Archive for November, 2013

KfC’s 2013 Project: Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan

November 21, 2013

“The trouble with this whole country is that it’s divided up into little puddles with big fish in each one of them. I tell you something. Ten years ago I went across the whole of Canada. I saw a lot of things. This country is so new that you see it for the first time, all of it, and particularly the west, you feel like Columbus and you say to yourself, ‘My God, is all this ours!’ Then you make the trip back. You come across Ontario and you encounter the mind of the maiden aunt. You see the Methodists in Toronto and the Presbyterians in the best streets of Montreal and the Catholics all over Quebec, and nobody understands one damn thing except that he’s better than everyone else. The French are Frencher than France and the English are more British than England ever dared to be. And then you go to Ottawa and you see the Prime Minister with his ear on the ground and his backside hoisted in the air. And, Captain Yardley, you say God damn it!”

maclennan2While the phrasing might be somewhat crude, that paragraph effectively describes the challenge that author Hugh MacLennan set for himself in 1945 when he wrote Two Solitudes.

The speaker is Athanese Tallard and he represents the secular French side of the challenge. His family has resided for more than a century in St. Marc-des-Érables, an agrarian community some miles down the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. As the largest landowner, Athanese is effectively the “seigneur” of the settlement, the secular influence who offsets the power of the local Catholic priest. The words are spoken in 1917, shortly after the federal government imposed conscription on Quebec and began drafting French youths into the armed forces. As the area’s MP in Ottawa (a Tallard family member has been the MP for as long as anyone can remember), Athanese now finds life even more solitary — he supports the “Anglo” policy that is denounced by a large majority of his fellow Quebecois for sending their youth off to die in a foreign war.

Captain Yardley represents the Anglo solitude. A seagoing captain from Nova Scotia, his wife wanted the family to be as English as possible. Yardley is now a widower and, in retirement, has made a decision from his side of the solitude barrier that, like Athanese, isolates him even more — he has bought a farming property in St. Marc, something that “the English” just don’t do.

In a brief, apologetic foreward, MacLennan has already supplied a somewhat less vernacular description of the underlying conflict that he is trying to describe:

Because this is a story, I dislike having to burden it with a foreword, but something of the kind is necessary, for it is a novel of Canada. This means that its scene is laid in a nation with two official languages, English and French. It means that some of the characters in the book are presumed to speak only English, others only French, while many are bilingual.

No single word exists, within Canada itself, to designate with satisfaction to both races a native of the country. When those of the French language use the word Canadien, they nearly always refer to themselves. They know their English-speaking compatriots as les Anglais. English-speaking citizens act on the same principle. They call themselves Canadians; those of the French language French-Canadians.

Athanese and Yardley may find themselves on a very shaky bridge between the two solitudes (they take an immediate liking to each other), but MacLennan uses the opening scene of the novel to introduce examples of much more hard-line positions.

Yardley is accompanied on his first visit to the property by Huntly McQueen “whose name was well known in the financial circles of Montreal”. He knows Athanese from meetings in Ottawa and has offered to introduce Yardley to him (since no land purchase in St. Marc can be made without Athanese’s approval), but the wealthy Anglo industrialist has a bigger fish to fry. A tributary flowing into the St. Lawrence at St. Marc has a cataract of significant height — McQueen wants to put a power station on it to fuel a textile factory that will bring industry to the community (and many dollars into McQueen’s pocket).

For Father Beaubien, the local Catholic priest who holds almost as much, perhaps even more, power as Tallard in the settlement that is something that simply cannot come to pass. It is easy for him to exert authority over farmers and their workers — factory men are much more likely to forego participation in the Church for secular pursuits and the influence of the priest shrinks accordingly.

While MacLennan uses those four characters to illustrate the conflict of the two solitudes in the 1917-18 period, its continuation in the post Great War era is developed through the stories of the offspring of Athanese and Yardley.

