Giller Prize 2009 longlist and the Shadow Jury


scotiabank_giller_logoThe Giller Prize longlist is out, with some entirely predictable choices (Margaret Atwood, Anne Michaels); a number of surprises (small publishing houses did well this year) and some even more surprising omissions (previous winner Bonnie Burnard’s Suddenly, Michael Crummey’s Galore and Lisa Moore’s February all come to mind). You can find the list at the newly-revamped Scotiabank Giller Prize site here — an even better list where you can click through to publisher blurbs is at here.

(EDIT: Shadow Giller judge Trevor Berrett has posted a review of Michael Crummey's Galore. It does a very good job of showing why Galore missed the longlist.)

I have only read and reviewed two of the books that made the longlist — Anne Michaels The Winter Vault and Kim Echlin’s The Disappeared. While I found the first half of the Michaels to be strong, I certainly thought the book lost its way in the second half. I think the Echlin book was a very interesting and worthwhile concept — I’m not sure the execution was completely successful.

The Shadow Giller jury does not attempt to have every member read all of the longlist; this year offers a good example of why. The Canadian publishing season is “back-end loaded” with fall releases and, even more important, Giller longlists in good years pay attention to small publishers (I’d say four on this year’s list). So here is what our approach will be:

— I have Colin McAdam’s Fall and Paulette Jiles The Colour of Lightning on hand and Shani Mootoo’s Valmiki’s Daughter was ordered already but isn’t scheduled for publication until Nov. 1 (I’ll try to find an ARC somewhere), so watch out for those three here.
— Neither Alison Gzowski nor I have a taste for Margaret Atwood’s “speculative” fiction so we have asked fellow judge Trevor Berrett to be our first round reader of The Year of the Flood. He will post on his blog (The Mookse and the Gripes) and I will link from here when he does. I’ve agreed that if Trevor thinks the book is good and is a legitimate contender I will overcome my distaste and give it a try.
— Alison will read Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean, Kate Pullinger’s The Mistress of Nothing and Martha Baillie’s The Incident Report. Alison doesn’t blog, but we will find a way of posting her thoughts here.
— I’ll be ordering the remaining three — Claire Holden Rothman’s The Heart Specialist, Jeannette Lynes’ The Factory Voice and Linden McIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man — so we will try to offer at least one reader’s opinion on each longlist title at some point, although I’m not sure we can meet that Oct. 6 shortlist deadline.

We will do our best to give you a full rundown and reviews once the shortlist is announced. Given that the two “names” — Atwood and Michaels — seem to have produced rather weak books, it looks to be a wide open Giller this year. If you have read any of the titles, your thoughts are certainly welcome. Happy Giller reading.


22 Responses to “Giller Prize 2009 longlist and the Shadow Jury”

  1. Colette Jones Says:

    I look forward to hearing what you all have to say. The only one available from my library so far is The Year of the Flood, so I’ll read that one soon.


  2. John Self Says:

    Those timings are rather odd, aren’t they? I mean the official Giller ones, not yours. Just three weeks from longlist to shortlist doesn’t suggest that they expect people to read many of the longlist titles.

    I have a copy of Year of the Flood about which I feel almost no enthusiasm (other than the mild enthusiasm to read something I expect to dislike so that I can confirm my prejudices), so I too will await Trevor’s comments with interest.


  3. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John: Fellow judge Alison and I were complaining about the very odd timings in email exchanges yesterday. Last year, there was just over three weeks between long and short lists (and even that is tight) — this year it is two weeks and a day.

    That does make the longlist (which is a relatively new Giller phenomenon) virtually useless for readers and I suspect just about as useless for booksellers (who is going to order up copies of books not in stock this week when they more than half will disappear from attention shortly after the copies arrive?). So I can only assume the longlist exists mainly for the benefit of publishers. The Canadian market is small so first press runs for all but the Atwood/Michaels type names are not big — this is a warning, especially to smaller houses, that plans for a second printing should be developed. And those future printings, even for the titles that don’t advance, can carry a “longlisted for the 2009 Giller Prize” notation. And of course booksellers are contemplating their holiday stock now, so the list is handy for that. But I do think that outside of the industry and a handful of very committed readers, the longlist is not very important at all.


