2011 Giller Prize longlist


EDIT: It is going to be a hectic time for the next few weeks with four of us working on this 17 book list, so let’s start getting visitors used to it. Trevor has posted his review of The Free World, by David Bezmozgis — he liked it somewhat less than I did, but still found value. You can read his full review here. Here is a teaser from his opening paragraphs:

Last year The New Yorker included David Bezmozgis when they highlighted twenty young fiction writers in their “20 Under 40″ series. Bezmozgis’s piece, “The Train of Their Departure” was one of my favorites, a somewhat rare case when I felt like the excerpt from a novel worked as a complete and interesting short story. The novel it came from is The Free World (2011), which was recently placed on the Giller Prize longlist. KevinfromCanada considers this one of his favorite books of the year. I personally thought the short story was better (his debut, Natasha, was a highly regarded collection of short stories; The Free World is his first novel). However, don’t take that to mean I’ll be putting up a fight should this turn out to be a contender as the winner of the Shadow Giller; it’s a wonderful book.

The book begins with dislocation. We are on a train platform in Vienna, which is neither the origin nor the destination for the Krasnansky family. It is 1979, and, somewhat against the odds, they have just left Soviet Russia and are headed to Rome, thence to who-knows-where — maybe the United States, maybe Australia, maybe Israel, maybe even Canada. The first member of the family we meet is the philandering Alec. They family has arrived in Vienna and must transfer all of their luggage from one train to the next, but Alec takes a moment to look around at the many people in transit.

Head to Trevor’s site for more (and read on for my quick thoughts and a link to my original review). And now, back to a look at the entire Giller longlist:

The Real Jury (authors Annabel Lyon, Howard Norman and Andrew O’Hagan) have already produced their first surprise — a longlist of 17 books (including the Reader Choice addition) instead of the expected 10 to 12. Having had a quick scan of publishers descriptions, I would have to say they had a reason to include so many books, although they have set an impossible task for any individual who wants to read the entire longlist before the shortlist announcement Oct. 4. After my disappointment with this year’s Booker longlist, I am very much looking forward to this one and will get to them all eventually.

The lengthy list produces some challenges for the Shadow Giller Jury in making good on our promise to have at least one of us read each of the 17 titles before Oct. 4, but after some quick exchanges this morning, I am pretty sure we can do it. I have reviewed four titles already, have read three more (reviews will go up over the next week) and have two more on hand. Trevor Berrett at the Mookse and the Gripes knows his short stories so he will be our lead on the three story collections on the list (I’ll pick up what he doesn’t get to). Alison Gzowski and I will co-ordinate our reading to make sure we get to the titles from smaller publishing houses. And we are turning first-time juror Kimbofo from Reading Matters free to read what interests her (and is available — a lot of these titles are a challenge to get in the UK) at the longlist stage.

(A short aside on the Reader Choice addition, a contest run by media sponsor CBC and the Giller organization: The “winner”, Extensions, by Myrna Dey, comes from the small publisher, NeWest Press, and looks to be an interesting, if overlooked, title — rather than the result of some kind of online campaign.)

We do promise we’ll all do our best to read the entire shortlist when it is announced.

I’ve included links to my original titles on the four that I have read and have provided short descriptions of the others I have on hand. If you click on the cover image of any of the 17, it should take you to the publisher’s page on the novel. I hope visitors here will have as good a time as the Shadow Jury intends to with this prize — we are excited to be under way.

Reviews already posted here

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis. Undoubtedly one of my favorite books of the year, if this one does not make my personal Giller shortlist it means that there are some truly great books on this longlist. The Krasnanskys are Latvian Jews, part of the diaspora from the USSR in 1978. We meet them first on a railway platform in Vienna but most of the novel is set in Rome, the stopping off point where they await (and scheme for) their eventual destination — perhaps the U.S. or Canada or Australia or, by default, Israel. The patriarch is a Soviet hero with his own conflicted memories, the sons are looking to the future in their own selfish ways. The women, fortunately, have some sense of current reality to them. An excellent novel which reflects Bezmozgis’ own family history — he is a very, very good writer.

