Well, both halves of today’s book prize announcements confirm past practice — KevinfromCanada and prize juries don’t have much in common. I liked Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room for the Booker but Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall wins — not really a surprise when you consider the historical novels that were on the short list. As for the Giller, of the four books I listed as my favorites in a comment yesterday, not one made the 2009 Giller Prize shortlist (although the two I had tied for fifth both did). I’m still quite happy with the list, admittedly because it does not include Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, a book that I was very much not looking forward to reading. Four of the five have been reviewed here — the fifth has been read by Shadow juror Alison Gzowski and I’ll try to get a full review up here next week. The shortlist:
The Disappeared, Kim Echlin
A young Montreal woman falls in love with a Cambodian and follows him back to his home during the era of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields. A very readable book, perhaps lacking in depth for me — I read it some months ago when it first appeared so I may need to revisit it before Nov. 10 prize day. Full review here.
The Golden Mean, Anabel Lyon
A story concerning Aristotle and his young pupil, Alexander (not yet The Great), it is the only finalist that I have not read. Shadow jury member Alison Gzowski has and here are thumbnail thoughts: “The golden mean is the perfect balance between extremes, and in this case Aristotle and Alexander are those extremes, a lonely man of ideas, an immoderate young man of action. There’s a “cast in order of appearance” at the front (a list of the characters and how they relate) as the beginning does introduce quite a number. The main ones though are Aristotle, his wife and of course Alexander. Lyon does a good job of putting the reader in that place and time and, as reviewers have noted, of getting inside Aristotle’s head. I liked the women in the book – Aristotle’s wife Pythias and their tart-tongued slave.” I’ll try to get my review up as quickly as possible.
The Bishop’s Man, Linden MacIntyre
A novel that has become very topical — the real-life Bishop of Antigonish (who is the fictional bishop of the title) resigned recently after being charged with two counts of possessing pornography. The bishop’s man of the title is an “exorcist” responsible for disciplining wayward priests. That chore and his return to a parish in his native Cape Breton Island have produced a crisis of confidence and identity, surfacing a number of past conflicts. I didn’t love it by any means but can certainly see its appeal . Full review here.
Fall, Colin McAdam
A “school” novel set in Ottawa, the central character is 17-year old Noel, son of a Canadian diplomat, and his relationship with Julius, the son of the U.S. ambassador to Canada. The “Fall” of the title is Fallon, the beautiful female student whom most of the male students have crushes on. I like school novels (and McAdam’s first novel as well) and was quite looking forward to it — for me, however, the execution did not work and this was the most disappointing of the four shortlist books that I have read. Full review here..
The Winter Vault, Anne Michaels
Avery Escher is an engineer, in charge of moving the temple of Abu Simbel from its original location on the Nile which will be flooded when the Aswan Dam is completed. Many communities also need to be resettled. His Canadian wife, Jean, is with him — the two had met on a somewhat similar project, the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada, which also dislocated communities. The second part of the book moves to Toronto and, in its own way, explores the dislocation of Warsaw caused by the Nazis. I found the first part strong, the latter weak — it has been many months since I read it and I do plan a reread in the next few weeks. Full original review here.
Shadow Giller international judge Trevor Berrett has not read any of these books but is eager to meet the challenge in the next five weeks and will be posting reviews on his blog, The Mookse and the Gripes. I will be posting excerpts from his reviews here (along with some additional comments of my own) and our fellow Shadow juror Alison will offer occasional comments on both sites. Comments from visitors — on books already reviewed here and on Trevor’s reviews — are certainly welcome. The Shadow Giller jury will be announcing its winner in advance of the Real Giller decision on Nov. 10.
Hilary Mantel has won the 2009 Booker Prize for Wolf Hall. I did not like the book but cannot say that I am surprised at the decision — when three long historical novels are on the short list, you have to think that represents the jury’s taste. I can certainly understand why people like the book, but it is not one that suits my taste. On the other hand, that is a question of taste not judgment — if you like historical fiction, it is a fine book.