  4. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: I’m interested that the Michaels is not in the library, since it was released in the UK even before Canada. And equally surprised that Kate Pullinger’s isn’t available — except for citizenship, she is more British than Canadian. She lives in London and the central character in the book is Lady Duff Gordon.


    • Colette Jones Says:

      I just checked again and my statement was incorrect – Anne Michael’s book is there but only in a large print edition. I tried that with a different book once and couldn’t get on with it. I too am surprised that the standard edition is not in stock.

      There are previous Pullinger books on offer so maybe it will turn up soon.


      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Reading Michaels in regular print was tough — having large print jump off the page when she got into one of her endless lists would be torture. The Pullinger wasn’t out until mid-July so I’m not surprised it isn’t there yet.


  5. Oryx Says:

    I look forward to the following: Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean and Kate Pullinger’s The Mistress of Nothing, if for title alone. As for the “big” names, you would think that Atwood would have recused herself, ala Munroe, if not Michaels. I’m a huge Atwood fan, but she sure doesn’t need the recognition, nor the money, I’m betting. Michaels, on the other hand, could probably use both, outside of Canada. I’m definitely NOT a Michaels fan- she seems to be an unfortunate cross between Urquart and Ondaatje, which is doing a disservice to both of those authors, whom I like, but don’t love.


  6. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Oryx: While our tastes don’t always overlap, they do on Michaels — I share your comparisons with Ondaatje and Urquhart. When I like books of those two, I quite like them, but they write just as many books I find badly wanting. I did quite like Fugitive Pieces and wanted to like The Winter Vault but as you can tell from my review it passed me by — there’s too much poet and not enough novelist in the book.

    In addition to the two you mention, I’m intrigued by Martha Baillie’s The Incident Report. It’s set in the Toronto Public Library system, where Baillie has worked part-time for almost 20 years, and has a plot summary that offers promise — notes from a “mad and marginalized” library patron who thinks he is Rigoletto. While I’ve heard of Baillie, I’ve never read any of her work.


  7. Oryx Says:

    “there’s too much poet and not enough novelist in the book.”

    Something brought up on Palimpsest. Too much poetry for sure, but somehow Patrick Lane (to veer from the thread, here) pulled it off whereas Michaels failed. I guess it goes to the original quality of their poetry.


  8. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Patrick Lane, the poet, pulled off being a novelist for you and me — but not for John Self, who set Red Dog, Red Dog aside after only a few pages. On the other hand, he is enthusiastic about poet Adam Foulds’ The Quickening Maze as a novel and I found the language there very tough to take. So I think it probably comes down to individual taste.

    I forgot to respond to your observation about Atwood in your previous comment. Since she moved into “speculative” fiction, my take is that Margaret is now using her novels to promote her dystopian political views — for me she is more a polemicist than a novelist (John Milton did the same thing, so it isn’t really a new idea). Hence, the cathedral performances, blog and so on around The Year of the Flood. Since she is interested in promoting the point of view, not the book, the Prize becomes an important (but not for monetary reasons) resource. Alice Munro, on the other hand, is primarily a writer, not a polemicist.


  9. Oryx Says:

    I agree with you Kevin. Once a novelist loses focus on the story and becomes a polemicist (?) it becomes boring. Which is why, as much as I love Atwood, and Oryx and Crake, I will probably forsake The Year Of The Flood. The church/chior thing is a bit poseurish too, n’est pas?


  10. Maggie Says:

    All this dismissing of “The Year of the Flood” yet no one has actually read it! The church/choir thing sounds amazing. Atwood could just read from the book and have a full house but instead is making the effort to put on an entertaining performance. She, in addition to Munro and Gallant is responsible in great part for the respect Can Lit now gets in the international book world. Why can’t we be proud of her?
    And if a Michaels, Lyons, Baillie or a Mootoo beats her out to win the Giller , well that is a huge boost to their reputation.


  11. Oryx Says:


    If you’ve read it, then please review! The church goer/choir thing does not sound amazing-it sounds pretentious. However, you’re right-she sounds like she wants to move beyond novels to performance art. That’s cool, but she will havemuch more to compete with other than a regurgitation of her former book.