The seigneur has two sons, by two different mothers. Marius’ mother was French, bore Athanese a son and then retreated into isolated religious contemplation before her early death. He remarried an Irish woman, much younger than himself, who gave birth to Paul. As Marius approaches maturity (he is conscripted and flees from the draft in the 1917-18 section), he becomes even more radical a nationalist, to the point where he refuses to acknowledge he can understand English. As a child of mixed Anglo and French blood, Paul finds himself from the start in the same no-man’s land between the two cultures as his father — but in his case, it is a product of birth not choice.

Yardley’s two granddaughters are the English side of that coin. His daughter, Janet, married into a wealthy Montreal Anglo family. Her eldest daughter is truly more English than the English, married to a Brit industrialist. The younger, Heather, finds herself in much the same uncertain world that Paul does — not really comfortable in either of the cultures.

The timeline in Two Solitudes extends to 1939 and the latter portions of the book focus on the story of Paul and Heather. Having said that, Paul is very much his father’s son and Heather her grandfather’s granddaughter — the way the author develops the two characters provides ample proof of how the conflict he is portraying finds itself extended into future generations.

It is also well worth noting that the French-English solitudes are not the only ones that MacLennan develops in the book. The period between the wars was one of rural-urban conflict as well (that troublesome textile mill in St. Marc, the forces of economic power in Depression-era Montreal) — one that is a troubling reality for the younger characters in the book. Economic development (and the Depression of the 1930s) also brought the “solitudes” of the two sexes into play — the roles that men and women comfortably fell into before the Great War just don’t work in post-War times and become even more confusing as World War II approaches.

Finally, it is worth noting that the story of this novel itself stands as an illustration of Canada’s two solitudes. MacLennan was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and went on to Princeton, trained in true English tradition as a classicist. His first two novels, set in Europe and the U.S., failed to find a publisher.

His wife convinced him that he should write about Canada, the country and culture (well, conflicting cultures) that he knew best. While there certainly had been novels set in Canada before, they weren’t really “Canadian” — they were books written about a frontier world by Englishmen. MacLennan’s first novel, Barometer Rising, the story of the 1917 Halifax Explosion published in 1941, is arguably the first-ever “Canadian novel” — Two Solitudes won the first of five Governor-General’s Awards for MacLennan, establishing him as the father of modern Canadian fiction.

When I first read this novel more than 40 years ago as a youth, I was impressed with the way it described a crucial period of Canadian history. This time around, I was more broadly impressed, not just with the history, but even more so with the way that MacLennan captures the pressures of the two solitudes on succeeding generations — first with Athanese and Yardley and even more powerfully with Paul and Heather. Having lived as an adult through half a century of ongoing French-English tensions in Canada, I can say with certainty it portrays conflicts which continue to this day. (And yes the current Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Values brings “Allophones” fully into the fray.)

I read Barometer Rising immediately after reading Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda and that scheduling undoubtedly had an impact on my response to the novel. While Boyden portrays the aboriginal conflict and arrival of European forces, MacLennan’s book from half a century earlier explores the tensions between the “two founding nations” who eventually seized control. Anyone who seeks an understanding of what produced the Canada of today would be well-advised to invest the time in reading both novels.


2013 Governor-General’s fiction winner is…

November 13, 2013

2013 cattonThe Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s Victorian-style tale of a complicated nineteenth century murder mystery/conspiracy, set in the gold-mining country of western New Zealand. My full review of the 800-plus page novel is here.

It is the second major prize win for The Luminaries which copped the Booker Prize last month. Catton’s novel defeated a very strong field in this latest contest:

