Here’s the 2013 Giller Prize longlist — the good news for KfC is that I only have to order seven of the 13. First a brief note on each title and then some observations, as well as Shadow Giller Jury plans.
Already reviewed here
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. Nora Eldridge is one angry woman: Not only is she not the “Great Artist” that she aspired to be, the elementary school teacher has just gone through an extended experience that exposed her shortcomings and frustrations even more. I can’t help but think that Real Giller juror Margaret Atwood was reminded of her own “Edible Woman” when she read this one.
Caught, by Lisa Moore. While I was not overly impressed with this novel, I did note in my review that juries tend to like Moore’s books better than I do — and it has happened again. Caught is both a crime story and a character study: Slaney, a Newfoundlander already caught once importing dope, escapes from a Nova Scotia prison, heads west to hook up with his old co-conspirator and launches a new drug importing scheme.
Reviews to come soon
Emancipation Day, by Wayne Grady. The author started this as a non-fiction project when he discovered his own Afro-American roots — many rewrites and 20 years later, it appears as the first novel from a writer who has a lengthy non-fiction publication list. Set in wartime Newfoundland and then moving on to Windsor, it tells the story of navy musician Jack Lewis — who responds to his own racial issues with denial, denial, denial.
The Son of a Certain Woman, by Wayne Johnston. Johnston is a Giller longlist regular and his latest promises to again feature the oddball, idiosyncratic characters he loves. Set in Johnston’s native Newfoundland, this is the story of Percy Joyce — disfigured with both a massive port wine birthmark that covers his face and overly large hands and feet. Everyone, including Percy, wants to bed his mother. And, in true Johnston fashion, the leaders of St. Johns’ Catholic church bring authority into play by “adopting” the misshapen boy as a personal favorite.
Cataract City, by Craig Davidson. Niagara Falls is the “cataract city” of the title — understandably, it is a favorite setting for Canadian fiction. In Davidson’s novel, Owen Stuckey and Duncan Diggs are childhood friends who have grown to maturity in the Ontario city. According to the cover blurb, their friendship is now being tested as they find themselves on opposite sides of the law.
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden. This is volume three in Boyden’s trilogy that started with Three Day Road and continued in a modern setting with the Giller-winning Through Black Spruce. This volume retreats in time to the conflict between the Iroquois and Huron nations — and adds the intrusive element of the Jesuit missionaries. Just released last week, it has attracted very strong reviews in the professional press and would have to be considered the early favorite for the 2013 prize. (EDIT: This is NOT volume three in the trilogy — in comments Brett has provided a link to a Maclean’s article where Boyden says this was an idea that diverted him from volume three and demanded to be written.)
Books I had to order today
Going Home Again, by Dennis Bock. I’ve read and appreciated Bock’s two previous novels (The Ash Garden andThe Communist’s Daughter) so I am not surprised to see this one on the list. The publisher’s description promises “A wrenching and dramatic story that explores the fabric of family: sibling rivalries, marriages on the rocks, hurt children, midlife crises — in short, modern life”.
Hellgoing, by Lynn Coady. Coady was shortlisted in 2011 for The Antagonist, the engaging story of a rough-and-tumble hockey enforcer remembering his childhood that attracted much positive attention. That novel indicated she would be adept at short stories, so I am looking forward to reading this collection. Short story collections are popular in Canadian publishing and the Giller longlist always includes a couple — juries in the past have a good record of picking out some of the most interesting ones.
How To Get Along With Women, by Elisabeth De Mariaffi. Another short story collection, this one a debut volume from an author who is unknown to me. It appeared last October and has not attracted much attention. The publisher’s blurb promises: ” Infused with a close and present danger, these stories tighten the knot around power, identity, and sexuality, and draw the reader into the pivotal moments where — for better or for worse — we see ourselves for what we truly are.” The volume’s title suggests that feminism of some sort will be a common theme.
Extraordinary, by David Gilmour. Gilmour is one of Canada’s mid-list authors whom I have overlooked: A Perfect Night to Go to China won the 2005 Governor-General’s Award. I’ll admit I looked at this one earlier this year and put it off because I was not attracted by the subject matter: A man and his half-sister meet at her request to spend the evening preparing for her assisted death. I’ll try to approach the novel with an open mind when I do get to it.
Minister Without Portfolio, by Michael Winter. This novel promises to address Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan — the central character is working with an army-affiliated contracting crew when a routine patrol becomes fatal. Shadow Giller juror Alison Gzowski knows the author well and has read the book — she has promised a guest review here in a couple of weeks so I will probably leave this one until relatively late in my longlist reading.
The Crooked Maid, by Dan Vyleta. Like Real Juror Esi Edugyan’s Giller-winning Half Blood Blues, this is a war story, set in Vienna, 1948. Two strangers meet on their way back to the city, where a war-crimes trial is taking place — the description promises an exploration of a city “haunted by its sins” for its collaboration with the Nazis.
October 1970, by Louis Hamelin. The only translated novel on this year’s longlist, October 1970 gives Wayne Grady a double hit — he is the translator. The novel (which is not due for release until Sept. 21) promises to revisit Canada’s FLQ crisis — “Thirty years after the October Crisis, Sam Nihilo, a freelance writer whose career is in a slump, is drawn to the conspiracy theories that have proliferated in the wake of the events.” I was 22 years old and a rookie journalist when it took place — I’ll admit that I am looking forward to this view of the events, since they have not often been addressed in Canadian fiction.
Overall, I would say this year’s longlist is impressive for its range. Established writers are certainly represented — Boyden, Coady, Johnston, Bock. (As far as I can tell, De Mariaffi is the only debut writer, although Emancipation Day is Grady’s first novel.) Two story collections, one translated work. And certainly a wide range of settings, both geographical and in time.
I am a little surprised by a couple of omissions, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (which is on the Booker shortlist) and The Hungry Ghosts, Shyam Selvadurai’s long-awaited third novel. Having said that, neither would have been an obvious favorite for me — and they obviously were not for the Real Jury.
And so the 2013 Shadow Giller Jury starts its work. Trevor and Kim may read a title or two, but they don’t really kick into action until the shortlist is released. Alison and I have both read four of the titles — alas we have overlapped with both of us reading Messud, Moore and Johnston. We may try to split our timing on some of the remaining nine in an attempt to get as many of the titles read by at least one of us as possible before the shortlist is announced on Oct. 8. I’m afraid with only 22 days between long and short lists, we are unlikely to get all 13 read in time but I do promise to read and review them all eventually.
So if you have read any of the titles towards the bottom of this post, please don’t hesitate to offer your opinion in a comment — as always, the Shadow Giller Jury welcomes the thoughts of visitors here.