The 2017 Giller Prize Winner

November 21, 2017 by

Congratulations to Michael Redhill whose novel Bellevue Square was named the winner of the 2017 Giller Prize last night.

And, as many of you probably already know, Bellevue Square was also the winner of the 2017 Shadow Giller. If you’re interested in finding out how we came to our decision, you can read about it here.

To see a replay of the Giller event, as well as a video of Michael Redhill’s speech visit CBC Books.

 

That’s the end of the Giller Prize season for another year. We hope you’ve enjoyed following our Shadow Giller proceedings, reviews and tweets over the past two months. We’ve had a brilliant time doing it and read some wonderful books in the process. Thanks so much for your support! See you next year.

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The 2017 Shadow Giller Winner

November 19, 2017 by

We are thrilled to reveal that the winner of the Shadow Giller is:

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill

Congratulations to Michael Redhill and publisher Penguin Random House!

There are so many aspects to Bellevue Square that it is hard to put it into just one category or type of book. I think the complexity of the story and the twists and turns knocked us all off our feet. The official Giller Prize jury citation is as follows: “To borrow a line from Michael Redhill’s beautiful Bellevue Square, “I do subtlety in other areas of my life.” So let’s look past the complex literary wonders of this book, the doppelgangers and bifurcated brains and alternate selves, the explorations of family, community, mental health, and literary life. Let’s stay straightforward, and tell you that beyond the mysterious elements, this novel is warm, and funny, and smart. Let’s celebrate that it is, simply, a pleasure to read.

An excerpt from Kim’s review:This totally isn’t the type of book I expected when I picked it up. It turned out to be such a surprising read, so immersive and unsettling, that it has lingered in my mind more than two weeks after finishing it. Redhill has crafted a zinger of a novel, one that is well structured and well plotted, the kind of book you need to read again if only to try to understand how he’s done it.”

An excerpt from Naomi’s review: “I found Bellevue Square to be a page-turner; interesting, complicated, stimulating, creepy, and unique. At times I was confused, at other times I thought I knew exactly what was going on… only to find out I was wrong… probably.”

 

How did we choose our winner?

As per usual, each juror was given 100 points to disperse and these were sent to Mrs KfC, who acted as our independent adjudicator. The results were as follows:

Kim – Redhill 30, Robinson 25, Winters 20, O’Loughlin 15, Cusk 10

Naomi – Redhill 24, Robinson, 28, Winters 26, O’Loughlin 17, Cusk 5

Alison – Redhill 26, Robinson 22, Winters 18, O’Loughlin 14, Cusk 20

Total: Redhill 80, Robinson 75, Winters 64, O’Loughlin 46, Cusk 35

Although Redhill came out ahead by 5 points, Robinson was my first choice (by 2 points) and Kim and Alison’s second choice, so there was some discussion on how strongly I felt about Robinson’s book over Redhill’s. Well, I had such a hard time choosing between three of the books (all wonderful, but very different) that I was happy to see any of the three win. Therefore, we went with the original winner.

Now we wait to see whether the Real Giller Prize jury agree with us. They will name their official winner on Monday, 20 November. For specific timings, please visit the official website.

What do you think of our choice? Have you read Bellevue Square, or do you plan to?

Links to all the 2017 Shadow Giller reviews

November 19, 2017 by

Transit by Rachel Cusk

Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters

 

Which book would you like to see win the prize?

Naomi reviews I Am a Truck

November 17, 2017 by

Trucks play a big part in this story of a rural Acadian couple who have been together for almost 20 years. The only thing Réjean seems to love more than his wife, Agathe, is his black Chevy Silverado.

The Silverado was reported sitting next to the highway with the driver-side door open just eight hours after Agathe had kissed Réjean on the front step of their cottage and sent him off fishing in the rain with a Thermos full of coffee, four sandwiches au bologne, and a dozen date squares.

