2010 Giller Prize longlist

Today’s announcement of the 2010 Giller Prize longlist was, perhaps, typical of longlist announcements: at this stage, more debate will be sparked by what isn’t on the list, rather than what is. Two obvious absences from the list of 13 — Emma Donoghue’s Booker short-listed Room and Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil. I am quite happy to see neither make the list. Here is a quick look at the books that are on the list (comments are certainly welcome):

BOOKS ALREADY REVIEWED HERE

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman. From a pure reading enjoyment point of view, this is probably my favorite novel of the year — but that may be colored by my own previous life as a journalist and editor. An intriguing series of character sketches of a bunch of misfits at an English-language newspaper in Rome. They are very human — and funny — characters, very well developed.

Annabel, by Kathleen Winter. A baby, born in the wilds of frontier Labrador, has one little testicle, labia and a vagina, creating issues for mother and father, not to mention the maturing child. Clicking on the link will also take you to author Kathleen Winter’s guest post on this site, a very, very good review of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel — she indicates how it helped her resolve some challenges with her book. For me, a very non-traditional approach to a very traditional kind of Canadian novel — while gender identity is always an issue in the novel, the issue of conflict between the frontier, the city and the globe is an equally important theme.

Cities of Refuge, by Michael Helm. Helm has been in Giller territory before — his first novel, The Projectionist was shortlisted and I enjoyed it immensely. This book is an exploration of multi-cultural Toronto, with particular attention to the refugees who have less than acceptable legal status. I will admit that I preferred Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall’s Ghosted for its study of Toronto, but that is no knock against Helm. A very topical urban novel.

REVIEWS TO COME SOON

Sanctuary Line, by Jane Urquhart. Publisher descriptions suggest that Urquhart is returning to familiar territory with this book — while set in the present on a farm near Lake Erie, the book explores the past in nineteenth century Ireland and other parts of Canada, much as Urquhart’s excellent early novels did. She is a KfC favorite and I am looking forward to this book — not the least because Random House is providing copies of new issues of three of her earlier novels (Away, The Stone Carvers and A Map of Glass) for a KfC giveway. Stay tuned for details.

The Matter With Morris, by David Bergen. Bergen won the 2005 Giller with The Time In Between, a novel set mainly in post-war Viet Nam. The promo copy indicates that Morris Schutt is a prominent newspaper columnist facing a series of disasters — his son killed in Afghanistan, his wife threatening to depart and his newspaper has put him on leave. Bergen is an accomplished writer so this does have definite promise.

Cool Water, by Dianne Warren. Kevin the Western Canadian is looking forward to this one. Set in Juliet, Saskatchewan, a town of 1,011 in near-desert country, it promises a cast of characters that only small towns can produce. Okay, that does make it sound like the stereotypical rural Canada novel, but I am hoping the “urban” Real Giller jury’s selection of it for the longlist means that they found more.

Lemon, by Cordelia Strube. This novel has been out since last October and not attracted much attention (although it did get a “smart, eccentric prose” comment from the New York Times). The central character, a high school student who obviously doesn’t fit in, has three mothers — a biological one she has never met, her father’s suicidal ex and a school principal who hasn’t left the house since being attacked by a student. All that suggests the “eccentric” comment is well-placed. Shadow Giller judge Trevor has access to this one (it is one of the few that has been released in the U.S.) so if I don’t get to it, I am sure he will.

This Cake Is For The Party, by Sarah Selecky. I’ve read this book already but need to revisit it before posting a review. It is a debut collection of short stories, featuring young adults who are discovering new challenges (many involving relationships and sex). Memory says it was very readable, but not overly impressive — the first few stories were very good, but after that they tended to be too similar.

WE’LL TRY TO GET TO THESE

With only 15 days to the shortlist announcement on Oct. 5, getting to the whole longlist is a problem but between the three Shadow Jury judges we will try for at least one read of these final six:

Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod. I know it is unfair to the author but the biggest attraction of this short story collection is that his father, Alistair, is one of the best short story writers in the world — so let’s hope the genes have been passed on. The description suggests urban stories (Mike Tyson biting a chunk from Evander Holyfield’s ear apparently features in one) so it is certainly an offset to that “rural” stereotype that I referred to earlier.

Curiosity, by Joan Thomas. A novel set in Lyme Regis, featuring a 12-year-old who discovered a prehistoric dolphin-like creature and goes on to become “perhaps the most important palentologist of her day”. Thomas was longlisted for Reading by Lightning last year — I’ll admit her blend of history and fiction doesn’t appeal to my tastes, but that says more about me than it does the quality of her work.

