Booker 2010 shortlist; 2010 Shadow Giller Jury plans

The official 2010 Booker shortlist (alphabetically by author — click on title to link to my original review):

Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey
Room, by Emma Donoghue
In A Strange Room, by Damon Galgut
The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
The Long Song, by Andrea Levy
C, by Tom McCarthy

Since the jury agreed with my top three choices, I can hardly complain. On the other hand, my last two choices — Room and The Finkler Question — also made the list, although I did correctly predict that Room would be there. So I guess it could be said that 2010 was the year that KfC “bookended the Booker” shortlist.

Surprises for me on the shortlist:

1. All three longlist novels that I would call “literary” — Galgut, McCarthy, Jacobson — made the list. Except for Donoghue, none of the “story” novels did (Warner, Murray, Tsiolkas, Dunmore, Tremain, Moore). Given that more than half the longlist were “story” novels, it surprised me that only one advanced when all three literary titles did. One can only conclude that the jury has a stronger “literary” tilt than the longlist suggested.

2. Historical novels always show up on the Booker shortlist and I expected two to be there. Like just about everyone else, however, I expected David Mitchell to be one of them. I suspect this jury really doesn’t like media-hyped authors — they didn’t even let Ian McEwan and Martin Amis on the longlist and now have dropped Mitchell at the shortlist stage.

3. Obviously, the inclusion of Jacobson (whose novel I called “dreadful” after abandoning it 200 pages in) was a surprise to me. I’ve promised to give it another try and after a few days of ridding myself of negative thoughts I will. If the reread is better, I promise a review — if my opinion remains negative, I’ll just update the other one. There is no way I am going to rubbish a book twice.

The Prize won’t be announced until Oct. 12 which means five more weeks of speculation, but I’ll start it up with some initial predictions (which I reserve the right to change). I suspect the literary tilt of the shortlist will be repeated in the final choice — and that that will be Damon Galgut’s In A Small Room (there — I have definitely doomed it to failure). The McCarthy, while ambitious, simply has too many weaknesses, the Jacobson’s second half (even from most who like it) too boring.

The presence of Room, however, indicates at least one juror (and probably more) has much different tastes, which may lead to a compromise — and a historical novel as Booker winner is always acceptable. I think Carey’s book is just too weak (besides, its about America and Booker juries don’t seem to like that) so would not be surprised to see The Long Song emerge (there, I’ve damned it too). Other theories are, of course, welcome in comments. The Booker reading may be almost done, but the real debate has just started.

    2010 SHADOW GILLER PRIZE JURY PLANS

With my Booker reading virtually complete, the blog will be turning its attention to Canadian fiction and the 17th annual Scotiabank Giller Prize, the country’s leading literary competition. I am pleased to announce that this will also be the 16th year for the Shadow Giller Jury, whose unofficial home will be both this blog and Trevor Berrett at the Mookse and the Gripes

A short bit of Shadow Giller history. The first Shadow jury came together throught pure happenstance — I was publisher of the Calgary Herald at the time (1995) and ran into our book editor (now an author) Ken McGoogan and Calgary author Robert Hilles in the newsroom the day before the second winner of the Giller Prize was to be announced. We chatted about the “new” prize and discovered that each of us had recently spent time with one of that year’s three Giller judges — Mordecai Richler, Jane Urquhart and David Staines. So we had a 15-minute judging session and named Rohinton Mistry as winner of the first Shadow Giller prize for A Fine Balance (which is still my favorite book), a decision echoed by the Real Jury the next day.

Doris Giller

We’ve missed a few years, but there has been a Shadow Giller jury just about every year since and Giller founder and financer Jack Rabinovitch, who set the prize up in honor of his late wife, Doris, has recognized our efforts in a few of his speeches at the annual banquet. Knowing the controversy that follows post-Booker announcements, the Shadow Jury has always committed itself to announcing its decision before the Real Jury makes theirs — if you want to earn the right to criticize, you have to put your own opinion forward first. We will be doing that again this year.

While the Giller is restricted to Canadian authors, the jury is not — this year’s Real jury will be chaired by Canadian journalist Michael Enright but his colleagues will be British novelist and critic Ali Smith and U.S. novelist Claire Messud. This year’s Shadow Jury will be the same as last year’s — I will be joined by Alison Gzowski, former producer of CBC Radio’s Talking Books, and Trevor Berrett, New Jersey-based blogger from the Mookse and the Gripes.