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt. Already short-listed for the Booker Prize, this novel is the stunning success of 2011. A noirish Western (a natural for the Coen brothers to make into a movie, but the rights went to John C. Reilly), the brothers of the title are two hired killers on their way to gold-rush California to “execute” a contract. The narrator, Eli, is questioning his violent trade, his brother Charlie shoots first and asks questions later. From those who have read it, there is virtually unanimous agreement that deWitt has produced a highly readable novel, even for those who don’t much care for the traditional genre. Check out Trevor’s review here.

Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan. Author Edugyan landed the daily double today — this novel also made the Booker shortlist. Set in Berlin and Paris as the Nazis make their move in 1939, the perspective of the novel comes from three black jazz musicians who had gone to Europe to escape Jim Crow America. I had some problems with the novel on first read, I admit, but I am looking forward to giving it a second read. And I am delighted for the author — the book was scheduled for publication early this year, but got lost in the Key Porter publishers shutdown. Thomas Allen & Sons have rescued it and deserve thanks for making such an interesting volume available to readers.

Touch, by Alexi Zentner. My favorite of this year’s New Face of Fiction titles, this is a multi-generational frontier story, set in north-eastern British Columbia — an Anglican priest returns to the gold rush country community founded by his grandfather, developed by his father and where he was born and raised — the return sparks a train of memories. It is a humane and touching story that impressed many UK readers on the Man Booker forum, although it proved too challenging for that jury to put on its longlist.

Reviews to come soon

The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. Yes, it would have been a surprise if this book was not on the longlist. It has strong autobiographical overtones — an eleven-year-old boy boards a ship in Ceylon on his way to school in England in the 1950s, although the point of view of the novel comes from many decades later. An excerpt (which is faithful to the book) was published earlier this year in the New Yorker — for a fuller description and discussion, check out Shadow Giller juror Trevor’s post here.

A World Elsewhere, by Wayne Johnston. The Shadow Giller already owes Wayne Johnston $50,000 from 1998 when we awarded him the prize for The Colony of Unrequited Dreams — the real jury gave theirs to Alice Munro. Johnston opens his novel in his native Newfoundland but most of it takes place on the author’s version of the Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore, in North Carolina — he calls his family and estate Vanderluyden, in tribute to the Van der Luyden family of Edith Wharton’s exceptional novel, The Age of Innocence. It does have echoes of both Wharton and Henry James.

A Good Man, by Guy Vanderhaeghe. I am a Vanderhaeghe fan from a way back and this was my “most looked forward to” book of the fall — I’ve read it and it met my high expectations. The third volume in his loose Western trilogy (The Englishman’s Boy and The Last Crossing were the first two — you don’t have to read them first), this one set in 1876 takes up “settler” life in Western Canada’s Cypress Hills country and Montana shortly after the Sioux massacre of Custer and his troops. The author again does an excellent job of exploring the tensions between European settlers and the First Nations of the West — a far different take on theWestern novel than deWitt’s, set in a different area but same era.

The Antagonist, by Lynn Coady. Given what has happened with National Hockey League “enforcers” in the last few months (three have died over the summer and there is substantial controversy in the hockey world), Coady has produced a timely novel if the jacket description is accurate: “Against his will and his true nature, the hulking Gordon Rankin (“Rank”) is cast as an enforcer, a goon, by his classmates, his hockey coaches, and especially his own “tiny, angry” father, Gordon Senior. Rank gamely lives up to his role — until tragedy strikes, using Rank as its blunt instrument.” I am a sports fan, so the premise intrigues me.

The Little Shadows, by Marina Endicott. This novel is not scheduled for release until Sept. 27. Endicott made a splash with her first novel, Good To A Fault, which was Giller short-listed among other honors. This one features three teenage sisters who are in the world of vaudeville in the World War I years — an intriguing premise, I must say.

