2013 Giller Prize longlist


11shadow logoHere’s the 2013 Giller Prize longlist — the good news for KfC is that I only have to order seven of the 13. 🙂 First a brief note on each title and then some observations, as well as Shadow Giller Jury plans.

Already reviewed here

2013 messudThe Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. Nora Eldridge is one angry woman: Not only is she not the “Great Artist” that she aspired to be, the elementary school teacher has just gone through an extended experience that exposed her shortcomings and frustrations even more. I can’t help but think that Real Giller juror Margaret Atwood was reminded of her own “Edible Woman” when she read this one.

2013 mooreCaught, by Lisa Moore. While I was not overly impressed with this novel, I did note in my review that juries tend to like Moore’s books better than I do — and it has happened again. Caught is both a crime story and a character study: Slaney, a Newfoundlander already caught once importing dope, escapes from a Nova Scotia prison, heads west to hook up with his old co-conspirator and launches a new drug importing scheme.

Reviews to come soon

1aagradyEmancipation Day, by Wayne Grady. The author started this as a non-fiction project when he discovered his own Afro-American roots — many rewrites and 20 years later, it appears as the first novel from a writer who has a lengthy non-fiction publication list. Set in wartime Newfoundland and then moving on to Windsor, it tells the story of navy musician Jack Lewis — who responds to his own racial issues with denial, denial, denial.

1aajohnstonThe Son of a Certain Woman, by Wayne Johnston. Johnston is a Giller longlist regular and his latest promises to again feature the oddball, idiosyncratic characters he loves. Set in Johnston’s native Newfoundland, this is the story of Percy Joyce — disfigured with both a massive port wine birthmark that covers his face and overly large hands and feet. Everyone, including Percy, wants to bed his mother. And, in true Johnston fashion, the leaders of St. Johns’ Catholic church bring authority into play by “adopting” the misshapen boy as a personal favorite.

1aa davidsonCataract City, by Craig Davidson. Niagara Falls is the “cataract city” of the title — understandably, it is a favorite setting for Canadian fiction. In Davidson’s novel, Owen Stuckey and Duncan Diggs are childhood friends who have grown to maturity in the Ontario city. According to the cover blurb, their friendship is now being tested as they find themselves on opposite sides of the law.

1aaboydenThe Orenda, by Joseph Boyden. This is volume three in Boyden’s trilogy that started with Three Day Road and continued in a modern setting with the Giller-winning Through Black Spruce. This volume retreats in time to the conflict between the Iroquois and Huron nations — and adds the intrusive element of the Jesuit missionaries. Just released last week, it has attracted very strong reviews in the professional press and would have to be considered the early favorite for the 2013 prize. (EDIT: This is NOT volume three in the trilogy — in comments Brett has provided a link to a Maclean’s article where Boyden says this was an idea that diverted him from volume three and demanded to be written.)

Books I had to order today

1aabockGoing Home Again, by Dennis Bock. I’ve read and appreciated Bock’s two previous novels (The Ash Garden andThe Communist’s Daughter) so I am not surprised to see this one on the list. The publisher’s description promises “A wrenching and dramatic story that explores the fabric of family: sibling rivalries, marriages on the rocks, hurt children, midlife crises — in short, modern life”.

1aacoadyHellgoing, by Lynn Coady. Coady was shortlisted in 2011 for The Antagonist, the engaging story of a rough-and-tumble hockey enforcer remembering his childhood that attracted much positive attention. That novel indicated she would be adept at short stories, so I am looking forward to reading this collection. Short story collections are popular in Canadian publishing and the Giller longlist always includes a couple — juries in the past have a good record of picking out some of the most interesting ones.

1aademariaffiHow To Get Along With Women, by Elisabeth De Mariaffi. Another short story collection, this one a debut volume from an author who is unknown to me. It appeared last October and has not attracted much attention. The publisher’s blurb promises: ” Infused with a close and present danger, these stories tighten the knot around power, identity, and sexuality, and draw the reader into the pivotal moments where — for better or for worse — we see ourselves for what we truly are.” The volume’s title suggests that feminism of some sort will be a common theme.