  • The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden: Another historical story, this one set in seventeenth century southern Ontario, with the warring Huron and Iroquois tribes and the even more ominous arrival of the French in the form of Jesuit priests. The Orenda was this year’s Shadow Giller winner and my personal choice as best Canadian novel of the year.
  • The Hungry Ghosts, by Shyam Selvadurai: As a young Sri Lankan immigrant in Canada prepares to return home to visit his failing grandmother, he flashes back to memories of growing up there — the racial tensions, the pressure to join the dodgy family business and the discovery of his own sexuality. The novel also explores his difficulty in adapting to his new home in Canada.
  • The Lion Seeker, by Kenneth Bonert: A debut novel that chronicles the experiences of a Jewish Lithuanian family who emigrate to South Africa in the 1930s. I have not yet read it but do have it on hand and intend to get to it soon — it comes highly recommended by David whose thoughtful comments are much appreciated by everyone who visits this blog.
  • A Beautiful Truth, by Colin McAdam: The husband of a woman who is depressed because she cannot bear children adopts a baby male chimpanzee, opening an exploration of the relationship between human and animal nature. While the premise has no appeal to me, many who have read the novel say that it is very well done.
  • What Catton’s G-G win has certainly done is put another log on the fire of just what is going on with juries, particularly the Giller, in this year’s Canadian literary prize season. Despite her Booker win, Catton did not even make the Giller longlist — indeed, of the five books on the G-G shortlist only Boyden found any Giller recognition at all — and The Orenda was gone when the shortlist was announced.

    The final fuel will be added next week with the Rogers Writers’ Trust winner — neither Catton nor Boyden are on the shortlist, so there will be no new data for either of those titles. Lynn Coady’s Giller-winning story collection, Hellgoing, is there, as is her fellow short-listed colleague, Lisa Moore, for Caught. Those two are joined by Colin McAdam’s A Beautiful Truth from the G-G and two titles that did not make either the Giller or G-G lists: The Eliot Girls, by Krista Bridge and A Bird’s Eye, by Cary Fagan.

    I have speculated in comments that the politics of the Penguin/Random House merger and its effect on Canadian publishing could be one explanation for the widely varying lists. All five of the G-G finalists came from Penguin/Random House imprints. Three of the five Giller finalists did — but the surprise winner was from House of Anansi, Canada’s leading independent. Of the Writers’ Trust five, only A Beautiful Truth comes from a Penguin/Random House imprint — perhaps an indication that writers do not think much of the consolidation of Canada’s publishing business.

    For what it is worth, as a reader here is what my ranking of the various titles I have read would be: 1. The Orenda 2. The Crooked Maid, by Dan Vyleta 3. The Luminaries. While all three have historical settings, that is about all they have in common — except for being very good books and well worth putting on your Christmas list or considering as a gift for reader friends whom you know.

    The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden

    November 7, 2013

    Purchased at

    Purchased at

    The Orenda was the Shadow Giller Jury’s unanimous choice as this year’s Prize winner — and we had to call it in since it did not make the Real Jury’s shortlist. So this is obviously going to be a positive review. Having said that, The Orenda is not for everyone — it has a narrative complexity that can be frustrating and there is a continuing thread of graphically-realistic violence that can be testing. I’m hoping this review will show why it is worth readers coping with those challenges — because they are essential to appreciating what is truly an outstanding novel.

    Let’s start with an overview of the four global forces that are at play in Boyden’s novel, set in southwestern Ontario (yes, if you are an Alice Munro fan, this is very close to Munro country, only it is three centuries earlier):

  • The narrative takes place in the territory of a Wendat (Huron) settlement, close to the shore of Lake Huron (known as the Sweetwater Sea in the native language). The group are a trading nation — they raise the three sisters (corn, beans and squash), trade them for furs with a native nation from farther north and then trade those furs with the Iron People, the French who have just arrived in North America. Much of that trade is useful items like pots and axes — they also aspire, however, to acquire “the shining wood”, the rifle that is far more deadly than their bow and arrows.
  • Trading with the French involves a high-risk, lengthy, multi-canoe summer convoy through the territory of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nation — the wars between the two have extended for generations and developed their own theatre of capture, killing and torture (known as “caressing” in a particularly brutal simile). There are regular violent sorties between the two (it is a coming-of-age rite for young warriors); fairly often this erupts into a full-scale battle. This has been going on for so long that the memories — which influence the present — have grown into legend that is part of concrete, present-day reality.
  • And then there are the “Crows” — Jesuit missionaries who, while committed to converting heathens to Christianity, are pretty much the advance guard of the invading French. Dependent on their trade with the Iron People, the Huron effectively have no choice but to admit these disruptive influences to their settlements. The “crows” don’t come with weapons in the conventional sense, but they do arrive with even more devastating ones — small pox, influenza and a host of other diseases to which the native people have not built up immunity.
  • And finally there is the most powerful force of all, Mother Nature. Huron history recognizes this — every force or object in nature has an orenda (spirit) that serves to represent its value. To cite just one example, a summer where the orenda does not bring rain means the three sisters yield no crop, a disaster far more damaging than any Iroquois raid — not just in eliminating trade for a year, but also bringing starvation into play. Obviously, the idea that every object has its own spirit stands in conflict with the Jesuit doctrine of One Great Voice.
  • Those four over-arching forces are ever-present in The Orenda but Boyden has chosen to tell his story through three individual narrative voices which represent them. While it takes some time to get used to these three (patience is an often frustrating constant of North America’s aboriginal people — it is a talent, natural or acquired, that is essential for readers of this novel), these voices become the “orenda” of the novel — distinctive, thoughtful, both contemplative and active. Once I came to be comfortable with them, each provided a distinctive dimension to the story, effectively making the printed page a concrete three-dimensional sculpture.