Agathe noticed that Réjean had been acting out of character lately, but she had just thought he was planning a surprise for their 20th anniversary. To Agathe, and to the reader, they appear to have a solid marriage. In fact, they feel so close to each other that they choose to hole up alone in their out-of-the-way cottage, holding onto their French language, despite the fact that they are now living in an English town.

Being separated by language from the world around them strengthened their bond of exclusivity. Gradually, they retreated from the world altogether, existing solely for each other in the confines of their home. “Il n’y a que nous.” (“It’s just us.”)

When you’re that close for that long, what do you do when one half of you disappears?

Then and Now

The story alternates between the past and the present. In the “now” we follow the story of Agathe after the sudden disappearance of her husband; her bewilderment, her hurt, her grief, and finally her need to carry on.

In the “then” we follow the story of Réjean and what happened to him on that fateful day, and the events that led up to it.

Chevy versus Ford

Réjean meets Martin at the Chevy dealership where Martin works. Martin sells Réjean’s new trucks to him every year when he goes in for the newest model. Réjean is loyal to Chevy trucks and assumes this is something the two of them have in common. He comes to enjoy going by the dealership from time to time to share a rum and chat with Martin; and, as a shy and awkward man with no friends, Martin looks forward to it. Being his only real friend, Réjean’s disappearance has a profound effect on poor Martin… who secretly drives a Ford.

French Folk Music versus Rock and Roll

When riding in the truck together, Agathe always let Réjean listen to his French folk music. It was fine, but she longed for “something loud to release the strap of tension in her jaw”. When Agathe meets Debbie, after the disappearance of Réjean, Debbie introduces her to rock and roll. And Agathe loves it. They play it loudly on their way to work, singing along on the radio. Debbie also teaches her to drive and takes her out to the pubs. Despite her grief, and her longing for Réjean to come back to her, Agathe’s life was opening up.

Rock and roll had a way of putting itself on you, so that you were wearing whatever was being sung. All the abandon and rage and torment and heartache. Everyone here was wearing it. Réjean’s music didn’t do this.

I Am a Truck explores identity, how we define ourselves in relation to others, and how that definition can change when the the ones around us change.

In an interview with Trevor Corkum at 49th Shelf, Michelle Winters says that writing I Am a Truck “sprang from the need to describe the feeling of loving a person who wasn’t there… But then I wanted to make that story exciting and funny, because that’s way more fun than brooding over a bad relationship.”

One of the things I love about the book is the way the characters go back and forth between French and English. (When I was growing up we called it “franglais”.) This way of writing makes the story feel distinctly Acadian or eastern-Canadian. “As a New Brunswicker, the idea of switching back and forth between English and French feels completely natural, and writing a story set in New Brunswick, Chiac felt like a gift I couldn’t pass up.

When asked in the interview about something she would like asked about her book, Michelle Winters responds by saying “I’d love to be asked about the absurdity of it. I left myself a lot of room in this book to play with the magical or improbable or preposterous; Réjean can be a giant, Martin can be yellow, and Colonel Weed can do whatever he wants, because it’s all allowed in the loose fabric of reality I wanted to create. It’s my favorite way to write and my favorite way to read. I’m intensely grateful when an author I’m reading decides not to confine themselves to absolute tangibles. I love it when anything can happen.”

Me too.

 

To see this review in full, visit Consumed by Ink.

 

Our Shadow Giller winner is in the process of being decided… stay tuned!

 

 

Two From the Longlist

November 15, 2017 by

We’re getting closer to the big day. In the meantime, while Kim and I are finishing up our reading and reviews, here are two more from the longlist.

First, another review of Next Year, For Sure. You can read Kim’s review of it here. Second, a review of Brother, which I’m thrilled to say is the winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize!

 

For a book about open relationships, this story is not as steamy as you might think (or at all, really). Instead, Peterson focuses on the psychology of it all. What does this kind of relationship look like, how do the characters feel about it, what are their long-term hopes, and how did they fall into it in the first place?

