2010 Shadow Giller Prize winner


The Shadow Giller Jury is pleased to announce its selection for the 2010 Shadow Giller Prize:

Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod

While the choice did take some deliberation, it was unanimous. MacLeod’s debut collection of seven stories is a significant achievement that deserves to be recognized — and all three jurors are looking forward to his next book, be it another story collection or (we hope) a novel.

(EDIT: Well, the Real Jury obviously did not agree with us and awarded the prize to Johanna Skibsrud for The Sentimentalists. All three Shadow Jurors liked that novel — but not as much as our top two choices. If you can find a copy, it is a very good book.)

Click cover for Publisher's details

My summary thoughts on Light Lifting: Each of MacLeod’s stories stands on its own (and some are better than others, but that is inevitable), but taken together they end up in a novel-like portrayal of an assortment of “ordinary” lives in an industrial, working class city — which is very much what Windsor (the Ontario city where all seven are set) is. The central characters are very different — a world-class sprinter who knows it is time to retire, an adult who remembers his first job as a drug store delivery boy, a water-fearing girl who is now an excellent swimmer (maybe too excellent), a widower who cannot overcome (and hence must annually commemorate) his grief — so each ends up presenting a unique view that reflects life in the community where they live. In both structure and writing, all seven stories are exquisitely crafted. (My original review is here.)

Trevor’s summary thoughts: I didn’t like each story in Light Lifting, though it feels like it, and I am very pleased that it is our winner. The stories I did like I loved. “Miracle Mile,” “Adult Beginning I,” “The Loop,” “Good Kids,” and “The Number Three”: each, to me, is stronger than anything else on the Giller shortlist, and each has stuck with me since I read them over a month ago. MacLeod uses spare and simple short sentences to construct fully textured scenes of desperation full of emotional nuance. And if I enjoyed how Kathleen Winter (Annabel) made me feel toward her characters, I loved the emotions MacLeod made me feel. My favorite story is probably (but this could shift) the opening story, “Miracle Mile.” I felt the various emotions of two runners throughout the story, from the tense tedium in the hotel to the break-down at the end. Another plus, in these short stories MacLeod focused on groups of people and types of professions that rarely take up space in fiction any more. His writing carried the loneliness and drawn-out desperation so well. (Trevor’s original review — much more extensive than mine — can be found here.)

Alison’s thoughts: This is a debut collection of stories that doesn’t read like one. MacLeod deftly manages to immerse the reader into each story’s world. I like the range here, so many debut collections feel autobiographical in that they cover the same concerns and themes. Light Lifting doesn’t do that. A couple of his stories are stunning. I had never read his work before and I look forward to more.

I mentioned that the Shadow Jury did have some debate and, unlike the Real Jury which is restricted to picking a single winner, we would like to recognize our unanimous second choice (and all three of us would have been happy to proclaim it the winner): Annabel, by Kathleen Winter.

Click cover for Publisher details

KfC’s summary thoughts: This novel, set in Labrador and Newfoundland, is a study in discovering identity. At its most obvious level, that challenge is faced by the title character, Annabel/Wayne, who was born with both female and male genitalia. That circumstance poses equally difficult identity challenges for his parents and Thomasina, their close friend who also remains close to Wayne/Annabel throughout the book. Underlying all of this, however, is another significant “identity” challenge — the struggle between wilderness Labrador, urban St. John’s and the global world beyond. The result is a very intriguing, highly successful novel. (My original review — and a guest post from author Winter describing some of her challenges in writing the book — is here).

Trevor’s summary thoughts: I think that in terms of scope Annabel was the most ambitious title this year. Set in the extreme north (makes this cold New York day just a bit colder to think about it), Annabel takes on a difficult theme and ties that theme into other observations about modern life. The characters — Wayne, Wally, Thomasina, Treadway, and Jacinta — even if I felt they were at times merely props for the story, were heartbreaking, and I cared for each one. (Trevor’s full review can be found here.)