While I will be reviewing as many Canadian novels as possible in advance of the longlist announcement on Sept. 20, the Shadow Jury will not be attempting to predict a longllist — the Giller has a tradition of recognizing books from small publishing houses and it just isn’t possible to do a fair sampling in advance of the longlist announcement. With the shortlist announcement on Oct. 5, we also cannot commit to all of us reading the entire longlist — there simply is not enough time, althougIwe will offer thoughts on worthy books for the shortlist. We will try to ensure that at least one of us gets around to each book on the longlist before Oct. 5 and I will do my best to eventually review every longlisted book on this site. I am also trying to design a contest that (if I can figure one out) will be announced here at the same time as the shortlist. I am negotiating with the Official Shadow Giller sponsor (Mrs. KfC who has paid for the Shadow jury gala lunch for several years) to extend her support of the prize to include the contest.

All three of us will read all of the shortlist — Trevor and I will supply complete reviews on our blogs and Alison (who doesn’t blog) will be commenting. In the long-established tradition of the Shadow Giller Jury, we will be announcing our winner on Friday, Nov. 5 — four days in advance of the official Giller Prize announcement on Nov. 9. Please join us in the experience and don’t hesitate to offer your opinions in comments.

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32 Responses to “Booker 2010 shortlist; 2010 Shadow Giller Jury plans”

  1. Shelley Says:

    Of course because of my work, your “literary” and “historical” would catch my eye–but I’m here today slightly off-topic because I think your literate readers around the world would enjoy a Canadian series I’ve just discovered on Netflix–Slings and Arrows. Funny, well-written, and some of the best Shakespeare snippets you’ll ever see!

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Mrs. KfC and I are quite interested in theatre and do own a copy of Slings and Arrows on DVD. For those who know the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, it was filmed there and the scenery is very good (although the company in the series does Shakespeare, not Shaw). Alas, we don’t share your high opinion of it as a series, Shelley, and abandoned about two-thirds of the way through. We may give it another go when Western Canadian winter arrives (which seems like it may be any day now).

  3. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Mrs KFC is pleased to announce that she will extend her sponsorship to include the contest.

  4. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) Says:

    LOL! I bookended the Booker too! My favourite was Room and I couldn’t even make it to the end of The Finkler Question or Parrot and Olivier.

    I guess this means a more literary novel will win. I think I’d put my money on Carey, simply because the book I can’t finish always seems to win :-)

  5. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Jackie: Jury chair Andrew Motion has helpfully explained why I didn’t like the Carey (who I had 8th or 9th on my list): “It’s like being alive at the same time as Dickens.” I’ve never liked Dickens, so I’d have to agree with Motion’s assessment.

    I suspect our bookending (although we have very different ends) is going to be reflected in the jury when they have to come down to a final choice.

  6. RickP Says:

    Kevin,

    I chuckled when I saw the short list and thought, “I guess Kevin’s going to have to finish the Jacobson.” If I was ever certain that a book was going to make the shortlist, it would have been the Mitchell. Major surprise!

    I tried to get a headstart on the shortlist by picking books that I thought had a good chance. I read seven but only two made the longlist so I’ve got four more to read. The only one I’m actually looking forward to is the McCarthy which I was always going to read.

    I’ll comment on the Carey after I’ve read it but I was very surprised at it’s inclusion. Most reviewers didn’t seem to think this would be the one that got him his third Booker.

    So far, my favourite is Galgut with only McCarthy being a possible to replace based on the opinions I’ve read.

    I’m a bit disappointed about Skippy Dies. I enjoyed it.

    I honestly don’t have a read on the winner. Like you, I’m hoping for galgut but give Levy a strong chance even though I didn’t love it.

  7. KevinfromCanada Says:

    RickP: Since you live in Toronto, you might appreciate this. The one thing that is making me look forward to going back to The Finkler Question is that I have just finished The Frumkiss Family Business by Toronto author Michael Wex. It’s about being Yiddish (the family patriarch emigrated as an adult in 1947) and growing up Yiddish in Toronto — Bathurst St. and Bathurst Manor in particularly are prominently featured (with excursions into richer friends in Forest Hill). I was chuckling and outright laughing through most of the book — unlike the despair I felt in Jacobson’s book, which others did find funny. I’m hoping that experience will equip with new eyes when I return to Finkler. If not, I am contemplating a compare and contrast review of the two (since I’ve already skedded Wex for Sept. 16).