This was a fast-paced read for me. From the first page I was completely absorbed in the unconventional situation Kathryn and Chris got themselves into, and hoping for the most painless outcome.

It all starts when Chris mentions to Kathryn that he thinks he has a crush on Emily. Well, we all get crushes, right? We just don’t act on them, and they usually fade away. But instead, Kathryn thinks there must be something Chris needs that she’s not able to give him. And if she loves him, shouldn’t she do everything she can to make him happy? So she tells Chris to ask Emily out on a date.

He needs something. Is Kathryn going to be the person to stand in his way?

Love isn’t I love you so much that I need to possess you and control you and be the source of all your happiness. Love is I love you so much that I want you to have everything you need, even when it’s hard for me.

Kathryn’s heart seems to be in the right place, but things don’t go as easily as she thought they would. She feels jealous, but pushes through and urges them on. She even becomes friends with Emily herself.

She isn’t being exactly fair, she knows, snapping at him like this. The date was Kathryn’s idea. And she wasn’t going to be this way. She was going to be cool and evolved, like a Joni Mitchell song. She was going to be magnanimous.

Who is she to sit here with pie in her mouth and say life is miserable? She has everything. She has more than anyone needs. And yet she is jealous? Greedy and grudging and unwilling to share? No, that must stop.

To read this review in full, please visit my blog, Consumed by Ink.

 

If you’re looking for that one beautiful gem, David Chariandy’s Brother just might be it. It’s raw and honest, and the writing is as smooth as silk.

Michael and his older brother Francis are close as they grow up in 1980s Scarborough, the sons of a single hard-working mother from Trinidad.

Francis was my older brother. His was a name a toughened kid might boast of knowing, or a name a parent might pronounce in warning. But before all this, he was the shoulder pressed against me bare and warm, that body always just a skin away.

We lived in Scar-bro, a suburb that had mushroomed up and yellowed, browned, and blackened into life.

Brother highlights the dedication of hard-working immigrant parents to provide for their children.

All around us in the Park were mothers who had journeyed far beyond what they knew, who took day courses and worked nights, who dreamed of raising children who might have just a little more than they did, children who might reward sacrifice and redeem a past.  And there were victories, you must know. Fears were banished by the scents of simmering pots, denigration countered by a freshly laundered tablecloth. History beaten back by the provision of clothes and yearly school supplies.

Another focus of the story is what it’s like growing up Black in the 80s. In an interview at The Globe and Mail  about his first book Soucouyant, Chariandy talks about being conflicted between telling it like it is – the racism he and his brother faced and how they “quietly accepted it” – and the “desire to rewrite history, to make his characters stand up to their tormentors and show them what’s what.” Despite the fact that there is a similar theme in Brother – racism, bullying, and police violence – in an interview with The Star, Chariandy is quick to point out that “Brother is about life, not death.” He sees this violence and racism as “an occasion upon which to tell a story about resilience, about creativity, about Black life.”

To read the review in full, please visit Consumed by Ink.

 

What about you? How is your Giller reading going? Any preferences?

Naomi reviews Bellevue Square

November 14, 2017 by

What I love so much about readng the Giller books is that there are always surprises. I’m often reading books I hadn’t heard of before, books from authors I’ve never read before, and books I know very little about. Add the fact that the books have been carefully chosen by a handful of smart and interesting judges, and you can be in for some unexpected treats.

Bellevue Square was one of the books I knew very little about when I went into it. What I found was a clever, complex story that took me on endless twists and turns.

Bellevue Square tells the story of a woman (Jean) who hears from two different people that she has a doppelganager out there. She becomes obsessed with finding this woman who supposedly looks just like her, and starts hanging out at the park near Kensington Market. Here she meets several colourful characters, and starts canvassing them for their help in spotting her double.

You can look at yourself in pictures or even on video, but you still don’t have the experience others do of you in the world.

I really can’t say much more about the plot without giving things away, other than to say the story includes disappearing people, mental illness, parenting, a bookstore, and a literary festival in the woods.

