2011 — The Shadow Giller is back!


This is the 18th anniversary of the Giller Prize, Canada’s most recognized award for literary fiction. It is also the 17th anniversary of the Shadow Giller Jury, Canada’s most persistent (and perhaps annoying) tracker of the “real” Giller. We will let Jack Rabinovitch (the founder and financer of the prize in honor of his wife, Doris Giller) and invited friends celebrate the “real” Giller — we will have a good time with the Shadow version.

I do think this will be an exciting Giller Prize year. Already, three Canadian novels (Alison Pick’s Far To Go, Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers and Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues) have featured on the Booker longlist. I was disappointed with that longlist and will go out on a limb here — I am confident that the 2011 Giller longlist will reflect more quality than the 2011 Booker longlist did. And I am pretty sure a number, but not that many, have already been reviewed here — stay turned for next Tuesday’s longlist announcement. The Real Giller Jury — authors Annabel Lyon, Howard Norman and Andrew O’Hagan — better not let me down because an outstanding list of books is available (to see all 200+ check out the list of potential nominees on the official ScotiabankGiller website).

The Shadow Giller was hatched in the lobby of the news room of the Calgary Herald when three reading souls came together quite by happenstance — Herald book editor Ken McGoogan, Calgary author Robert Hilles and myself, then the publisher of the Herald. As it happened we had all recently spent some time with one of that year’s Giller jurors — Mordecai Richler (McGoogan), Jane Urquhart (Hilles) and U of Ottawa English professor David Staines (me).

The intitial Shadow Giller deliberation was a 10-minute affair — Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (still my favorite book of all-time) prevailed in a two-to-one vote over Barbara Gowdy’s Mister Sandman. (Aside: If you visit here, Ken, could you explain why you made such a bad choice?)

Since that time in 1995 both the Giller and Shadow Giller have grown. We have tracked the growth of the main prize and will continue to do so. We used to promise a $50,000 prize to any winner we chose that the Real Jury didn’t — subject to available funding of course — and still owe Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall On Your Knees) and Wayne Johnson ( The Colony of Unrequited Dreams) the money. Needless to say (and a sorry to last year’s Shadow Giller winner, Alexander MacLeod for Light Lifting), we don’t promise that anymore.

A few years ago, the “Real” Giller added an international judge to its panel and the Shadow Giller was quick to follow. This year, I think we have overtaken them. Neither of the two longtime Canadian jurors (that would be me and Alison Gzowski, who produced CBC Radio’s Talking Books until its unfortunate demise) were willing to quit, so we will have four jurors this year.

Introducing (much fanfare, please):

Kimbofo from Reading Matters, one of my favorite book blogs. Kimbofo is Australian-born and raised, now resident in London (the UK not the Ontario one). Mr. Reading Matters is Irish so Kim frequently heads — and reads — north. She is my number one source on Irish fiction and I am delighted to welcome her to the Shadow Giller jury. While I look after Canada and the Caribbean, Kimbofo will look after the rest of the Commonwealth. The Giller is restricted to Canadian authors, but writers with non-Canadian roots have always featured in the list and there is usually a global flavor to it.

Trevor blogs at The Mookse and the Gripes and this will be his third year as a Shadow Giller juror. He not only brings a U.S. view to our thoughts, his interest in translated fiction adds a global perspective. He is a developing expert in Canadian fiction, I must say. And we do need a juror who is not steeped in Commonwealth tradition, which I think is a fair description of Trevor.

The Giller longlist (normally 12 titles) is a challenge for the Shadow Jury — since so many Canadian titles are released in September and not available internationally, we simply can’t get all of them into the hands of all jurors before the shortlist is announced. We promise that at least one of us will read each title, but that is all. I will do my best to provide reviews of all of them here eventually.