Player One, by Douglas Coupland. Coupland (Generation X) may be the best-known of these authors internationally and this “novel” confirms his reputation for off-the-wall writing — the “work” made its first appearance with the author delivering it as the Massey Lectures, one of Canada’s best-known literary events. It is a “five-hour story set in a cocktail lounge during a global disaster”. Coupland is one of those authors that I don’t seem able to appreciate — we’ll try to get one of the other Shadow jurors to give it a go.

The Debba, by Avner Mandelman. A novel set in Israel, the son of a deceased playwright discovers that his will asks that his controversial play on the Debba — performed only once — be performed again in his memory. The description suggests that that premise allows the author to explore some of the tensions in modern Israel.

The Sentimentalists, by Johanna Skibsrud. Another novel (this one a debut) that has been out for almost a year, this one promises settings in a flooded Ontario town, Viet Nam, North Dakota and Maine. I’ll admit that I have not heard anything about it at all since it was released.

Two of my favorites — Ghosted by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall and Far To Go by Alison Pick did not make the longlist, but I am not complaining. There seems to be a very worthy shortlist possible from the books selected by the Real Jury. Do keep visiting for further thoughts from the Shadow Jury.

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37 Responses to “2010 Giller Prize longlist”

  1. Trevor Says:

    Last year’s experience taught me that I know little about Canadian fiction and that it is a rich field indeed. Even the ones I didn’t particularly like (Fall, The Winter Valut) were different from a lot of the fiction we see published all over the place today. It was refreshing. It is great to see another list of titles where all of the titles interest me.

    For any U.S. readers, I have Lemon, Player One and The Debba on the way, and The Imperfectionists (which I already read and enjoyed) is also available. Sanctuary comes out here in a couple of weeks, and Annabel comes out here in the winter. The remaining seven — we’ll just have to see.

  2. Trevor Says:

    Oh, and the @GillerPrize twitterer just said “Masterful snapshots KFC!” I agree.

  3. Karyn Says:

    Thanks so much for these initial comments, reviews and upcoming reviews. Only 15 days left – yikes…. will be glad to reply on your reviews and comments. Your insights are so appreciated. The Giller Prize is such a jewel – your blog is the barometer of what I will read next, with appreciation!

  4. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Trevor: Thanks for that update. I think the fact that so many of the titles don’t yet have scheduled U.S. publication is that the jury went to some of the less expected titles — I’d expect to see Bergen and Helm show up relatively soon, but it is hard to say with the others. Many thanks from me also for agreeing to again take part in the Shadow Jury. We will have some fun.

    Karyn: Thanks for the kind words — good luck in finding many of these titles in your part of the world.

  5. Crake Says:

    A very interesting longlist. The Imperfectionists, Sanctuary Line, Curiosity, and Player One sound good.

    Room has to be one of the most divisive novels of the year — shortlisted for the Booker and not longlisted for the Giller.
    Based on what I’ve read at the Booker forum, I think I’ll side with the Giller jury’s decision.

  6. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Crake: I agree with you about Room — both in the divided response and my personal feelings about the Giller jury decision. Also, unlike the Booker jury, seven of these 13 are debut efforts. I like to see the jury calling attention to new works. I might not end up liking them all, but it does heighten the curiosity.

  7. Alyce Says:

    I couldn’t stand Beatrice and Virgil, so I’m selfishly happy to see that it’s not on the list. I loved Life of Pi though. It looks like I need to read more Canadian fiction – I haven’t read any that made the list.

  8. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Alyce: I will admit that I found Beatrice and Virgil offensive (which is why I decided not to review it) — I hope you will find a few on this list that spark your interest. There is a good variety, which I also think is a credit to the jury.

  9. Wandering Coyote Says:

    I totally loved Curiosity – amazing book! I am starting Sanctuary Line today.

  10. KevinfromCanada Says:

    WC: Thanks for that data on Curiosity — Shadow Giller juror Alison Gzowski is going to be reading it for us at the longlist stage so I probably won’t get to it before the shortlist is out (but will certainly get to it eventually). I am looking forward to Sanctuary Line and should be reading it soon.

  11. AK Says:

    Interesting list indeed

    I am also glad that Yann Martel’s ‘Beatrice and Virgil’ didn’t make it simply based on the authors “overhyped reputation” from over a decade ago…..