Alison’s comment: For some reason I came to this with a bit of reluctance and was immediately drawn in by the way Winter evoked landscape and character (in fact, you could say the landscape here is a character). I found myself wondering and caring about the people she created and l really liked the way she brought Labrador, a place I have never been, to life.

All three of us had a wonderful time with our Shadow Jury tasks again this year — we hope that visitors here and at the Mookse and the Gripes have found our thoughts useful. If there was any grumpiness to us at all, it would probably be that the Real Jury overlooked some very good longlist titles when they picked their shortlist — so check out some of the longlist reviews from both Trevor and myself which can be found in the 2010 Giller Prize menu on the sidebar to the right. The Real Jury agreed with our selection of The Bishop’s Man last year — we won’t be complaining if either of these titles is chosen by this year’s jury.

And if you have your own choice, by all means let us know in the comments. The Real Jury will announce their decision on live television on Tuesday, Nov. 9 — if you don’t have access to Canadian television, broadcaster CTV is promising international webcast coverage at http://www.Giller.CTV.ca starting at 9 p.m. EST (although the site does not seem to be operational yet).


39 Responses to “2010 Shadow Giller Prize winner”

  1. Kerry Says:

    Light Lifting, all the way. Very good choice.


  2. RickP Says:


    This was the unanimous pick. You’ve been pretty in sync with the Giller jury in the past. Do you think it will win?

    I’ve read somewhere in the past that his father’s novel No Great Mischief which I loved was not nominated for the Giller because of an oversight. Do you recall the details on that.

    At any rate, I certainly intend to read both Light Lifting and Annabel (especially since I’m from Labrador originally).

    Thanks to the Shadow Gillers.


  3. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Rick P: I think the issue with the Real Jury will be whether they have a bias (positive or negative) towards a short story collection — given the presence of Selecky’s collection on the shortlist, I suspect it would be positive if anything. While I liked both Annabel and The Sentimentalists, each has some issues. On the other hand, with two international judges I suspect the “Windsor” angle of Light Lifting that appealed so much to me is not likely to be a factor. I could see anyone of the three winning (as could my fellow Shadow Jurors) but we do feel MacLeod has an edge.

    My understanding has always been that No Great Mischief did not get submitted for the Giller due to an oversight, misunderstanding or whatever and would have been a runaway winnerin 1999 if it had. That year’s winner, Bonnie Burnard’s A Good House, was one of the weaker Giller winners — certainly most readers would say that MacLeod’s novel is far superior.


  4. kimbofo Says:

    Interesting that you’ve chosen a short story collection. I think I’d fall over from the shock if the Booker Prize judges included a short story collection in its long list.

    As an aside, is Alexander McLeod any relation to Alistair McLeod? I’ve not read any of Alistair’s work but his name has been in my sights for quite some time, because John McGahern named him as one of his very favourite writers. A recommendation like that isn’t anything to be sniffed at, right?


    • AK Says:

      oh kim you must read Alistair McLeod ASAP

      its interesting to learn that McGahern had him as one of his very fav writers….

      oh and speaking of short stories… I am truly cherishing every page of the John McGahern anthology these days!!!!!!!!

      p.s. happy travels with your Kindle and ebooks!!
      (make some room in there for the McLeod ‘s)



      • kimbofo Says:

        Thanks AK. Sadly McLeod, jnr and snr, not available on kindle! Have added to my wishlist and when I’m back from my travels will make sure I purchase them in traditional format. 😉


  5. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kim: You would definitely fall over, since short story collections are not eligible for the Booker. Three of 16 Giller winners have been collections (Alice Munro twice and Vincent Lam).

    Alexander is Alistair’s son. I can understand why McGahern would like him — they have similar styles and Alistair MacLeod’s special geography (Cape Breton Island) is not unlike McGahern’s. And of course, for both authors, it is the environment that produces the characters.


    • kimbofo Says:

      Hehe, should have known that about the Booker! It explains a lot…

      As I’ve just said to AK above, I must add both jnr and snr to the wishlist: they sound like two authors I’d really love.


  6. anokatony Says:

    Guess good fiction writing runs in the family.