  • Bird is a warrior elder of the Wendat tribe. We meet him on his way home from a hunting excursion (the missionary Christophe is with Bird’s party) after encountering and killing all but one of an Iroquois group they had come across (“…they were close to starving. And by the lack of dog prints I knew what their last meal had been.”). Bird is a much more complete character than the following excerpt illustrates, but I include it here to supply an example of the violence that is crucial to the novel, but may be disturbing for some:

    I took no pleasure yesterday in killing the last two women. They were already so wounded we knew they wouldn’t survive the trip home. Even though I asked Fox [Bird’s best friend and essential fighting ally] to do it, my asking is the same as if I myself had done it. Fox cut their throats with his knife so that they’d die quickly, ignoring the taunts of Sturgeon and Hawk and Deer to make it slow. When the three called Fox a woman for making the first leave so fast, he positioned the second woman, who was quite pretty, so the blood from her throat sprayed their faces. That shut them up, and despite feeling badly for these dead, I laughed. For all I knew, it was this group who was responsible for the slow and awful deaths of you, my wife, and you, my two daughters. There’s been no peace since. I no longer care for peace.

    Bird is certainly an effective warrior and trader, but he is much more than that. He is aware that the “crows” are not just individuals his tribe is forced to accept as visitors, they foreshadow a change that is beyond the control of the Wendat. The Iroquois are an enemy that Bird understands — the “crows” are part of a new destructive force which will not go away that is beyond his comprehension.

  • Snow Falls is a young Iroquois, the only survivor of the deadly incident in the above excerpt. One element in the long history of Huron-Iroquois warring is that the taking of hostages to replace family that one has lost has become quite acceptable — Bird is bringing the young girl home as a new daughter to replace the two he has lost:

    Despite her slowing us down all night and as her people pursue us this morning, I still don’t regret taking her. She contains something powerful. This has become more and more clear in the last while. I’m willing to take this great risk because of the promise of what’s inside her. And if the Crow is able to not only keep up with my hunters but also keep the girl alive, he will have proved to me that both of them have something worth studying.

    Snow Falls becomes a wonderfully realized character as the novel proceeds. Sometimes she serves as a representative of her people, an Iroquois hostage in a Huron community. Sometimes she is just an angry girl growing up — such as when she urinates on Bird’s sleeping robe as a gesture of protest. Sometimes she is the young, developing medicine woman who “contains something powerful”. And in all those guises and more, she is a symbol of the next generation that will have to cope with all the conflicting forces that dominate the present day of the novel.