Reviews to come later

The Meagre Tarmac

The Beggar's Garden, Michael Christie

Extensions, Myrna Dey

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, ZsuZsi Gartner

Solitaria, Genni Gunn

Into the Heart of the Country, Pauline Holdstock

The Return, Dany Laferriere

Monoceros, Suzette Mayr


39 Responses to “2011 Giller Prize longlist”

  1. Kerry Says:

    Unlike the Booker longlist, this one has me wishing I had both more time and more shelf space. This seals it for DeWitt. Also, Vanderhaege now seems a necessary counterpoint to the era. (And, its about time I get to another McCarthy too……) I have to clear some stuff off my TBR though. Really.

    I am trying not to get too intrigued by anything else, but don’t hold out much hope. The Giller Shadow Jury has converted me to unlikely reads before and almost certainly will again. Thanks.


  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kerry: If you check my deWitt post, you’ll see I triangulate Westerns by Zane Grey, Cormac McCarthy and Wallace Stegner. A Good Man, unlike deWitt, has no Grey — more Stegner than McCarthy, but some of both. The full review should be up next week.

    Also, pay attentionn to reviews of Wayne Johnston’s book. I think you might find some aspects of the North Carolina aspect of the story interesting.


  3. Trevor Says:

    I’m thrilled to be a part of this, Kevin, and, like, Kerry, meet this list with a great deal of anticipation. It looks 100X better than the Booker list did and is probably 1000X better in fact.


  4. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Trevor: My only complaint would be that the list is too long — with 17 books on it, I think most would-be readers are going to opt for one or two known authors and wait for the shortlist. And bookstores might group the copies they have on hand but won’t be mounting a 17-title display. That is part of the reason that I gave visitors here links to the publisher descriptions of each of the titles.

    Having said that, I am personally looking forward to the challenge (helped by the fact that I am already halfway through the list). Unlike the Booker longlist, where I was dreading a number of the titles when I saw them described (a premonition that proved to be correct), I am looking forward to all of these. I think it provides a far broader range of serious fiction — and can say from the ones that I have read, the writing quality overall is far better than the Booker mean.


  5. Colette Jones Says:

    It looks to be a lot better list than this year’s Booker, I agree.


  6. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: I do think this year’s Booker jury, for whatever reason, put itself (and the prize) into a bad box. The longlist had some good titles, the shortlist has a few, but most were pretty ordinary. They aren’t “popular”, a la Richard and Judy, whose choices have always sold more books. And they aren’t “literary” (admittedly a limited market, but a devoted one — I’d say one that the Giller list does cater too). Instead they are somewhere in-between — not-very-well written books that, when you read a description, seem to be trying to be popular. My impression is that most “Booker” readers have simply found the majority of the books frustrating.

    Someone on the forum today raised the criterion of “books that I would recommend” as one of some value (and I agree, although it is not the principal one). I’ve recommended Barnes to a lot of people — after that, I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend very many, except where it suited someone’s particular tastes (e.g. the deWitt or Edugyan). My take is that that is a pretty bad sign for a prize whose purpose is to help sell more books. Frankly, I”ve recommended some books I didn’t like myself (Benedictus and Hadley come to mind) to more people than I have Booker longlisted books.


    • Colette Jones Says:

      I recommended deWitt to my husband, as he likes a bit of action as well as humour in a book, and he liked it (lots of giggling on a long train journey recently.) He looked at the shortlist and asked about Barnes, so I’ve given him that one to read but I don’t know whether he’ll like it (it’s still my favourite).

      I chose On Canaan’s Side for my book club, so I suppose that is a recommendation.

      I agree that this group of judges has significantly damaged the Booker “brand”. Jessie Lamb was the tipping point for me, which thankfully did not make the shortlist. I think maybe you should read it after all. Knowing how bad it is, it might be good for a laugh.


      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        I should have mentioned deWitt as well — I’ve recommended that to a few people who I know like more action in their books than the Barnes has. I also think On Canaan’s Side is a good book club recommendation because it will provoke discussion — those who like the language are probably going to run into those who don’t like the plot. Although I must admit the aspects of plot that bothered me most probably would be less of an issue with a UK audience.

        Jessie Lamb went to othe basement bookshelves today (as opposed to the charity bin). I doubt that I will try it — I don’t even like well-written dystopian books (Handmaid’s Tale was a major struggle to finish), so badly written ones are best ignored. And there are so many good books to read.