  7. Kiley Turner Says:

    Hear, hear! An unforgettable collection. So hard, but never crude. Compassionate but not sentimental. Uneven but so incredible in many places you forgive all.


  8. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Tony: It does — and I look forward to the next book from the son. I’m thinking we will be lucky to see a small short story collection from father as well.
    Kiley — Alexander writes my kind of realism, if that is what you mean by “hard”. I will be cheering for him on Tuesday.


  9. RickP Says:


    One of the books that I’ve seen you frequently praise is The Imperfectionists. If it had been shortlisted, do you think the Shadow Gillers would have voted differently?


  10. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Rick: I can’t speak for my colleagues (both of whom liked it) but it certainly would have made my shortlist — and I think I would have place it second to Light Lifting when it came to a final choice.


  11. amymckie Says:

    I obviously MUST pick up Light Lifting, and soon. You all have such high praise for it. Annabel was probably one of my favorite reads of the year so far, so I’m glad to hear that it came close for you.


  12. Kerry Says:


    As always, I love your Shadow Giller coverage. Last year, you gave me The Incident Report, though it didn’t win either the Shadow Giller or the Giller prize. This year, I am excited about Light Lifting. I often do not pick up short story collections, and for no good reason.
    This one, however, is going on my list. Not the “maybe some day”, but the “I will read it soon” list.

    Of course, as the tumbleweeds at my blog attest, both work and a particularly long book are making hash of my reading plans. The Shadow Giller coverage and, particularly Light Lifting, motivates me to find time to get back in the blogging/reading swing. Thanks for that.


  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Amy: You MUST pick up Light Lifting. And given your tastes, keep an eye out for The Sentimentalists when copies are available.

    Kerry: I hope you enjoy it. And I figured that some lengthy trial (or book?) had derailed your blog — you’ve had enough rest, it’s time to get back to posting. 🙂 We miss you.


    • Kerry Says:

      Yes, a bit of both, actually. But I will be back to posting soon (though I will probably still be busy with both work and that blasted 900 page book)…heh….


  14. amymckie Says:

    Kevin, I really can’t wait to pick up the others… unfortunately, both my local Indigo and my local indie are ONLY carrying The Matter with Morris at the moment. I KEEP calling and getting mad at them (especially as Annabel was so incredible) but as of yet, no new copies!!!!! And the winner is announced tonight!!! So annoyed and angry.


  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Amy: The problem with Indie publishers getting on to the shortlist is that they just aren’t organized to meet surges in demand. My fellow Shadow juror Alison scoured all of Toronto to get us copies of The Sentimentalists — after she bought three for us there was only one left in all of Toronto’s Indigo stores. (If you can ever find a copy of the first edition, buy it — it is a wonderful physical book.) Light Lifting‘s publishers had similar problems. So…patience is a virtue.

    I am very much looking forward to tonight. I think the Real Jury’s decision is going to come down to whether they like/dislike short story collections. If they do, I’d say MacLeod wins — if they don’t either Winter or Skibsrud could be the choice.


  16. amymckie Says:

    Very true Kevin. Unfortunately, when I checked with my indie bookstore they had SENT THEIR COPIES OF ANNABEL BACK because they just weren’t moving many. I was like whaaaaaat? My local Indigo hasn’t even placed an order for the other books yet. 😦 I’m going to just have to order online I think. You are right about the Indie publishers not being able to meet the demand as well though. Unfortunate, but also great to see them on the list!


  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Amy: I have to confess that I buy almost all of my books online now. I experience some guilt feelings about not supporting my local independent, but having the books arrive at the door (so no parking hassles since Pages in Calgary is very hard to park close to), at a 30 per cent discount, and with no shipping charges (since I always order enough to get free shipping), is something I can’t overlook. And the Book Depository in the UK does not charge for shipping any book (and they usually show up within a week) — I’ve even ordered some NA titles from them because their prices were better.

    Incidentally, click on the link in comments today for a very interesting look at Selecky’s story collection. The Shadow Jury did not like it very much at all, but this blogger has a different view.


