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.