    Looking forward to ‘Sanctuary Line’ & ‘Cool Water’ the most as these two are the only titles that really appeal to me personally

    I was really hoping ‘Deloume Road’ would make the cut..
    :(

    regards
    @K

  12. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) Says:

    Here in the UK I’ve only heard of The Imperfectionists and Player One. It is great to see so many new to me books on the list and I look forward to you guiding us through them.

  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    AK: I liked all four of the New Face of Fiction first novels (of which Deloume Road was one) and none of them made the longlist. Given that seven first books did, that means it was an excellent year for debut novelists. And I think the jury did make an effort to recognize new work. Given your tastes, I think you might also like Annabel — while the hermaphrodite angle attracts the most comment, there is an equally interesting story line that explores the tension between frontier/urban/global. I too am looking forward to Cool Water. I forgot to say in my reply to Wandering Coyote that there is every reason to expect a coyote to show up in it (dryland Saskatchewan? has to have one).

    Jackie: Those two, Room and Urquhart are the only ones that have attracted simultaneous UK publication. The Giller usually serves as an “early warning” for UK readers, so I hope you’ll find some titles that will be interesting if they ever get there.

  14. Trevor Says:

    As a quick update, I’m about 50 pages into Lemon and am finding it much better than I thought (the cover and title . . . well, I went in expecting something different than what I’m finding). Hopefully I’ll get it finished and ready for review soon.

  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Trevor: It is very good to read that Lemon is overcoming its cover. I know it is unfair on my part, but when I saw the cover yesterday, my first thoughts were that I would find the book a chore. Judging a book by its cover usually lands me in trouble the other way (as in the book doesn’t live up to its cover, rather than succeeding despite it).

  16. Shelley Says:

    Although I write about rural folks, I didn’t know until today that there was such a thing as a stereotypical rural Canada novel!

  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Shelley: Margaret Atwood actually wrote a whole critical book about it in 1972 (Survival). It is still available on Amazon and I think you would find it interesting, given your own writing. Frederich Philip Grove, Sinclair Ross, W.O.Mitchell are only a start.

    The tradition has continued to this day (although we do write the occasional urban novel now) as Victoria Glendinning, a Giller judge last year, observed in an article in the Financial Times — you can find a quote from it in my review of The Factory Voice here.

  18. RickP Says:

    Kevin,

    Were you really surprised that Beatrice and Virgil didn’t make the list. I assumed that it wouldn’t. I am in the extreme minority in liking the book very much. I certainly understand how it offends and appalls but it really worked for me. I found it extremely uncomfortable and virtually never enjoyable, yet something about it has stayed with me for a long time. I would never recommend it though as I remain unable to explain its appeal.

  19. KevinfromCanada Says:

    RickP: I was not surprised that it wasn’t there. Critical reviews of it have been generally negative to very negative. I also suspect Martel did himself no favors with prize juries with his promotional tour — although it was probably a wise move in terms of sales. I suspect it will also do well on the book club circuit since it does produce conflicting views on a number of issues.

  20. Jackie Says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Just a note that while “hermaphrodite” was the term used during the time in which Annabel’s narrative is set, for purposes of review (in the present tense) “intersex” is the appropriate term. While well-intentioned, Anansi’s flaw was in not catching this error in their publicity materials and allowing it to appear in their jacket copy. Had Annabel been a book about any other demographic, a once-used, but now deemed offensive, term would be an obvious blunder.

  21. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Jackie: Thank you for your note — and I think I am the one who should be held responsible, not House of Anansi. I have an Advanced Reading Copy, not the actual volume, and the term does not appear there — my recollection of the book itself is that the author never uses any term, since the confusion of gender plays through all the adult characters and is never really resolved. I used the term based on classical literature references as the precedent, since that is what the novel most reminded me of, rather than any modern issues concerning it. I have taken the liberty of changing the phrasing in this post to remove the term.

  22. Isabel Says:

    I am really looking forward to Jane Urquhart’s next novel. I went to her reading, years ago, at the Dallas Museum of Art and enjoyed what she had to say.

    Kevin, have you read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides? If yes, how is Annabel similar/different?

    I need to look for Cities of Refuge; a very topical topic.

  23. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Isabel: I have a copy of Middlesex but haven’t read it — and none of my friends who have have read Annabel. So I am afraid I can’t offer any comparisons, yet.