  18. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Amy: Okay, I have to ask. McKie suggests Nova Scotia, perhaps even Cape Breton, connections. Could you please confirm or deny? 🙂


  19. Amy Pagnotta Says:

    if anyone wants to watch a program i produced on alexander macleod for CTV in canada, it’s been posted online here:



  20. amymckie Says:

    You are right Kevin. I feel bad, but most of my book shopping is done online as well lately. And this is why 🙂


  21. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Amy Pagnotta: Thank you very much for the link — I missed the original broadcast but was entranced by watching the archived version. I think we Canadians should be proud that the Giller gets so much broadcast attention since I know my UK friends feel that the Booker gets overlooked. For visitors here, if you follow the link that Amy provided you can gain access to excellent programmes on all five Giller finalists.

    And finally Amy, a pitch for a future project. Do you think you could sell a show on Indigo/Chapters distribution arm in Brampon? I know it sounds boring at first glance, but this is the leverage point that services virtually every Canadian reader. I know my orders get sent within a day or two — and I also know bulk shipments are going out to stores across the country. I’d love to see what it looks like.


  22. AK Says:

    My money was on Light Lifting as well (IMHO short stories are quite underrated these days….)

    Congratulations Johanna Skibsrud!!!!


  23. KevinfromCanada Says:

    AK: I can’t disagree with the result, even if it was not my personal choice. And at least I have a copy of the book. 🙂


    • AK Says:

      hahaa.. want to lend me the copy of the winning novel….

      but seriously what is up the 80 initial 1st edition and then an additional 500 mere copies printed only….i know its “small press” but come on….

      looks like we will have to wait for UK and US editions of the book to be eventually released as i am not interested in paying 20$ for the digital edition..It seems most people interested in her work today can only access it in ebook format which is quite sad


  24. John Self Says:

    This is the book which sounded most interesting to me from the reviews here, so I’m pleased it won, and look forward to its UK publication.


  25. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John: Kimbofo says elsewhere that UK publication is now scheduled for April. You may get to buy it before Canadians who did not get one of the original press run of 800. There has been much mulling about Gaspereau insisting on a proper second printing, instead of a mass market one that was apparently offered. Skibsrud is standing by her publisher, although it is going to cost her some sales in the short term.

    I found the high quality Gaspereau trade edition a significant element in the book — the “feel” of my copy was very much like high quality trade European editions (say Pushkin Press) and that added to the European “feel” of the text. I think Skibsrud took more risks than the other finalists did — they didn’t all work but you have to admire her for taking them.

    And it wouldn’t be a book prize without a controversy. Apparently, Skibsrud’s international agent is Ali Smith’s agent — and Ali was certainly the most bouncy of the three jurors last night, leading to speculation that she may have “bullied” her fellow jurors at decision time. Fortunately, the Shadow Jury has always avoided damaging controversies like this — although Shadow Juror Alison (the only one of us who gets to go to the gala) was promoted to the judge’s table this year and seated next to last year’s winner, Linden McIntyre. Suitable recognition for the Shadow Giller, I would say.


    • AK Says:

      controversy indeed…

      just found out about “the agent”..oh wow

      “…— and Ali was certainly the most bouncy of the three jurors last night…” LOL


  26. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Given the complaints about tv coverage of the Booker (a brief clip on BBC news), I wanted to acknowledge the excellent television coverage of the Giller by CTV and Bravo. Last night began with a repeat of a one-hour panel discussion that featured all five finalist authors — the discussion was informative and interesting. And every one of the five was a likable person (not a requirement for good writing, but definitely a “nice to have”).

    Coverage of the gala itself was even better. Again this year, each book was introduced by a “celebrity” — Anne Murray and Barbara Amiel Black were two of the five (Conrad couldn’t make it). That lead into a shortish film clip of each author talking about their work. And then the author was presented with a leather-bound edition of their book.