  8. Crake Says:

    Kevin, I still can’t believe that David Mitchell wasn’t shortlisted!!

    You made a very good point regarding The Long Song, I agree that Andrea Levy has a good shot at winning.

    I’ve really enjoyed your Booker coverage and really can’t wait for the Giller Prize.

  9. winstonsdad Says:

    I was shocked Mitchell missed cut ,Jacobson was expecting ,think Motion might be a fan of his writing sure heard him mention him a couple of timnes over the years ,love the shadow giller ,bit like the not the booker here ,all the best stu

  10. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Crake, stu: Here’s my theory on the Mitchell. The book has enough weaknesses (it was a lukewarm fifth on my list, Trevor at the Mookse and Gripes liked it even less than me) that someone arguing strongly against it could persuade the rest of the jury to leave it off. Particularly if Levy and Carey had strong advocates — three historical novels would be a bit much. So away he goes. Interesting data about Jacobson/Motion, stu. I read somewhere today that Motion said the shortlist features the funniest novel he had read in a long time — which could only mean Jacobson, a book that I didn’t find funny at all. Others did, however, so maybe I was just in a very grumpy mood that day.

  11. leemonks Says:

    I think that the weaknesses in the McCarthy will be overlooked and that mention will be made of it being a bold, innovative book of ideas etc. I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t have been relinquished by now if that weren’t the case: there’s nothing else remotely like it on there and I have a sense that it’s Motion’s favoured book. I think it’s between that and Room as it stands. All idle speculation of course…and I have now doubly-doomed ‘C’…

  12. leemonks Says:

    Although, looking at Motion’s Jacobson comment, that could indicate a spiel about ‘a humorous antidote to this age of austerity’ as The Finkler Question bags the award or a commiserative ‘The Finkler Question was very funny and it thorouhgly deserved to make the shortlist, however…’ – all very intriguing.

  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: I follow your reasoning, but probably come to a different result. I find it hard to see how those who highly rate C can tolerate the idea of Room as the “best book” of the year — and vice versa. However much he or she might like the book, any informed critic has to acknowledge some significant weaknesses when challenged. If that thinking is correct, it points towards going to people’s second or third choices — I’d say one of the historical novels, but I can follow John Self’s reasoning that it might lead to the Jacobson. My speculation is every bit as idle as yours, but speculating is fun.

    The Jacobson quote I mentioned came from a post on the Man Booker forum where someone said they had heard Motion in a BBC interview saying this year’s list featured “the funniest novel in history”. Okay, he is a poet so he probably doesn’t read very many funny books, but even those who find The Finkler Question funny (I’ll be trying to find that point of view in my next try at it) must find that a bit of a stretch. Having said that, I can see the reasoning in your speculation on this one. And it should be noted that he seemed to put some effort into making equally effusive comments about the other shortlisted books (e.g. Carey=Dickens). It’s great to see a chair enrolled in the whole process.

  14. leemonks Says:

    I suppose it depends on whether Motion (and the panel) feel that a ‘comic’ novel should win by virtue of being extremely funny if they find it comparitively technically inferior to another book on the list. And I do wonder about his overt praise of the Jacobson as a gestural handshake before an inevitable thumbs-down. He underplays the comedic aspects of the Carey book – potentially worrying for Jacobson.

    Personally, there are such few books that could even be described as ‘very funny’, let alone ‘extremely’, that I consider that a major achievement in itself. But do the panel? Is it enough to be ‘extremely funny’ to win the Booker Prize? (Or the Giller?) I certainly feel that the book also works on many levels and is exceedingly well written. And I hate how this question is even an issue, but it does seem to be. And there does seem to be a prevalent idea as to what constitutes a ‘Booker’ novel; you need only glance through past comments from judges to confirm as much. You just wonder if this year’s lot have all the usual baggage they are very consciously dealing with. And furthermore, I wonder if the following might be an issue: does a comic novel, read in such close consecutive proximity for a third time, suffer in terms of longevity and pall that bit quicker than a ‘book of ideas’?

    I think this all points to ‘C’ winning. As you touch on, I feel that Room won’t remotely withstand a further grilling, and that ‘C’, as well as having one or two strong advocates, will be a second or third choice amongst the other judges by mere dint of its perceived imaginative venturing.