        • KevinfromCanada Says:

          A question for you, Colette. Our assistant was just over (she is reading and enjoying Barnes) and said she really likes matriarchal, multi-generation novels. That is not a popular thread in Canadian fiction (I can’t really think of one offhand) and I know you have an eye for that kind of book. Any suggestions?


          • Colette Jones Says:

            I don’t know if this is matriarchal, but it has three generations of women who don’t get on all that well, and it’s one of my favourite books: Colm Toibin’s The Blackwater Lightship, which was on the Booker shortlist in 1999. (I look at those shortlists past and think yes, the prize has definitely gone downhill, but it’s a very recent trend, maybe only a couple years. It must be intentional.)


  7. winstonsdad Says:

    I ve only read half blood ,am currently reading solitaira so hard to judge list but when I first read it earlier today I thought damn that’s aired exciting longlist than the booker was , it shows the breadth and depth of canadian writing at moment


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Stu: I agree it does — I can think of five or six titles that did not make the list that I would not have objected to being there. They did have 143 submissions this year, about 50 more than they normally have had.


  8. Guy Savage Says:

    Well I’m interested in The Free World and The Sister Brothers, but apart from that the prize for best title has to go to Better Living Through Plastic Explosives.

    Is that author charging interest on the 50G?


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Guy: Definitely the winner of the most intriguing title award — it is a short story collection, so Trevor will be first in line on that one. And the author’s first name is not bad either. As for Wayne Johnston (and Ann-Marie Macdonald whom we also owe $50,000), they have been very understanding. Actually, Ann-Marie’s book was later named an Oprah selection (you can only imagine what that is worth) and we took credit for that. The Shadow Giller has very literary standards, but our business ethics are questionable.


  9. Gavin Says:

    Wow, 17 books. I am excited to see them all and I know I can get some of them through my library. Good luck with The Shadow Giller reads.


  10. David Says:

    Very excited about this list even if it is a bit too long! So far I’ve only read ‘Touch’ though I tried to start ‘The Sisters Brothers’ a couple of times and just couldn’t get into it.
    However, I have copies of the Bezmozgis, Blaise, Mayr, and Ondaatje and have just ordered Dey and Gunn which were available from Book Depository, so I’ve plenty to get my teeth into. I’ll definitely be ordering the Coady, Johnston and Vanderhaeghe as they are all authors I’ve read and enjoyed before.
    Not a hope of reading more than a handful of them before the shortlist though!

    I’m currently reading Nicole Lundrigan’s “Glass Boys” which is very good. The fact that neither that, “Alone in the Classroom”, nor “Natural Order” (both of which are among my favourite books of the year so far) made the longlist is hopefully a sign that these books may be even better. Fingers crossed anyway!


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      David: I was mildly surprised at the Hay not being there (I haven’t read Glass Boys), although the novel did have some problems. I don’t fault the selection of any of the seven that I have read — one thing I like is that there is a wide range in type. The descriptions of the ones that I haven’t promise that that range is going to expand. And none of the three short story collections managed to hit my reading list yet. We publish a lot of those in Canada, so seeing them on the Giller shortlist is often the first I hear of them — although I have been meaning to try Clark Blaise for a long-time (he is an icon who dates back to Mordecai Richler and Hugh Hood, two of my favorites, but I have never read him).

      I think it is a mistake for the prize and the industry that the longlist is too long — it just means that a month of potential sales goes by while waiting for a manageable shortlist. Selfishly, I’m delighted. With seven books read and two more on hand, I only had to buy eight books yesterday. What I do have is tilted towards known authors and large publishing houses, so for me the longer list did serve to introduce me to some lesser-known names published by smaller houses — the Giller has served me well on that front in previous years, including last year’s Shadow Giller winner, Light Lifting.


    • emilyluxor Says:

      I read this post with interest. I have not picked up the Sisters Brothers but I am constantly reminded by all the comparisons with Cormac McCarthy, and I also wonder, perhaps, is deWitt also channeling Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang? I shouldn’t make comparisons without reading the book, for heavens’ sake, but for me, Carey and McCarthy and Charles Portis raise the bar pretty high for this genre, so in your opinion, from what you both read of deWitt, is it worth it?