As for the shortlist (out Oct. 4), we will do our best to review all five on each of the three blogs (Alison doesn’t blog, but will be commenting everywhere). When Kimbofo or Trevor post reviews on their blogs, I will highlight some excerpts here with links to their full reviews. Of course, all comments are welcome, both here and on Kim and Trevor’s blogs. And sometime about Nov. 3 or 4 — some days in advance of the Nov. 8 Giller announcement, for sure — we will reveal this year’s Shadow Jury choice when visitors’ choices will also be most welcome.

So please join us by contributing your thoughts. The Giller Prize has become an internationally-recognized award — we on the Shadow Jury would like to reflect that here. We love reading and writing about the books but we love it even more when there are others on the journey so please join us. There is no entrance bar at all — if you like or dislike a book, just say so.


28 Responses to “2011 — The Shadow Giller is back!”

  1. Guy Savage Says:

    You mentioned long and short lists with dates. Are those for the other prize or yours? In other words do you have a working list yet?


  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: Sorry, those are the official dates. I don’t have a working list (and Trevor and Kimbofo haven’t even started) — between us Alison and I have probably read some (maybe as many as half) that will show up on the longlist. We’ve never tried to do a longlist prediction because the Canadian publishing year is so tilted to the fall that many titles are not out yet. Also, the Giller has always been kind to small publishing houses and debut authors — I am sure there will be a number that I haven’t heard of. I will try to read enough to at least come up with some shortlist thoughts.


  3. Guy Savage Says:

    How do you get a working list? Look at all the new releases? Or do you use the Giller list as some sort of starter?


  4. Blithe Spirit Says:

    Kevin, I always enjoy reading the Shadow Giller’s reviews and comments and look forward to another lively season. I agree that hopefully the Giller longlist might have more interesting reads on it than the Booker. I’ve read the Barnes and Hollinghurst and will definitely read the Barry but that’s all that has tempted me. My Canlit reading this year has been pretty woeful – the reviews of Alison Pick have intrigued me and I definitely want to get around to reading that novel. I’ve read the Ondaatje and it probably has a good shot for the longlist. I have my fingers crossed for two other novels I really enjoyed this year – Tessa McWatt’s Vital Signs and Alexi Zentner’s Touch. And I’m looking forward to seeing what small press titles make the list. You may have discussed this already and I missed it but, what do you make of the public getting to choose a title on the longlist, given that several of the books weren’t even published yet?


  5. David Says:

    I’m hugely looking forward to the Shadow Giller, and indeed the real one. It has to be better than the Booker at any rate!
    I’d second both of Blithe Spirit’s suggestions – I really enjoyed ‘Touch’, and ‘Vital Signs’ was very good (I loved the way it incorporated graphic elements into the story and made them feel essential rather than gimmicky, plus it was pretty heart-rending). I do hope ‘Alone in the Classroom’ makes the longlist as it is probably in my top three books of the year so far. I’ve also just started Brian Francis’s ‘Natural Order’ which has had some glowing reviews.
    That public vote thing seems a bit odd to me (like the wildcard contestants on X-Factor!) – either the public will select a book the judges have already chosen, or they’ll choose one they had already dismissed and it won’t make it past the longlist. Either way there doesn’t seem much point to it.


  6. Brett Says:

    Hello Kevin, I have been following your blog for over a year now but had not (until today) been tempted to post anything. But I can’t keep quite any longer – I am shocked that David Bezmozgis book, The Free World, has (so far) been overlooked for any of the major awards. I was certain it would turn up on the Booker, but alas, no. I only hope the Giller Judges will correct this oversight. I know you were a fan of the book and it remains for me the best book of 2011 – by a longshot. Fingers crossed!


  7. Lisa Hill Says:

    Yay, love the Shadow Giller and it will be even more fun this year with my friend Kim keeping the rest of you on your toes!


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Lisa: Those of us in the Old Dominions have to keep each other up to date (I certainly appreciate your keeping me informed on Australian work). And, now that you are into Kindle, you might actually get to read some Giller books — if you go to the Kindle store via amazon.com (for some reason I can’t get there via amazon.ca) most of the titles seem to be available.