I thought the writing was whip-smart, including the banter and dialogue between Jean and her children, giving us moments of normality amidst all the confusion. One small bone to pick would be that I wanted more from the husband; for someone so close to the protagonist, I found that he seemed too distant. But this could also be a symptom of how distracted Jean had become by her obsession with the doppelganger.

I remember standing in the mirror as a child, staring into my own eyeball. I lined one eye up against its reflection and shut the other. I saw a slippery black void but that’s where I was: in that void. My face was wrapped around muscle and bone. Before Ingrid, it was my face alone. Now I exist as myself only inside my own dark eye.

Torontonians should enjoy the setting of the story. Even I could picture myself sitting in the park watching the foot traffic go by in Kensington Market. I feel as though if I went there now, I might bump into Jimmy or Miriam handing out the milk.

Kensington Market’s energy was hustle too, plus bustle, a lot of movement right in front of your eyes, and a shudder or rattle behind it. Countercultural, but bloody and raw. The organic butcher beside a row of dry-goods shops offered, in one window, white-and-red animal skulls with bulbous dead eyes, and in the other, closely trimmed racks of lamb and venison filets, displayed overlapping each other like roofing tiles. Then some stranger rustles past with blood on his cheeks.

Torontonians wanted to get on with it, but they were generally courteous. if someone let you into a car lane, for instance, you were expected to wave with casual gratitude, like you expected it, but thank you anyway. Toronto’s panhandlers thank you when you give money, and also when you say “Sorry.” In fact, “Sorry, thank you,” may be the most common exchange between citizens. Toronto’s reputation when I lived outside it was that it was a steely, arrogant place without a heart, but now I see it likes outsiders and it draws on a deep spring of weirdness.

I found Bellevue Square to be a page-turner; interesting, complicated, stimulating, creepy, and unique. At times I was confused, at other times I thought I knew exactly what was going on… only to find out I was wrong… probably. But really it’s hard to know for sure because this book is only the first of a trilogy.

There are certain problems that cannot be solved and one of these is the liar. Whether for strategic or emotional reasons, the liar who is convinced of the necessity of his lie will adapt the defence that he never lies. And a person who is trying to convice you that they are not lying could be lying about never lying…

This review was originally posted on my blog, Consumed by Ink. Please visit for further reading suggestions.

 

Kimbofo reviews Transit by Rachel Cusk

November 13, 2017 by

Right off the mark, Kim wants to make something clear about both Outline and Transit.

Let me get one thing out of the way: when Rachel Cusk’s Transit was named on the 2017 Giller Prize shortlist my heart sank. That’s because I’d read her previous novel, Outline, when it was shortlisted for the same prize in 2015, and I didn’t much like it. Knowing that this was a follow-up, I expected I probably wouldn’t like this much either. I was right.

Kim found that the story and structure of Outline continued into Transit, although “you don’t need have read the first novel to understand the second.”

There’s no real plot. The narrative revolves around a series of interludes or interactions that the narrator makes with other people — a varied cast including an ex-boyfriend, a builder, one of her students, an unmarried friend and her hairdresser — as she goes about her day-to-day life as a creative writing tutor. This lends Transit more the feel of a collection of short stories, rather than a novel.

This unusual structure does achieve one thing: it slowly builds up a picture of Faye, a passive character who doesn’t shy away from casting judgement on other people. She’s often full of cod philosophy and is (wearily) opinionated, but she’s not particularly endearing.

She finds the main character to be “aloof” and “passive”, and the writing feels “contrived”. Did she like anything about it?

Despite this, I did enjoy specific chapters (the one set in the hairdressing salon was strangely engaging), but overall I found Transit to be a chore to read and I came away from the entire book feeling mostly ambivalent about it.

To read Kim’s review in full, please visit her blog, Reading Matters.