  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I would make the same point about Galgut that you make about McCarthy. I have read both of those twice and the second reading of both was more rewarding than the first. On the other hand, I suspect that someone who didn’t like them the first time would find even more reason to dislike them after two or three reads.

    You make an interesting point about comic novels and the Booker — the process with three readings (if the judges actually do that) seems stacked against them. Weighty novels that raise questions and historical novels with clever depth get better. Pretty much by definition, comedy has to succeed on the first time through and I am not at all sure that it gets better with repetition.

    As you know, I did not find The Finkler Question funny at all and have certainly read other opinions simiilar to mine. While I admit to abandoning it and hence my opinion has limited value, it seems to me for it to succeed it has to be on the strength of the relationship — and tension — between the three characters.

  16. leemonks Says:

    Indeed, and I very much doubt that your opinion will change there. I suppose, then, that it boils down to a matter of taste, as it always should. It’s just that, with a panel of five people, as you say, there tends to be a little bit of a compromise consensus. That worries me far more than anyone taking a serious like or dislike to any of the titles. In that light, I feel there may be a bit of a shrugging head-in-hands grin-grimace session whereby McCarthy will win as a collective 1st-1st-3rd-3rd-3rd choice.

    How, for example, does the shadow Giller panel sort things out?

  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Margaret Atwood (who has a fair bit of literary judging experience) observed somewhere that three-member juries tend to produce results rewarding ambition, innovation and risk while five-member juries end up in compromise. The rationale being that even just one passionate advocate on the smaller jury can recruit a second more ambivalent supporter and the third accepts the decision. Or one of two judges passionate about different books succeeds in recruiting the third. Whereas in a five-person jury (say with three contenders as you hypothesize and let’s add the element that two are very different), all first choices get abandoned in favor of a book that has seconds and thirds.

    While I agree that those who like McCarthy or Galgut also probably like the other, I don’t think there is any evidence at all to suggest which of the two would be the leading contender from this group. My guess would be that Donoghue supporters would lean more to Galgut than McCarthy (because it is a more straightforward story) but that Levy and probably Carey rank ahead of both. I can’t place Jacobson in my scenario until I get to the book again.

  18. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Sorry, forgot to tell you how the Shadow Giller works. Before we went international and met face-to-face over lunch, we drew straws for an “elimination” round. Number one named his or her “least” worthy of the five and, unless another juror vetoed the rejection, it dropped off the list. Same with judges two and three. We never ended up with more than three — next round, after some dialogue (rather than debate) was a blind vote (on wine-stained paper napkins, I might say) ranking the remaining two or three. If that did not produce a unanimous decision, it always produced a 2-1 margin and the one, in every year but one, yielded to the majority (just like Atwood says). The contentious year came when two of us liked Vassanji’s Vikram Lall but the third loved Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (which the other two of us loathed). We just outvoted him (and dropped him from the jury the next year).

    Last year was only our second electronic judging year so we don’t really have established practice yet. We kept in touch along the way with our impressions of books (since two of us were posting reviews on blogs that was hardly difficult) and when we’d all finished reading I suggested (and Alison and Trevor agreed) that The Bishop’s Man and The Golden Mean were at the top for us all. We polled on a preference between those two and all three of us chose the McIntyre.

    I haven’t figured out what I’ll do if the three of us all prefer a different book. Having sat on a number of national journalism prize juries, I will say that I learned quickly that the most valuable characteristic was a willingness to be open to other arguments — articulate your choice by all means but then deliberate rather than debate. A good chair always starts the whole judging process with some version of an introduction that says the whole process is one of deliberation, not advocacy.

  19. Trevor Says:

    I would like to add here that Kevin is an excellent chair. While we had no friction last year in our choices, I am sure Kevin would be able to direct a great deliberation (which is really what he did through the entire process).

  20. maggie Says:

    It will be interesting to follow the delibrations and discussions. The bookies are betting on McCarthy but of the ones I’ve read so far – only 3 – can’t bring myself to read descend into Donoghue’s dark world -however well rendered – I advocate for the Levy – definitely a book with an important story well told. Look forward to the Shadows reviews as I finish reading the list.