1aagilmorExtraordinary, by David Gilmour. Gilmour is one of Canada’s mid-list authors whom I have overlooked: A Perfect Night to Go to China won the 2005 Governor-General’s Award. I’ll admit I looked at this one earlier this year and put it off because I was not attracted by the subject matter: A man and his half-sister meet at her request to spend the evening preparing for her assisted death. I’ll try to approach the novel with an open mind when I do get to it.

1aawinter1 Minister Without Portfolio, by Michael Winter. This novel promises to address Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan — the central character is working with an army-affiliated contracting crew when a routine patrol becomes fatal. Shadow Giller juror Alison Gzowski knows the author well and has read the book — she has promised a guest review here in a couple of weeks so I will probably leave this one until relatively late in my longlist reading.

1aa vyletaThe Crooked Maid, by Dan Vyleta. Like Real Juror Esi Edugyan’s Giller-winning Half Blood Blues, this is a war story, set in Vienna, 1948. Two strangers meet on their way back to the city, where a war-crimes trial is taking place — the description promises an exploration of a city “haunted by its sins” for its collaboration with the Nazis.

1aa hamelinOctober 1970, by Louis Hamelin. The only translated novel on this year’s longlist, October 1970 gives Wayne Grady a double hit — he is the translator. The novel (which is not due for release until Sept. 21) promises to revisit Canada’s FLQ crisis — “Thirty years after the October Crisis, Sam Nihilo, a freelance writer whose career is in a slump, is drawn to the conspiracy theories that have proliferated in the wake of the events.” I was 22 years old and a rookie journalist when it took place — I’ll admit that I am looking forward to this view of the events, since they have not often been addressed in Canadian fiction.

Overall, I would say this year’s longlist is impressive for its range. Established writers are certainly represented — Boyden, Coady, Johnston, Bock. (As far as I can tell, De Mariaffi is the only debut writer, although Emancipation Day is Grady’s first novel.) Two story collections, one translated work. And certainly a wide range of settings, both geographical and in time.

I am a little surprised by a couple of omissions, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (which is on the Booker shortlist) and The Hungry Ghosts, Shyam Selvadurai’s long-awaited third novel. Having said that, neither would have been an obvious favorite for me — and they obviously were not for the Real Jury.

And so the 2013 Shadow Giller Jury starts its work. Trevor and Kim may read a title or two, but they don’t really kick into action until the shortlist is released. Alison and I have both read four of the titles — alas we have overlapped with both of us reading Messud, Moore and Johnston. We may try to split our timing on some of the remaining nine in an attempt to get as many of the titles read by at least one of us as possible before the shortlist is announced on Oct. 8. I’m afraid with only 22 days between long and short lists, we are unlikely to get all 13 read in time but I do promise to read and review them all eventually.

So if you have read any of the titles towards the bottom of this post, please don’t hesitate to offer your opinion in a comment — as always, the Shadow Giller Jury welcomes the thoughts of visitors here.


20 Responses to “2013 Giller Prize longlist”

  1. dovegreyreader Says:

    The UK publisher of Joseph Boyden was quick off the Giller mark and offered me a copy of his book today. It’s not published here until November but I loved Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce so very excited about The Orenda. Meanwhile The Luminaries has my undivided attention at the moment


  2. Jennifer Dawson Says:

    I think it’s an interesting list the jury has come up with. I was also surprised at ‘The Luminaries’ not making the cut (though it was only a 3-star read for me and I have clearly missed what so many others are lauding). I thought Ruth Ozecki would be in the mix.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I thought Ozeki would not be eligible on citizenship grounds, but I do see her book listed on the Giller eligible site. I have not got to the book yet, but plan to soon. It is strange to have two eligible Canadian titles on the Booker shortlist and neither on the Giller shortlist. You never can tell with juries, can you?