      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Emily: I did my comparisons in my original review — I didn’t read Carey’s book and haven’t read Portis so mine, besides McCarthy are Zane Grey and Stegner. For me, the novel was a more than worthwhile read, but not as great as some found it — you’ll find when I get to Guy Vanderhaeghe’s A Good Man that it is more my kind of Western. That’s just personal taste, however.


      • Trevor Says:

        Emily, I’ll chime in with my opinion and say that, as much as I enjoyed The Sisters Brothers and recommend it to those interested, all of the others you mention are more challenging and do more with the genre. Some might find similarities between Eli’s voice and Mattie Ross or maybe even (it’d be a stretch but let’s go with the articulate though uneducated outlaw) Ned Kelly. Personally, I find more similarities (thanks to leroyhunter for pointing it out on my blog) with Holly Stargis in the film Badlands, filled as the voice is with a bit of semi-innocent complicity.

        But for me that’s kind of where the comparisons stop because The Sisters Brothers still feels much like a conventional Western adventure to me. Still, you ask if it’s worth it, and I think it is.


  11. RickP Says:

    The Giller List does look better than the Booker List. Again, the jury for Giller is far more impressive.

    I’m still working through the Booker List but it’s time to line up some Giller choices.

    Kevin, I would be very appreciative if you could start me off with 3 recommendations. I fully acknowledge that your tastes may be different. I’m just looking for a good start on the Giller List.

    Any guidance would be appreciated.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Rick: I’ll give your request a go, but with the caveat that my three recommendations are going to come from the seven that I have read and two that I have been able to scan. I’m also assuming that you will catch up with The Sisters Brothers and Half Blood Blues as part of your Booker reading.

      My suggestion would be to select your starting three by type or genre:

      1. Traditional Canadian frontier: Established author Vanderhaeghe or debut author Zentner. Both books are excellent — I’d take the Vanderhaeghe. On the other hand, if you plan on reading the entire shortlist, you might want to read Zentner now since I think it is less likely to advance.

      2. People being displaced: There must be a proper genre title for this since so many Canadian-authored works (by writers with ancestral roots elsewhere) address the theme. Bezmozgis or Ondaatje? I’d opt for Bezmozgis first, but again both books are very good.

      3. Something less conventional: Both those first two categories are fairly traditional forms. Johnston and Coady (at least from what I can tell) take conventional forms and apply some twist. I haven’t read the Coady yet (will probably start it today) — so I’d point to Johnston. Although if you have an aversion to “Newfoundland” novels or hated Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Fall On Your Knees look somewhere else (the converse also applies, incidentally — if you liked the Macdonald, put Johnston near the top of your list).

      As I noted in my reply to David, my reading so far has been of established authors from the larger houses so those three are only a start (on books that should be relatively eash to obtain — getting some of the eight pictured at the bottom of my post may be a bit of a challenge). My fellow juror Trevor is going to start with the three short story collections — keep an eye out for his reviews because the best way to read them tends to be to read two or three between novels. And the Shadow Jury will try to get to those lesser known titles as quickly as possible.


  12. emilyluxor Says:

    Hi Kevin, all,

    I’m eager to get into the Giller reading too. Just a thought – since Alison Pick’s book was reviewed more favourably in your blog pages than Edugyan’s, Kevin, I wonder if you are disappointed Pick’s book didn’t make the Giller longlist?

    I am a book borrower (ie, Library) not a book purchasor (unless it’s Alice Munro or a stunning collection of short stories, since that is my favourite genre) so I am raiding my local library branch for copies of Giller books. I have: Better Living through plastic Explosives, Touch, and The Free World. Christie’s The Beggar’s Garden is coming to me this week as is Monoceros

    By the way, I can tell the popularity of a book by the number of requests the Library has for it – right now Clarke Blaise’s The Meagre Tarmac leads with over 50 requests. I found Bezmozgis’s handily, as I did the Gartner.

    I started reading Gartner’s Better Living through Plastic Explosives – while I realize that a review is coming on that, I will only say that, as a short story lover, I didn’t love, or even get through one, of Gartner’s stories. Nuff said.