  12. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Maggie: Point taken. I tried to make it clear both in the post and my comment why I am not looking forward to reading the book — that is being honest, not a commentary on the book which I haven’t read. I do agree that Atwood has done much to establish Canadian literature internationally (and agree with your comparisons — I’d add Richler as well, stay tuned for a post on him that will go up within hours). I can’t help but wonder, however, whether her recent efforts are starting to undo that effect. I think that is a legitimate question to ask.


  13. Maggie Says:

    Kevin: Yes, definitely Richler! And yes, some writers do seem to run out of steam. In the latest “B.C. Bookworld”, Kinsella talks about why he does not continute to write but how certain folks such as Munro do not decline in what they have to offer. I’d put Atwood in that category also . Her books evolve and whether she’s talkling debt or the environment she never runs out of fresh perceptions and compelling prose and poetry. I enjoyed Flood way more than ‘Oryx and Crake’ – found the characters more compelling , particularly Ren and the writing as perceptive and bitingly funny as ever. I found that while continuing the themes of “Oryx and Crake” , “Flood” with all its post pandemic apocalyptic vision is ultimately more hopeful.
    Oryx -I would love to hear the hymns of God’s Gardeners performed in a cathedral by a choir –
    I’ll decline the invitation to write a review – it definitely would be presumptious of me who has never written a book to do justice to the yes she is! amazing Atwood – but Kevin , i think you just might HAVE to read that book after your Shadow teammates review it!


  14. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Maggie: I’m thinking I probably will HAVE to read the book. I’ll wait until the shortlist is announced (and do promise to link to Trevor’s review) and work on a major attitude adjustment between now and then. Many thanks for your comments.


  15. bookermt Says:

    Oryx and maggie

    Having read the Atwood and attended one of the cathedral performances I think it is perhaps time to make some comments.
    The book,itself is neither a sequel nor a prequel to Oryx and Crake but is a simultaneous retelling of the same story seen from the perspective of some of the mainly, more minor charcters from O&C. It is rather like take two different train journeys on parallel lines which both arrive at the same destination. Personally, I felt it lacks the provocative aspects of O&C and tells a more human side of the story. For people in Canada there is a very well balanced review in the October issue of the literary review of Canada which sums up rather well many of my feelings about the book.
    The cathedral performance was very spectacular and the audience on the whole seemed to enjoy it. I did feel that it was a tad on the over long side and that if you hadn’t read the book beforehand I’m not sure how much anything would have made sense.
    The Hymns themselves were quite simplistic almost Blakeian (probably not spelt this right) and are actually available on a cd from Earthly Ark Music. The Music is by Orville Stoeber. I do think Atwood deserves some credit here for trying to promote her book in a rather unique manner. I do tend to agree with Kevin though as the promotion of the book is not primary but takes an equal footing with the promotion of Organic issues and the Rspb charity as well as other green issues.
    The new novel can be read on its own but probably works best when read in conjunction with O&C for the combination does move them away from mere speculative fiction and more into the realms of politics and corporate business. There are some clever touches (The waterless flood, pandemic in this case,is brought about by being spread by a pill to enhance sexual performance) but ultimately it didn’t engage me as much as O&C.

    I found the Michaels to be a much more rewarding read and if I had to chose between them would plump for her novel over and above the Atwood.


  16. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Thanks bookermt — that might be the best explanation of the new book that I have seen. I haven’t read the LRC review yet but look forward to it. And my local contact for the church event here reports that all 800 seats were sold out a week ago (and the event is not until next week) so some people are obviously interested in MA’s project — as you note, I think the book represents only part of what she is trying to do.


  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Also, for regular visitors here, I should note that bookermt was last year’s International judge on the Shadow Giller, so he has some experience in looking at these Canadian books.


  18. Colette Jones Says:

    Hm, I haven’t read Oryx and Crake. Before Gilead and Home I had never come across a book which is a simultaneous retelling. Now, two in one year?


  19. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: I’d say the Alexandria Quartet (at least the first three volumes) would count as simultaneous retelling. As does Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, which won the National Book Award last year. That one’s interesting because while originally published as three volumes, he rewrote and consolidated it into one.


  20. Maggie Says:

    Really good review bookermt. Kevin, also enjoyed your mootoo review.
    Am currently reading the Baillie and really enjoying it.


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