  3. David Says:

    As I just noted over on Mookse’s Booker forum, I’m sorry to see Kenneth Bonert’s ‘The Lion Seeker’ didn’t make the cut as it is the Canadian novel that has impressed me most so far this year. And I’ve just read Colin McAdam’s ‘A Beautiful Truth’ and thought that was his best book to date and would have been a worthy longlistee.

    Of those I have read I admired ‘The Woman Upstairs’ but I didn’t love it and thought it dragged terribly in the middle; ‘Emancipation Day’ I have about 40 pages left to read of but I think it’s wonderfully written and (the dirty word!) immensely readable; ‘Going Home Again’ wouldn’t have made the cut for me even though I liked it a lot and ordered one of Bock’s earlier books on the strength of it – despite how well it flowed and how good it was on ideas of family and home for me it was too flawed (not one but two unbelievably wise-beyond-their-years children, and a missing brother whose disappearance frames the novel but is too unsympathetic a character for the reader to much care what has happened to him…).

    I have six of the others either on hand or due to arrive in a couple of days (I ordered a batch of books from Canada last week that just happened to include three of the longlist) so I shall hopefully read two or three more before the shortlist is announced. I too was put off the Gilmour by the subject matter – ill and dying people in books are one of my big turn offs – but I’ll probably be ordering a few more books later this month (I’m waiting until David MacFarlane’s new one comes out) so I might add it to my order then.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I was hoping to see Bonert on the list because I knew you liked it and I respect your opinion — I’ll try to get to it post prize season. I’d looked at McAdam but it did not spark my interest.

      Please do check in with your thoughts on any that you do read — I always welcome your comments because they are virtual reviews in themselves.


  4. Buried In Print Says:

    I haven’t read The Lion Seeker, but I dabbled in it and was half-expecting to see it appear as well. And I am truly disappointed that Colin McAdam’s novel didn’t appear. But I’m sure there is a lot of good reading here.

    Of the longlist, I’ve only read two, but I’m okay with that, because I’m also only missing copies of two, so it’s just a matter of settling down with the stack and sinking into them. (That’s never happened before, not even close; usually I am scrambling for copies at this moment.) And some, like Caught (your least-enjoyeds are often my most-enjoyeds), I’ve literally been waiting for this excuse to read.

    Personally, I would have liked more short stories (I “discovered” Cary Fagan through one of the longlists, Russell Wangersky that way as well). I’m not thinking of any in particular — although I did really enjoy Rosemary Nixon’s collection, which I finished recently, and am currently admiring Shaena Lambert’s Oh, My Darling — but just that I always look forward to adding quality collections to my TBR and prizelists help with that. But that’s just me. And I know many readers prefer novels.

    I don’t know how quickly I’ll read through the 11 remaining for me to read, but I’m looking forward to every one of them, so it’s a pleasurable idea rather than a daunting one, at this point anyhow. I’ll look forward to the discussions here, too. Enjoy!


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I am impressed that you already have 11 of the 13 — your buying was much more “accurate” than mine was. I’m assuming October 1970 is one of the two you don’t have since it has not been released, so that means you had virtually a complete hit.

      Like you, I didn’t know Fagan or Wangersky until their Giller listing. I do have a theory about a hurdle that story collections face when it comes to the few prizes where they are eligible. Perhaps it is just me, but I think a story collection needs to be read just a few at a time — if you plunge in from start to finish, the collection either acquires a) a sameness or b) inconsistent quality that starts to detract from the whole. I can’t see how a juror faced with speed-reading 100+ volumes (147, now that I have looked it up) in eight months can arrange their reading so that story collections (let’s assume there were between 10 and 20 in the submissions) get a fair assessment.

      I can see where someone with Coady’s reputation would overcome that. I suspect that others (like De Mariaffi) probably have an “advocate” on the jury who knows them or their work and draws the other jurors’ attention to them. I know jurors are supposed to be like blank pages when it comes to judging, but part of the reason that they are there is exactly because they have this kind of background.