    • kimbofo Says:

      Lisa, I reckon you should start a Shadow Miles Franklin. I’d happily join in on that one, too 😉


  8. KevinfromCanadaKevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: Quill and Quire, Canada’s book trade publication, does two issues a year on forthcoming titles for spring and fall — both are quite complete. Alison works at the Globe and Mail, so has good data from there since every publisher wants a Globe review. And I am a “reader” for the local book festival, WordFest, so friends there look out for titles (especially small house ones) of interest. The Shadow Jury doesn’t really have a “working list” — we start with the Real Jury’s longlist.


  9. KevinfromCanadaKevinfromCanada Says:

    Blithe Spirit, David, Brett (welcome to you): You have certainly hit some of my favorites: The Free World, Touch and Alone in the Classroom would all make my tentative longlist (I haven’t read Vital Signs). I was less keen on Irma Voth, but would not be surprised to see it on the Real Jury List. Ditto Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (another Booker-eligible that missed the longlist there). Two ARC’s that I have read — Wayne Johnson and Guy Vanderhaeghe — are strong. I’ll try to post reviews near their release dates even if they don’t make the list.

    As for the Booker three, Alison Pick was eligible last year and missed, Patrick deWitt is an interesting challenge for the jury (I did like the book) and Esi Edugyan wasn’t really to my taste.

    If you look at this reply, there’s eight books of value named and that’s off the top of our heads without much thought — which is why I think a very strong list might be released on Tuesday.


    • David Says:

      I finished reading Brian Francis’s ‘Natural Order’ last night, and I’m now really hoping it makes the Giller longlist. It’s such a wonderful book.


  10. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Sorry, I forgot to offer the Shadow Jury opinion on the CBC “let the public name a longlist book” (Alison and I did discuss it — but Trevor and Kim weren’t asked for an opinion so don’t blame them for this one). We came to same conclusion David did — either the public picks a book the jury would have added anyway or one they have already rejected (maybe the contest would provoke second thoughts, but I doubt it). I am all for anything that increases interest ( even the Booker winning announcement gets scant television attention in the UK) but it seems to me this contest pretty much only involved the converted. The official website promises another CBC contest — I suspect if they link up with libraries across the country (which have always supported the Giller) it may produce increased readership of Giller titles.


  11. kimbofo Says:

    Hi Kevin, I should probably point out that I’ve been reading Irish novels long before Mr Reading Matters appeared on the scene. I discovered John Banville and Patrick McCabe (and dare I admit it, Maeve Binchy) in my early 20s when working in a book store (to fund my university studies) and from thereon in there has been no looking back!.

    Funnily enough, I started drinking Guinness in 1994, when I fell in with a group of Guinness drinkers when I lived in Brisbane for two years, but every one assumes I only drink the black stuff because Mr Reading Matters is Irish!!


  12. Lisa Hill Says:

    *chuckle* Kim, re a shadow Miles Franklin? I wouldn’t dare!


  13. Lisa Hill Says:

    Well, um, it’s one thing for an eminent reviewer such as yourself to do it and another thing for a humble chalkie to take on the Aussie literary establishment!


  14. Lisa Hill Says:

    You’re very encouraging – I’ll think about it! *tentative smile*


  15. Crake Says:

    “Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (still my favorite book of all-time)”

    Now that’s some recommendation!


  16. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Crake: My hardcover first edition is 700 plus pages and I’ve read it four or five times — galloping through each time. I’ve been thinking it is due for another revisit this winter. If you haven’t read it, do — I can’t think of anyone who does not rate it highly and I am not alone in having it at the top of my list. If the Giller ever does a Best of the Giller (hint, hint, with the 20th anniversary approaching) it will get my vote. His next novel, Family Matters made the Booker short list — an excellent book but not up to A Fine Balance, I’m afraid. Rumor (but only rumor) has it that another is close to being finished. Mistry has not written any book that rates below “very good:.


  17. Barb Says:

    Hi Kevin, Enjoyed your interview on CBC radio the other day.Now I have your blog on my favourites!


  18. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Barb: Thank you and welcome.


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