 

Naomi reviews Minds of Winter

November 9, 2017 by

The title for Minds of Winter comes from The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens, which I thought was fitting. Most of the characters in this book are drawn to the polar regions of the world. No sooner have they gotten back from an expedition and they’re off again, despite the very real dangers. Many press on even after near-death experiences. I can’t help but admire them, and is perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy reading about them.

Minds of Winter is filled with information on polar exploration; the who, what, when, where, why, and how. The amount of research must have been incredible. The book is divided up into sections, starting with Sir John Franklin and Captain Crozier in Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s, and ending with Captain Hugh Morgan at an airforce base on Baffin Island in the 1950s. Other non-fcitional characters include Charles Francis HallJoseph Bellot, Robert ScottLawrence OatesRoald Amundsen, and Cecil Meares. And of course the Mad Trapper of Rat River, “Albert Johnson”. There’s also a chapter narrated by Ipiirviq/Ebierbing/”Eskimo Joe”, a widely traveled Inuit guide and explorer.

Interspersed with the historical accounts of the explorers is a present day thread. Nelson and Fay have come to Inuvik, NWT for different reasons; Nelson to visit his brother, and Fay to look for clues about her vanished grandfather. They meet accidentally at the airport, and soon discover that there may be an historic connection between them.

I have no problem with Nelson and Fay’s part of the story. It definitely needs to be there. But I couldn’t help but feel like they were just tokens. As characters on their own, they weren’t interesting to me; they were only useful as ways of discovering new information. But I did enjoy reading about the setting of Inuvik and surrounding area. Take a look at this community greenhouse!

Each section of the book is fascinating and informative on its own (as well as the maps provided at the beginning of each), but together they make up part of an even more satisfying puzzle of a story. At times I found it hard to keep all the characters and story-lines straight, and often found myself flipping back to previous chapters. (I found it worked best to read each section without interruptions.) But it’s well worth it for readers who enjoy a challenging read, or who are interested in historical fiction.

Amundsen, who had dreamed all his life of claiming new lands for his new country, had been dreaming of something that did not exist. This was his last expedition, and he spent it sitting on a chair and staring out of a plastic window. Another first for Amundsen, thought Fay, turning away from the computer screen: that’s how we all do our exploring now.

While I was reading, two very different books kept coming to mind. The first, most obvious one, is The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. Barrett’s story takes place shortly after the tragedy of the Franklin Expedition, when ship after ship were being sent to the Arctic to find clues/survivors/remains.

The second is Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, the 2016 Giller Prize winner. Both books cover an impressive amount of material, and I’ve seen the words “scope” and “ambition” used to describe both. Also, in both books, the historical parts of the book are anchored by the thread from the present. However, Minds of Winter doesn’t pack the emotional punch that Thien’s book does. I didn’t feel as attached to O’Loughlin’s characters as I did to Thien’s. Minds of Winter feels more information-packed, and like putting together a puzzle. One that I’m still not sure I have figured out.

But Minds of Winter is a marvellous journey. It takes us to many out-of-the-way places on this earth. Here is a description of the town of Stromness, Orkney that I particularly like:

The little town of Stromness turns its back on the harbour from which it was born. Grey stone houses face a single long street, showing blind gables to the sea. Bewteen the houses, narrow alleys sneak down to the private piers and slips that are hidden behind them, as if the sea were a family secret which everyone knows but no one acknowledges.

And it brings to life the people who have risked their lives for the opportunity to increase our knowledge and expand our maps.

No one replied to him. And in that silence Bellot was seized by a queer kind of vertigo, an inward spinning and trembling. He saw at last that this journey might prove treacherous in ways he had not previously understood. Well, he would chart his islands carefully. He would check and recheck his instruments, take diligent temperatures and bearings, be doubly and trebly sure of his path by ship and boat and sledge. And he would resist in himself and in others that siren’s lure of empty fame, the lust to have one’s name attached to some cape or frozen sound. His journal would be his scientific Bible, his instruments his Redeemers. They would guide him through the dark.