      • Buried In Print Says:

        Yes, I’m missing Hamelin/Grady and I’m missing Extraordinary, but have, luckily, arrived at the top of its library list just now. I requested it out of curiosity but I wasn’t sure if I would read it — I didn’t love the other of his that I read — but I will now. (Especially as it is so slim, if a challenging subject.)

        Some of my choices were simply rooted in my own desire (Moore, Vyleta — I admired The Quiet Twin, which was up for, oh, I think the Rogers Fiction Prize one year) but most of the others were courtesy of one other person absolutely raving about it or, more gently, nudging me in that particular direction. Other readers’ reading passions are contagious. Or, I am easily influenced. Something like that.

        I think we’ve talked about short stories in that regard before at some point, perhaps in an email: we do agree. Following Mavis Gallant’s advice in reading stories, I allow time between, but it’s hard to manage. I aim for a single story at the end or beginning of a day, and longer works between, but sometimes I lose track, and it takes two or three weeks to read a collection in this way when I miss days. (And, yes, I know this is a little obsessive, but I’ve been doing it for awhile now. Periodically I try to binge instead, but it only serves to remind me why portioning stories out works better for me.)

        And because, as you say, the eligible Giller list includes a lot of collections, that kind of plan (and some have the opposite preference anyhow) might not only be awkward but, statistically, impossible in only a few months’ time. Now that you mention it, I’d better go and make a schedule for my Coady and De Mariaffi reading. I’m not sure there are enough days left for me to apply Gallant’s rule!

        Which of your “soons” are you aiming for next, or are you still thinking it over?


      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        I am with you on the “one at the beginning of the day” method — but confess that all too often I lose the discipline, particularly when I have a stack of promising novels on hand (or am in the midst of one of more than 800 pages). Actually, the two Giller collections are going to test my mettle as well: I have Alistair MacLeod’s collected stories scheduled as my October project volume and had hoped to get into it this month. I may have to adopt a one Giller, one MacLeod routine to start my reading day — which given how good he is is probably not fair to either Coady or De Mariaffi.

        I intend to review the four “soons” in the order that they appear in the post. I have read the first two already (well, half the Johnston) and don’t want to rush into the Boyden. I probably won’t decide on an order for the remaining seven until the actual books arrive. I’ll offer as much warning as possible on when posts are coming at the top of the sidebar on the right.


  5. Brett Says:


    Thanks for your comments on the list. A few were already on my “To Read” pile and, in fact, I’m currently reading The Orenda. As usual, Joseph doesn’t disappoint!

    One minor correction to your comments above: I was told by Joseph’s publisher and, indeed, the following article confirms this information – The Orenda is NOT the third book of the proposed trilogy. Check out:


    In the meantime, enjoy the longlist. I am eager to hear your thoughts on these books!


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Thanks for that. I hadn’t seen the Maclean’s article and all the publicity that I had read (most of it from some months back) did say it was volume three — clearly it is not. For what it is worth, I read the first two volumes out of order and did not find that to be a problem. While the descriptions of this book did seem somewhat inconsistent with those two (now I know why), his books definitely are stand alone volumes. And we have another one to look forward to!


  6. David Says:

    Interesting to read your and BIP’s theories about short stories and the Giller, Kevin. I think you’re probably right in that some of the collections I’ve read this year would suffer from being read all in one go (Nancy Jo Cullen’s ‘Canary’ possibly has too many variations on a theme for it to work when read like that, though I’d argue that Théodora Armstrong’s book would still impress) and with – at a very rough count – 32 eligible collections, the one-story-each-morning way of reading (which is how I read them) probably wouldn’t work, but I’d reckon a judge should be able to read one or two stories from a collection in that one-a-day fashion and be able to get a good idea of whether it is worth reading more (frankly, if the first two stories aren’t any good it’s not likely to end up on the longlist anyway) without having to read the whole book in one gulp.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much looking forward to reading the two collections on the list (I’ve loved the two novels of Coady’s that I’ve read and de Mariaffi’s has been sitting in my Amazon basket for months) but most years collections do feel like token inclusions, though the more I become a reader of short stories (seventy-odd collections in the past two years compared to maybe one a year previously) the less I think they should be judged against novels at all, as they seem entirely different forms with stories sometimes being closer to poetry than the novel. Having said that, their inclusion does heighten the profile of the short story – both in terms of being read and published – which can only be a good thing: certainly in Canada and the US where they do feature on the big prize lists they have a much higher profile than here in the UK where they seem very niche, and I don’t think many people take the same kind of interest in the Story Prize or the Frank O’Connor as they do in the Giller or the National Book Award.