  21. KevinfromCanada Says:

    maggie: Remember, the bookies are not betting (or judging quality) when they set the odds — the odds reflect how the money that the punters are betting. In fact, in most betting situations, the bookies do better when the favorite(s) don’t win. And my Irish offshore bookie has three very close at the tops in terms of odds — McCarthy at 9/4, Donoghue at 5/2 and Galgut at 3/1. All of which means the betting public is as spread in their opinions and investments as the book commenting public is.

  22. Kerry Says:

    Kevin,

    First, I knew you should have picked Finkler to shortlist to appease the literary gods. You know the book you most dislike is going to make it if it has any chance. You have to take preemptive action. Picking it as the winner would be a good move now, for instance.

    Second, Can’t wait for the Giller Shadow Jury to get under way. It is a highlight of the literary year for me.

    Third, I pick Galgut to win because I do not learn from others’ mistakes. (I have only read Mitchell. While I liked it, I am kind of happy it will not be his “Booker-winner” possibly leading future generations astray regarding his best work.)

  23. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kerry: I’m actually glad that Finkler is on the shortlist because its presence adds much spice to the debate in that it joins Room as a controversial book. My data source is mainly online comments but I’d say Room has inspired the most comments of “loathed it” from those who read the book while Finkler is this year’s “most abandoned” volume. On the other hand, both have very literate adovcates who place the novel at or near the top. One hopes the jury has a similar range of views which will make their final debate very interesting.

    I too am looking forward to this year’s Giller — if you have been following the blog I’ve already had a number of very good experiences and have more on hand. And, since Canada is a small country with relatively few bloggers (but a lot of publishers) the longlist always features a number of very pleasant surprises.

  24. leemonks Says:

    Thanks for the lowdown. Interesting what you say about having 5 judges – I’ve always had reservations about (the whole process, to be fair) having such a number. In any case, not since Vernon God Little has my favoured book won – it’s about time that changed, surely…

  25. leroyhunter Says:

    Kevin, not sure this will shed any light on your speculations about the jury and decision-making process, but for what it’s worth here’s Chairman Motion giving his overview of the shortlist:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/11/booker-prize-andrew-motion-judging

  26. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Leroy: Thanks for that link — it offers some useful background on past choices from this jury, but doesn’t give away much about who the winner will be (I am one who thinks that Motion has been pretty even-handedly positive about all the shortlist, which he continues here). I was interested in his statement that more than half the longlist were unanimous choices — confirming my theory that seven or eight were agreed by all and the list filled out with choices that many of us found strange.

  27. Robyn Says:

    I admire all those who try to read all the longlisted books – I’m in NY and not only can I not get them easily, but it’s hard to read that many that quickly!! I’m most interested in Room, and didn’t like Oscar and Lucinda (Carey) or Number9Dream (Mitchell), so I’m not sad these authors are not in the running or don’t look good for the prize. I see what you mean about literary novels winning more often – maybe that’s why there’s so arduous to get through sometimes!! I run a Booker Prize book group here – and I’ve found the winners tend to be the “impressive” works, while the nominees can sometimes be more entertaining and moving….That said, I hope to see more from Neil Bartlett. I’m reading his 2007 novel, Skin Lane, loving it, and don’t see why that wasn’t nominated. Highly recommended.

  28. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Robyn: First, on the Booker availability front. Check out the Book Depository website — they ship free around the world so the prices are very competitive. I believe they also now have a U.S. distribution centre which means that service will be relatively quick for you.

    I have read positive things about Skin Lane but have not tried it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  29. Sheila Says:

    Here in the backwater of Central Coast California, I understand the decision of the Booker jurors to pass on Mitchell’s latest. I made it through 170 pages before I resisted my impulse to toss the volume across the room. (It was a library book.) After the first chapter, which Mitchell probably used to convince his publisher that he still had his chops, the rest was incredibly aimless, at least as far as I got. The female character, a mysterious well educated Asian woman with a scarred face, (see Phantom of the Opera) operating independently in a culture that bound worthy women’s feet??

    I am looking forward to trying a few of the short list, especially McCarthy.

  30. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Sheila: I didn’t like the latest Mitchell much either (and I am a fan of his work). If you are looking at shortlist books, I would recommend Damon Galgut — it was my favorite and also the first choice of those who participated in the Man Booker online forum.

  31. Janet Sparks Says:

    just found out about you. where have i been? i am a ferocious reader. more like your wife, in content. i will be seeing you in the future

  32. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Janet: Welcome — and I hope you find your visits here useful.

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