    Happy reading, everyone!


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Emily: A special thanks for that library update — it offers a perspective that is very interesting. First, what library system is it? I am very impressed that they have some of the less-known authors. And I am fascinated that there are 50 requests for Clarke Blaise — that’s going to lead me to guess you are in Montreal and that he still has a substantial reputation there.

      Also, thanks for the heads up on the Gartner. When a short story lover can’t get through a single story, it is a bad sign.


      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Whoops, I forgot your question about Alison Pick. Her book was published last year in Canada and eligible for the 2010 Giller — I was very disappointed when it did not make the list. While I do prefer it to the Edugyan, I can understand why others would reverse that order.


      • emilyluxor Says:

        HI Kevin,

        Thanks for responding! I live in Winnipeg, and use the Winnipeg Public Library system heavily. They have a terrific fiction collection – if a review appears in the Globe and Mail, and it’s favourable, I look in their catalogue, and voila – the book is either there, with dozens of requests already, or on order, and with dozens of requests already.
        In fact, there wasn’t a single title from the Giller longlist that wasn’t already in the Library catalogue, or on order (ie, the Endicott)

        I can’t explain the Clarke Blaise phenomenon, except he did receive a full page review in Quill and Quire (June 2011, page 27) so that leads me to suspect he’s gotten a lot of good press.
        Suzette Mayr’s Monoceros also got a good review in the same issue of Q&Q, but not so many requests in the system – I’m one of the first. A bit of a headscratcher.

        I don’t condemn the Gartner – it’s just not my kind of short story where every line is a one-liner. I took your recommendation about Maile Meloy, and borrowed her collection of short stories, Both ways is the only way I want it, and it is wonderful, simply beautiful.



  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Emily: Winnipeg, eh? Full marks and kudos to the Winnipeg library — Toronto’s mayor might want to pay attention. And yet another indication that the often over-looked city at Canada’s centre has much to recommend it.

    I too can’t explain the Clarke Blaise requests. My guess would be that the city’s strong historical literary tradition (authors such as Miriam Toews and David Bergen don’t emerge fully-formed from nowhere) has engendered a strong respect for authors who have influenced other writers — a description that I do think applies to Blaise even though, shamefully, I have not followed his work.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Emily: I hope you find this post. If you do, just say yes (which gives me your email address) and I would be happy to send you a copy of the Clark Blaise book. Publishers (Random House and Anansi in particular) are good about giving me free books — the least that I can do is buy a few for devoted readers. Blaise’s book just arrived — I think I will be saving it for later in the Giller list, because I am sure that it is special.


  14. RickP Says:

    Thanks for the recommendations, Kevin. In addition to Kelman(Booker), I ordered Bezmogis, Ondaataje, Zentner and Johnston.

    The Vanderhaeghe seems to not yet be released.

    I accept the caveats and was just looking for a start based purely on your best efforts. Much appreciated.


  15. BuriedInPrint Says:

    I’m particularly keen on this year’s list and happen to have a chunk of reading time available this month that I haven’t had in past autumns, so I’m looking forward to exploring as many of these as I’m able before the shortlist/winner announcements.

    I’m immediately interested in books by the authors whose style I’ve enjoyed in the past (David Bezmozgis,Lynn Coady,Marina Endicott,Zsuzsi Gartner,Wayne Johnston,Suzette Mayr and Michael Ondaatje), but curious about several of the others as well. First up? A World Elsewhere.

    Looking forward to following the Shadow Jury’s responses!


  16. KevinfromCanada Says:

    BiP: I do think this (too long) longlist has a good mix of established names, overlooked writers and new entries — putting together a shortlist will be a challenge for the Real Jury. With luck, the Shadow Jury will be able to read enough titles that we might at least offer some guidance. 🙂


  17. PaperReader Says:

    Would love to hear your review of Man and Other Natural Disasters by new author, Nerys Parry


  18. KevinfromCanada Says:

    PaperReader: From the description, I’ll pass on Man and Other Natural Disasters — no reflection on its value, just not my kind of book.


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