    Oh, and I’m thrilled to hear that ‘The Orenda’ isn’t the final part of Boyden’s trilogy and can be read on its own – I still haven’t got around to his first two but really really want to read the new one and wasn’t looking forward to having to get through ‘Three Day Road’ and ‘Black Spruce’ before I could even start it.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Ironically, Armstrong’s collection was one that I was thinking of when I wrote that comment. I read the first four in one go and was finding a sameness: too much B.C. (which, when you think about it, is actually one of the book’s strengths). That disappeared when I slowed down, alas to the point that I still have not completed the volume and it will have to await the end of the prize season.

      I was too lazy to do a count so your 32 volume rough assessment is useful — I knew Canada published a lot of collections but that is astounding. I know that if I was a judge, I would have a three or out rule — if a collection hadn’t impressed at that point it would head to the rejection pile. (I am not one of those who believes judges do, or even should, read every page of every submission.) I agree that the short story is often entirely different than the novel (sometimes closer to poetry, as you say, sometimes theatre, sometimes oral history). I also think short stories provoke even more diversion of opinion, partly because different readers have different expectations of the form. By way of example, I know my personal taste leans to collections of linked stories or ones (like Armstrong’s) that have some commonalities of theme or location.

      Two longlist collections a year (which seems to be the norm) may seem like tokenism, but I’d regard it as fair. And even in Canada, where we do publish a lot of collections, I suspect that would be over-representation if you were using book sales as a guide. I agree that Giller and National Book Award listings are significant in promoting at least some attention to the form — despite liking short stories, I don’t pay much attention to the various Story awards because I think they tend to be based on single stories, rather than a broader body of work.


  7. David Says:

    I just finished ‘Minister Without Portfolio’ this evening. Wow. The first of the longlist I’ve read that I’d absolutely want to see on the shortlist. I’d not read Winter before but his writing is dazzling – it has a kind of elemental beauty and grace with almost every sentence containing an insight or truth that stops you in your tracks. If there are better books on the longlist then I’m in for a treat.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      You are well ahead of me — and since Alison has read this one and promised some thoughts, I am pretty sure that I won’t get to it until after the shortlist is announced. Delighted to read that you liked it — I’ll be looking forward to it.


  8. anokatony Says:

    This looks like the strongest Giller list I’ve seen, even without The Luminaries. Wayne Johnston is an author I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Joseph Boyden looks like a good read also.


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Johnston does ask something from his readers (his novels all feature varying levels of absurdity) but he generally rewards that patience. And if you haven’t read Joseph Boyden, I think there is a treat in store for you — he is simply an excellent writer.


  9. leroyhunter Says:

    “I’ll try to approach the novel [Extraordinary] with an open mind when I do get to it.”

    Seems to be more than Gilmour himself is prepared to do in his reading…


    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Those who haven’t seen it can check the Globe and Mail for the controversy surrounding Gilmour’s interview saying that he doesn’t teach women (or Chinese) writers in his U of T course, only male heterosexuals.

      As I indicated in the post, the novel did not have much appeal for me. Given his statements, I can’t see Atwood and Edugyan moving him on to the short list. I had Extraordinary down on my list anyway (doubtful I could get to it before shortlist announcement) so I suspect I may not be testing my ability to “approach the novel with an open mind”.


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