  • And then there is Christophe, the Crow. The portrayal of Jesuit missionaries in Canadian fiction has pretty much been a contrast of two poles — the martyr version of Father Brebeuf (in his acknowledgements Boyden cites several sources that chronicle the Jesuit story) or the personification of secular evil (smallpox-ridden blankets, residential schools, etc.). To Boyden’s credit, Christophe incorporates elements of both those extremes and everything in between — like Snow Falls, he grows into a thoroughly three-dimensional character, sometimes worthy of worship, sometimes an obvious fool, sometimes evil personified. The author signals this ambiguous nature early on, in Christophe’s first narrative portion of the book, an introspective stream of conscience report to his God as he carries Snow Falls back to Huron territory, his task after the battle where her family was killed:

    You seem to be very far away here in this cold hell, and the Superior’s attempts to prepare me before I left France, before my journey to this new world, seem ridiculous in their navïeté. You will face great danger. You will almost certainly face death. You will question Jesus’ mercy, even His existence. This is Lucifer whispering in your ear. Lucifer’s fires are ice. There is no warming your body and soul by them. But Superior doesn’t have any idea what true cold is, I realize, as I allow myself and the girl to be swallowed by the darkness of trees that the bitter sun fails to penetrate.

    Christophe’s faith is under challenge as the book opens and it will only become more so as it continues. And yet, even in this aspect of the novel, Boyden finds a way to inject some humor into what overall is a very, very serious book. Later in the novel, when Christophe has two fellow Jesuits with him, the three are having trouble getting their “converts” to pay attention — until one of them discovers the Huron are captivated by the priests’ chiming clock. In no time, it becomes Captain of the Day — and the Jesuits don’t hesitate to ascribe a prescriptive purpose to the hourly chiming (“Captain of the Day says it is time to pray.” “Captain of the Day says it is time to go home to the longhouse.”)

  • We know from more than three hundred years of history that those four forces I described in the opening of the review have never arrived at final resolution — they continue to exist in a state of tension that ebbs, flows, strengthens and eases to this day. What Boyden has done in this outstanding novel is give us one version of how they might originally have come into play — and he does it through the voices and portrayals of three of the most well-developed characters I can remember finding in a contemporary novel.

    I have hinted at some of the challenges I found in reading this novel. Indeed, for the first two-thirds (it is 490 pages), I could not read more than 50 or 60 pages at a sitting — the story and images were simply too powerful for me to go further without pausing to absorb what I had read. So when I sat down with 200 pages to go, I figured that I had at least three, probably four, days of reading ahead of me — and then finished it all in one go. Bird, Snow Falls and Christophe were all so firmly established in my mind that I moved easily from one to the other — and even the reading of the truly horrific extended battle at the end of the novel could not be interrupted.

    This is already the wordiest review in the history of this blog (yes, I am trying to sell the reading of this novel) and I’m having trouble phrasing an appropriate conclusion — mainly because I’m trying to find my own version of what my fellow Shadow Giller Juror Kimbofo has already captured in her summary of The Orenda when we announced our 2013 winner. So I’ll just borrow her words as a perfect capsule of the impact that The Orenda had on me as well:

    Indeed, every time I opened the pages of this book it was like stepping into another world, so vastly different to my own, but so wonderfully rich and evocative that I would feel a sense of dislocation whenever I closed the book and went about my normal life.”

    I can think of no higher praise for any novel — this is what a truly great book is meant to do.

    And the Real 2013 Giller Prize winner is…

    November 5, 2013


    Hellgoing, Lynn Coady’s nine story collection.

    While I have not spoken to my fellow Shadow Jurors, I would say we are surprised, perhaps even stunned. On our six book shortlist (including The Orenda) she finished fifth of six, beating Dennis Bock’s Going Home Again by a single point. The collection was fourth of five with Boyden not included — it edged Bock by two points on that ballot.

    All three of us with blogs have reviewed Hellgoing — you can find Kim’s review here, Trevor’s here and mine here. None of us actively disliked the collection, but neither were we particularly impressed — the stories read just fine, but were not particularly memorable. What is interesting about that similarity of opinion is that Trevor is a genuine short story aficionado, Kim says she doesn’t like the genre (until she actually has to read a collection) and I am somewhere in-between (always feeling guilty that I don’t read more story collections). Three very different starting points, but we all had pretty much the same response.

