Archive for September, 2010

Booker 2010 shortlist; 2010 Shadow Giller Jury plans

September 7, 2010

The official 2010 Booker shortlist (alphabetically by author — click on title to link to my original review):

Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey
Room, by Emma Donoghue
In A Strange Room, by Damon Galgut
The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
The Long Song, by Andrea Levy
C, by Tom McCarthy

Since the jury agreed with my top three choices, I can hardly complain. On the other hand, my last two choices — Room and The Finkler Question — also made the list, although I did correctly predict that Room would be there. So I guess it could be said that 2010 was the year that KfC “bookended the Booker” shortlist.

Surprises for me on the shortlist:

1. All three longlist novels that I would call “literary” — Galgut, McCarthy, Jacobson — made the list. Except for Donoghue, none of the “story” novels did (Warner, Murray, Tsiolkas, Dunmore, Tremain, Moore). Given that more than half the longlist were “story” novels, it surprised me that only one advanced when all three literary titles did. One can only conclude that the jury has a stronger “literary” tilt than the longlist suggested.

2. Historical novels always show up on the Booker shortlist and I expected two to be there. Like just about everyone else, however, I expected David Mitchell to be one of them. I suspect this jury really doesn’t like media-hyped authors — they didn’t even let Ian McEwan and Martin Amis on the longlist and now have dropped Mitchell at the shortlist stage.

3. Obviously, the inclusion of Jacobson (whose novel I called “dreadful” after abandoning it 200 pages in) was a surprise to me. I’ve promised to give it another try and after a few days of ridding myself of negative thoughts I will. If the reread is better, I promise a review — if my opinion remains negative, I’ll just update the other one. There is no way I am going to rubbish a book twice.

The Prize won’t be announced until Oct. 12 which means five more weeks of speculation, but I’ll start it up with some initial predictions (which I reserve the right to change). I suspect the literary tilt of the shortlist will be repeated in the final choice — and that that will be Damon Galgut’s In A Small Room (there — I have definitely doomed it to failure). The McCarthy, while ambitious, simply has too many weaknesses, the Jacobson’s second half (even from most who like it) too boring.

The presence of Room, however, indicates at least one juror (and probably more) has much different tastes, which may lead to a compromise — and a historical novel as Booker winner is always acceptable. I think Carey’s book is just too weak (besides, its about America and Booker juries don’t seem to like that) so would not be surprised to see The Long Song emerge (there, I’ve damned it too). Other theories are, of course, welcome in comments. The Booker reading may be almost done, but the real debate has just started.


With my Booker reading virtually complete, the blog will be turning its attention to Canadian fiction and the 17th annual Scotiabank Giller Prize, the country’s leading literary competition. I am pleased to announce that this will also be the 16th year for the Shadow Giller Jury, whose unofficial home will be both this blog and Trevor Berrett at the Mookse and the Gripes

A short bit of Shadow Giller history. The first Shadow jury came together throught pure happenstance — I was publisher of the Calgary Herald at the time (1995) and ran into our book editor (now an author) Ken McGoogan and Calgary author Robert Hilles in the newsroom the day before the second winner of the Giller Prize was to be announced. We chatted about the “new” prize and discovered that each of us had recently spent time with one of that year’s three Giller judges — Mordecai Richler, Jane Urquhart and David Staines. So we had a 15-minute judging session and named Rohinton Mistry as winner of the first Shadow Giller prize for A Fine Balance (which is still my favorite book), a decision echoed by the Real Jury the next day.

Doris Giller

We’ve missed a few years, but there has been a Shadow Giller jury just about every year since and Giller founder and financer Jack Rabinovitch, who set the prize up in honor of his late wife, Doris, has recognized our efforts in a few of his speeches at the annual banquet. Knowing the controversy that follows post-Booker announcements, the Shadow Jury has always committed itself to announcing its decision before the Real Jury makes theirs — if you want to earn the right to criticize, you have to put your own opinion forward first. We will be doing that again this year.

While the Giller is restricted to Canadian authors, the jury is not — this year’s Real jury will be chaired by Canadian journalist Michael Enright but his colleagues will be British novelist and critic Ali Smith and U.S. novelist Claire Messud. This year’s Shadow Jury will be the same as last year’s — I will be joined by Alison Gzowski, former producer of CBC Radio’s Talking Books, and Trevor Berrett, New Jersey-based blogger from the Mookse and the Gripes.

