt. I don’t usually turn to American fiction until after the Giller, but I can already say that Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic means my favorite new book for 2009 will be American (it is reviewed elsewhere on this blog). I have Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs on order and it has received very good reviews as well.

  4. bookermt Says:

    I was going to ask you about the Russo as I know you like his work. I’m ashamed to admit he has passed me by but the shortness of the new one makes it an appealing one to start with.
    The Moore has received wonderful reviews in the UK and is on my list to buy.

  5. KevinfromCanada Says:

    The Russo is a wonderful book, whether or not you have read any of his previous novels.

  6. Rick P Says:

    I loved Russo’s Empire Falls. I’ve read a number of Amazon reviews where some Russo fans seemed to prefer Straight Man and Nobody’s Fool.

    For my next Russo choice, do you think That Old Cape Magic would be the better way to go or to go back to some of the older titles?

  7. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Rick: I like all Russo’s books, so my advice may not be of much value.

    If the part of Empire Falls that you liked best was Russo’s portrayal of the dying town, I’d say Nobody’s Fool would be your next choice — it is set in a declining upstate New York town and that is an important element of the story.

    If it was the offbeat characters you like best, Straight Man is a good choice. It is an “academic” novel with some very funny college politics — shows Russo’s satirical side very well.

    I do think That Old Cape Magic (reviewed here) is the best next choice — it has satire, humor, some pathos and some wonderful description.

    Having said that, I like Russo well enough that I don’t think you can go wrong with any choice. And plan on reading the others in the future. Actually, add The Bridge of Sighs into the mix for consideration — it is another very good novel.

  8. Rick P Says:

    Thanks, Kevin.

    I think it was the characters in Empire Falls. They were offbeat without being caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the town matriarch, Mrs. Whiting. She was an ominiscient character and without being in the book much, she still was a constant force.

    I’ll pick up That Old Cape Magic. Wolf Hall is next though. I generally try to read the Booker winner whether or not it sounds like I’ll like it.

    I’ve also ordered Summertime as I love Coetzee. You and several others have been so positive on The Glass Room that I’m sure I’ll get to it in the future.

    Currently reading Vernon God Little which so far I truly and deeply dislike.

  9. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Rick: I liked Vernon God Little but would be the first to acknowledge that it is not to everyone’s taste. I think you’ll find That Old Cape Magic to be a much more satisfying book.

    Wolf Hall was not to my taste, but that says more about my tastes than it does about the book — certainly those who like it really like it. And if you like Coetzee I am sure you will like Summertime — my only comment would be to advise reading it as a novel (at least the first time through) and not try to figure out which parts really are autobiography (save that for the second read — it deserves at least two).

    I did like The Glass Room a lot, but it is not perfect.

    Please do return with comments when you do get to any of these.

    • Rick P Says:

      Finished Vernon God Little. I guess since I didn’t find it funny then it just didn’t work for me. Even done as a biting satire, too much Jerry Springer culture just doesn’t interest me.

      Halfway through Wolf Hall. It’s a surprisingly quick read and is competent historical fiction. It definitely won’t be a top favourite of mine though.

      Very much looking forward to going Boyhood, Youth and then Summertime next.

  10. Kerry Says:

    Kevin,

    I am disappointed none of your selections (or my two favorites based on your reviews) made it to the Giller shortlist. Oh well. I am looking forward to the rest of the Shadow Jury coverage, however.

    I also have not read Russo, but will probably start with That Old Cape Magic as I plan to try to keep up with the Tournament of Books, this year and it does not sound like it is a bad place to start. I am not finished with Lorrie Moore’s book yet, but so far it is very, very good. I will have a review up next week, at the latest.

  11. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Well, it does keep my Prize record intact and I am disappointed about both The Incident Report and Valmiki’s Daughter. I sure hope I have put the jinx on That Old Cape Magic — it is a very good book. And I look forward to your review of the Moore, which I’ll get into as soon as it arrives.

  12. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Interesting shortlist, I’m looking forward to your writeup of The Golden Mean, that sounds very interesting.

    I wasn’t much taken by this year’s Booker list, but that may merely reflect my relative lack of interest in historical fiction.

    Right, I’m off to reread your The Winter Vault review, or possibly read – I may have missed it first time round.

  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: Given your visits (both reading and travelling) to North Africa, I would be very interested in your opinions of The Winter Vault, if you ever get to it. Michaels’ language got in the way of my appreciation of the book — I suspect someone who is less sensitive than I am to the language (I’m not a poetry reader, I admit) might find much more to the novel than I did.

  14. Rick P Says:

    I noticed the National Book Award nominees came out today. The NBAs often pick quite an interesting selection of novels.

    I loved last year’s winner Peter Mathiessen’s Shadow Country.

    One of the nominated novels is by Paul Theroux’s son and sounds very similar to McCarthy’s The Road.

    I wondered if you cover the NBAs, Kevin.

  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I’ve read and reviewed the McCann (quite liked it) and will probably read Lark and Termite and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I read all the NBA finalists last year but don’t think I’ll try it this year — I admit to being a little “prized” out and the other two on the NBA list don’t really interest me.

  16. Rick P Says:

    Thanks, Kevin.

    As always, I look forward to your reviews. The effort that you put in on the Booker and Giller longlists is very much appreciated and very helpful. This is especially so since I ,like many book lovers, have huge backlogs of books that I have purchased and am looking forward to reading. I can see why your prized out.

    I’m going to attempt the Booker shortlist next year.

    Thanks again for the effort and insight.

  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Thanks, Rick. I do enjoy following the Booker and Giller. And I probably will end up reading the entire G-G fiction shortlist since I have four of the five already and Debra Willis’ collection (Vanishing and Other Stories) had already hit my radar.

    I don’t know if you are aware of the Debate section of the Man Booker site (here’s a link). It is invaluable if you intend to follow the Booker — you’ll see that there is already a thread on possible 2010 contenders. It was my participation there that convinced me to get into blogging — there are a number of very good contributors (who have blogs) from around the world. And if you live in North America and intend to follow the Booker, get ready to become a customer of The Book Depository — in most years only half the shortlist has been released in North America, so their free worldwide shipping is a major factor in budget control. Having said that, it is kind of fun to be well ahead of the North American game in reading good books.

  18. Rick P Says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the GG nominations. I try to read those winners as well. I guess Alice Munro didn’t think to withdraw from consideration. I went to high school with Michael Crummey and amazingly I’ve yet to read one of his books.

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