*************************************

This review was first published on my blog, Consumed by Ink. You can find a short list of other reviews of the book, if you’re interested in reading more.

Naomi reviews Transit by Rachel Cusk

November 2, 2017 by

Transit seems to be the most well-known book on the Giller shortlist this year. Yet it was the one I was least looking forward to.

When I read Rachel Cusk’s Giller shortlisted novel Outline two years ago, I had a luke-warm response to it. In fact, I returned it to the library after reading only half the book. So when Transit made it onto the list this year, I felt a little… apprehensive.

Well there is something to be said for low expectations, because I liked it. “Love” might be too strong a word, but “like” will do.

So I asked myself : what’s different? (And I know I’m not the only one who didn’t get along with Outline.) I think my issue with Outline was that I couldn’t connect with the characters. I didn’t care about anyone in the book, so there was no reason to keep reading.

The structure and style of writing in Transit is the same, but in Transit Faye is closer to home. The people she runs into and speaks to and shares stories about are closer to her own life. For this reason I think there is more opportunity to get to know her.

I enjoyed the fine details in the story…

Rachel Cusk is good at getting details right; the kind that make you think “Yes!”. For example, have you ever spoken back to the voice that is mysteriously or magically able to give you directions when you’re driving?

A friend of mine, depressed in the wake of of his divorce, had recently admitted that he often felt moved to tears by the concern for his health and well-being expressed in the phraseology of adverts and food packaging, and by the automated voices on trains and buses, apparently anxious that he might miss his stop; he actually felt something akin to love, he said, for the female voice that guided him while he was driving his car, so much more devotedly than his wife ever had.

But didn’t succeed in picking up on the main theme of the book…

 In the interview at 49th Shelf, Cusk says that she is surprised “that there hasn’t been more awareness of its central theme, which is children and the false morality that is displayed in so many of our dealings with them. I think I would point to the last chapter of the novel as the expression of my own views about the true nature of responsibility.” I wouldn’t have picked up on that myself.

To read my review in full, and find out what I thought of the book overall, please visit my blog.

Naomi reviews Son of a Trickster

October 30, 2017 by

My reading seems to be way ahead of my reviewing. But the books I’ve reviewed so far are different than the ones Kim has reviewed, so that worked out well.

I loved Son of a Trickster. Some readers might find it too dark or disturbing, but I thought it was a wonderful read. Great for this time of year, too.

All the characters were vivid, but Jared stole my heart.

Jared’s had a rough go of it; his maternal grandmother thinks he’s the Trickster and doesn’t like him (“Get, you dirty dog’s arse.”); his mother has a volatile personality (and colourful language); his father left them for another woman and, unbeknownst to his mother, Jared’s been helping him out with his bills using his “cookie” money; he’s been abused by one of his mother’s ex-boyfriends; his mother and her new boyfriend go off for days at a time leaving Jared home alone; he recently lost his beloved pitbull, Baby Killer. And those things don’t even touch what goes on at school and with his peers.

He wanted to believe his mom was sorry, but his dad was always sorry and he still kept doing crap he had to say sorry for. He didn’t want to be a sucker, but he didn’t want to be alone. Everything ached and all the choices felt wrong.

And the supernatural element added unpredictability to the story, which I thought was a lot of fun.

Just when life probably couldn’t get much worse for Jared, he finds himself noticing strange things like talking birds, wandering cavemen, and people with monsters shimmering behind their faces. He thinks he’s losing it and needs to lay off the drugs and booze for a while. But things just keep getting worse.

The bites had healed. He didn’t feel his missing toe anymore. he should be over it by now, he thought, but as he treaded water, he wanted to get drunk, immediately. He wanted to not feel terrified or dumped or used anymore. He wanted to get out of his head and never, ever crawl back in.

 

To read my review in full, please visit my blog, Consumed by Ink.

What are your thoughts on Son of a Trickster? Do you think it has a chance of winning the Giller?


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