  24. Trevor Says:

    I didn’t know hermaphrodite was no longer acceptable. Is this because it is offensive or just because in medicine the term is now “intersex?” I heard it all the time in theoretical gender studies (see it still used there) and, of course, I never hear intersex in everyday conversations (inasmuch as every day conversations occur). It has been my impression that hermaphrodite is a common and inoffensive term. If I’m incorrect, it would be good to know.

  25. Kathleen Winter Says:

    Just to be accurate, House of Anansi’s jacket copy does not use the term “hermaphrodite” because the publisher was in fact aware of the issues discussed here. The jacket copy reads, “…a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once.”

  26. Colette Jones Says:

    This looks like an interesting list. Only The Imperfectionists is available at my library so far (which I have read and liked a lot). I’ll watch for more. I suspect Coupland will be the first to appear.

  27. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kathleen: Thanks very much for that clarification. I was not aware of the issue and personally have never regarded (or meant) the term as offensive — but I suspect that is because my entire experience has been in a historical literary context, not a real world one.

  28. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: Player One shows an Oct. 1 UK publication and Oct. 2 for Canada so you beat us by a day on that one (the late date is because release is timed to the Massey Lectures). I’d say you can expect to see Urquhart, Bergen and Thomas within the next year — from there on in it gets a bit uncertain.

  29. Trevor Says:

    I’ve looked into more about “hermaphrodite” and “intersex.” It looks like the preference for “intersex” when dealing with humans is fairly recent and that there are some out there who don’t like that term either.

    On the topic of Player One, it is interestingly supposed to arrive at my door today (says it has shipped and arrived in Newark this mornign) though it says that the publication date is October 1. Perhaps it is already available for folks after all?

  30. alison Says:

    I was suprised that Room didn’t make the list (haven’t read i yet, but will) and was disappointed that Alison Pick’s novel wasn’t there, I thouight it was deserving.
    I have read Annabel, The Imperfectionists and Cities of Refuge and liked them all so I am pleased to see them on the list.
    As Kevin said (and I agree the thumbnails are excellent) I will be reading Curiosity and Light Lifting asap (just now reading Michael Winter’s new book and want to finish that first). happily I have a train ride in the enxt couple of days, so a good stretch to hunker down into the Giller longlist

  31. John Self Says:

    I have never heard of the word ‘hermaphrodite’ being considered offensive either. Wikipedia says the term has recently been replaced with ‘intersex’ in medicine. No doubt this will filter down, but it doesn’t explain why the former/current term is now offensive. It’s not, I think, equivalent to ‘spastic’ which was formerly the general term for a person with cerebral palsy, but fell out of use because it was being used (largely by children) as an insult. (This example in itself may be purely a British phenomenon.)

    Anyway, I am going to have to do a lot of cut and pasting now in my big book of Jamie Lee Curtis jokes.

  32. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John: North America had its own version of “spastic” in “retarded”, both of which were used in offensive ways and deservedly banished from decent conversation. I do feel rather badly about bringing this conversation about — the author went out of her way not to describe Wayne/Annabel with a single term and I was the one who introduced it in the review. No harm was intended (unlike your big book of Jamie Lee Curtis jokes, I suspect :-) ).

  33. Ike Clast Says:

    The Debba seems to be the odd one in.

    http://www.dooneyscafe.com/archives/2234

  34. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Ike: Thanks for the link to the review — I’m unlikely to get to this one before the short list announcement.

  35. Greg Says:

    Kevin …funny but I just finished reading Middlesex a month ago. A wonderful narrative from the eyes of the 41 yr old intersex character taking us from her grand parents roots in Asia Minor to their trip across the Atlantic to Detroit Michigan. I was in Detroit last weekend and the book painted some wonderful visions

  36. kimbofo Says:

    I’m a bit late to the party, Kevin, having been on a bit of a blog writing and reading hiatus due to dramas at work over the past month, but thanks for keeping us in the loop about the Giller. Doesn’t get any exposure whatsoever on this side of the pond, so thank goodness for blogs like yours to let us know the news! Will now read your reviews…

  37. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Thanks, Kim — hope the work dramas have been resolved satisfactorily. With five books left to go (but a good knowledge of a number of them), I would say that this is a very good Giller list. I don’t think there is a single obvious standpoint, but there is a wide variety of very, very good books — and I am delighted by the success of so many of the debut offerings from authors who promise to get even better in the future.

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