    It was very classy and produced the desired effect of celebrating all five books, not just the one that earned its writer a $50,000 check. I haven’t checked it out, but CTV says versions of both shows are available on-demand from their archive at http://www.ctv.ca . A visit is worth it to see what fine television coverage of a literary even can be.


  27. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    I think this publisher has done a great disservice to this young author by refusing to figure out a way to get this book to readers immediately. The afterglow of the prize announcement must surely be a prime selling period for books, and the fact that this book wont be avaialble until who knows when is a real shame. I wonder if this will cause other authors to look further afield when they decide on a publisher.


    • AK Says:

      great point Sheila ( see my reply to Kevin above!!)

      I think the “small press” publishers of the winning novel are being grade A ‘JERKS’

      a quote from the G&M article>

      “Gaspereau publisher Andrew Steeves subsequently raised eyebrows by refusing a commercial publisher’s offer to produce a second edition for wide distribution. “If you are going to buy a copy of that book in Canada, it’s damn well coming out of my shop,” he told The Globe and Mail.”……. LOL


  28. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    I agree AK – this may be a once in a life time opportunity for this author, and to be denied a large readership of her book is a terrible shame. Andrew Steeves sounds like a real piece of work.


  29. dovegreyreader Says:

    thanks again for your Giller coverage Kevin & team, it has been most enjoyable and I’m envious of the coverage and priority Canada gives to this. But soooo disappointed that the book won’t be immediately available even in Canada let alone the UK. Whilst I appreciate the publisher’s rather exclusive stance and by all means push up the value of the books out there this does a huge disservice to those of us who have followed the prize. Surely time for the Giller to take just one leaf out of the Booker rulebook and ensure that copies of the winning title will be available? It smacks of an elitism that I have not associated with Canada until now and does this author a huge injustice Disgruntled of Devon UK


  30. John Self Says:

    An analogy might be made here with the excellent UK small press CB Editions. They published Christopher Reid’s narrative poem The Song of Lunch, and a year or so later it was picked up by the BBC for a screen adaptation (which was shown last month). Charles Boyle of CB Editions knew that this would boost sales of the book far beyond anything he had experienced before, and rather than try to keep up with the demand and distribution himself, he licensed or sold the rights to Faber, who produced a tie-in edition and made it widely available in the shops.


  31. KevinfromCanada Says:

    dgr, John: While I think you are both on the right track, I’ll throw a few more “facts” and opinions into the mix.

    1. This is not Skibsrud’s first book with Gaspereau, it is her third. The other two were poetry volumes, so I am going to assume she is familiar with small press runs.
    2. The Sentimentalists was published 13 months ago with little attention. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s last source of mainline reviews, did not get around to paying attention to it until it was longlisted. When you google reviews, mine shows up second on the list — or did a few days ago.
    3. As one of the lucky people who actually has a copy, I can’t tell you how important the physical aspect of the volume is to appreciating the book. As the narrator explores her history and memory, the high-quality phsyical aspect of the book echoes the search.
    4. People are also over-looking that fact that the author’s royalty on a mass-market edition will be far less than on the Gaspereau trade press edition.
    5. Despite all that, I agree with the sentiment that Prize winning books should be available to people who want to read them. dgr is quite right that the Giller should adopt the Booker requirement that publishers who nominate books also commit to make sure copies are available if books make the shortlist — that hardly seems onerous.
    6. And I cannot help but note that while the Giller winner is normally a one day story, Gaspereau’s issues and Ali Smith’s “misbehavior” have kept the news stream alive for a number of days.

    I am guessing that the Gaspereau guys will find a way out of this in the next few days — and that it will eventually result in more, rather than less, sales. JS’s comment regarding CB Editions probably supplies the right kind of model.


  32. KevinfromCanada Says:

    For those who missed it, Gaspereau has arranged a deal with Douglas and McIntyre to ensure a printing of 30,000 copies of the Sentimenalists which should be available within a week. The two publishers also seem to have found a printer with very high standards.

    Full details are here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/deal-struck-to-meet-surge-in-demand-for-giller-winning-book/article1799005/

    The book, if you are looking forward to it, is woth the wait.


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