While I will be reviewing as many Canadian novels as possible in advance of the longlist announcement on Sept. 20, the Shadow Jury will not be attempting to predict a longllist — the Giller has a tradition of recognizing books from small publishing houses and it just isn’t possible to do a fair sampling in advance of the longlist announcement. With the shortlist announcement on Oct. 5, we also cannot commit to all of us reading the entire longlist — there simply is not enough time, althougIwe will offer thoughts on worthy books for the shortlist. We will try to ensure that at least one of us gets around to each book on the longlist before Oct. 5 and I will do my best to eventually review every longlisted book on this site. I am also trying to design a contest that (if I can figure one out) will be announced here at the same time as the shortlist. I am negotiating with the Official Shadow Giller sponsor (Mrs. KfC who has paid for the Shadow jury gala lunch for several years) to extend her support of the prize to include the contest.

All three of us will read all of the shortlist — Trevor and I will supply complete reviews on our blogs and Alison (who doesn’t blog) will be commenting. In the long-established tradition of the Shadow Giller Jury, we will be announcing our winner on Friday, Nov. 5 — four days in advance of the official Giller Prize announcement on Nov. 9. Please join us in the experience and don’t hesitate to offer your opinions in comments.

KfC’s shortlist for the 2010 Man Booker

September 4, 2010

With all 13 longlisted books now read, here is KfC’s Booker shortlist in order (with links from the title of each to the original review):

In A Strange Room, by Damon Galgut

A touching and very well written story of a South African trekker (named Damon) who “spends most of his time on the move in acute anxiety”. The novel involves three journeys, none of which could be called a success. Galgut switches voice from the third person to the first person, often in the same sentence — as the novel moves on, that first person voice becomes more common. As well, with each adventure, the central character becomes more and more fully developed. An excellent book.

The Long Song, by Andrea Levy

A book that I first read in March, my impression has grown consistently better with each passing month. July, the narrator (who also writes in both the first and third person), is a freed Jamaican slave whose publisher son has encouraged her to write down her story. She is not totally reliable but what she does choose to remember offsets any problems. The novel has a tremendous humanity — July understands the conflicts that slavery poses for her masters as much as she understands the repression that it forced on her. The book is not perfect, but I can report that its weaknesses shrink in time, while it strengths grow in stature.

C, by Tom McCarthy

The most unconventional novel on the longlist, for me it was one of the most successful. The central character, Serge Carrefax, is introduced at birth. The son of an eccentric inventor, who also runs a school for the deaf (echoes of Alexander Graham Bell), Serge matures, develops an interest and expertise in the new field of wireless transmission, heads off to the Great War as an airborne observer, returns to the drug culture in post-war London and then ends up in Egypt. A novel that raises more questions than it answers — and all of the elements don’t entirely succeed — it leaves a lasting impression.

Trespass, by Rose Tremain

Anthony Verey is an aging London antique dealer whose most successful days are now past. He heads to France where his sister (and her female partner) is compiling a book on gardening in arid conditions as her last work — and Anthony explores the idea of relocating there with his “beloveds”, the pieces in his extensive collection that he cannot do without. The three English characters are joined by a French brother-sister pair of the same age, who are also trying to come to terms with there own conflicted and troubling past. For this reader, an intriguing story of aging and what it means to face what may be the last major conscious decision in life.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

While this book somewhat disappointed me, that is only because I like David Mitchell’s work so much. The title character has been sent as a clerk to the Dutch trading island of Dejima, next door to Nagasaki — imperial Japan’s only window on the rest of the world. Part of his job is to uncover the corrupt practices of the past. But he becomes entranced with a Japanese medical student who has been allowed to study with the Dutch doctor on the island — Mitchell uses that to open an exploration of some of the abuses that take place in the Japanese system. Probably the most ambitious book on the longlist, even if it is not totallly successful.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

The book with the most humor on the longlist, author Murray creates a cast of weird but completely believable Irish students, offset by an equally weird cast of school staff. The plot may be thin, but it is enough to carry some exceptional character development — and Murray exploits that in some hilarious set pieces. An entertaining and enjoyable read, I suspect it does not have the weight to win the prize.

And while my record of predicting what official Man Booker juries do is hapless, I can’t resist the temptation of offering a prediction of the real list (alphabetically by author):

Room, by Emma Donoghue
The Betrayal, by Helen Dunmore
In A Strange Room, by Damon Galgut
The Long Song, by Andrea Levy
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, by David Mitchell
C, by Tom McCarthy

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