    This is a victory of significance for Canadian publisher House of Anansi and their new Astoria imprint. Introduced just this year, Astoria is devoted to short fiction with the promise of publishing at least three titles a year (Theodora Armstrong’s Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility and Peter Behrens’ Travelling Light were the other volumes in 2013). In a year where Canada’s queen of the short story, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Anansi has come up big with its decision to support a genre that many feel is deliberately overlooked by major publishers.

    All book prize juries (including ours) develop their own personalities and I am not going to speculate on what lead the Real Jury to make this choice — anyone willing to do that in comments is more than welcome and I’ll certainly offer an opinion then.

    When the original Shadow Jury started its deliberations 19 years ago, we did promise that if our selection did not win the Real Giller we would match the Prize (then $25,000, now $50,000), subject to funds being available. Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall on Your Knees) chalked up our first debt in 1996 and Wayne Johnston (The Colony of Unrequited Dreams) became the second creditor in 1998. There have been a few others since and they are now joined by Joseph Boyden. Alas, for Shadow Giller winners who did not win the Real Giller, funds have never been available to enable us to make good on our debts. I have no desire to calculate what our total amount owing currently is.

    For those who did get to watch the CBC broadcast, I think they did an excellent job — viewers were given a very good idea of what each book was about and what each author was trying to accomplish. From my point of view, it was the best Giller broadcast in memory.

    That’s it for Giller 2013. I promise we will be back (and probably as far off the mark) again next year.

    The 2013 Shadow Giller Prize winner is…

    November 4, 2013

    11shadow logo

    Canadian cover

    Canadian cover

    UK cover

    UK cover

    The Orenda, Joseph Boyden’s story of the trials, tribulations and struggles of a Wendat (Huron) tribe in southwestern Ontario in the seventeenth century. The novel features three voices — Bird, a warrior elder; Snow Falls, an Iroquois girl he takes as a hostage and adopts as a daughter; and Christophe Crow, a Jesuit missionary who brings both Christian faith and devastating plague to the native community. It was the unanimous choice of the four Shadow Jury members.

    I’ve included both the Canadian and UK covers in this post because I think they illustrate two quite different (and legitimate) responses which the cover designers had to the book. While it is hard to see in the electronic version, those are birch trees on the Canadian cover — nature as both a nurturing and threatening force is very much a character in this novel. The UK designer, on the other hand, opted for a dualistic image that portrays both a warrior face and the metaphorical crow of the Jesuit — a stuffed raven also features as an orenda that Snow Falls finds in her search acknowledging her arriving womanhood, so this version captures images for all three voices.

    As Giller followers know, The Orenda will not be winning the Real Giller — for the first time in its 19-year history, the Shadow Giller Jury opted to call-in a title that was not on the official Giller shortlist. Both Kim and Alison had read Boyden’s novel before the shortlist was announced and felt strongly that it should be included; Trevor and Kevin were eager to add it into our consideration.

    That late addition means only Kim and I have posted a review at this date — you can find Kim’s here and mine here. Trevor’s should be posted in a few days (I’ll amend this post with links when it is up).

    Some summary thoughts about The Orenda from Shadow jury members:

  • Kim: “Set in the 17th century, The Orenda plunges the reader into the vast wilderness of Eastern Canada and takes us on a sometimes terrifying, occasionally humorous, but always fascinating journey following members of the Huron nation as they go about their daily lives over the course of many seasons. This natural world is brought vividly to life through Boyden’s beautiful prose — indeed, every time I opened the pages of this book it was like stepping into another world, so vastly different to my own, but so wonderfully rich and evocative that I would feel a sense of dislocation whenever I closed the book and went about my normal life.”
  • Trevor: “I can’t understand why the jurors left such a finely written, alive story off the shortlist. After all, this book should win the Giller Prize this year! I loved the setting, the scale, even the violence. Boyden’s work is delicate. While I enjoyed the real Giller shortlist to some degree, this was the only book I loved and am proud to recommend. In the past years, I’ve collected Joseph Boyden’s books, anxious to read them but, for whatever reason, saving them. Finally pushed into reading one, I’m even more excited to read the rest of his work. This is the only book that made me anxious to read more by the author.)”
  • Kevin: “Boyden takes a while to establish the voices of his three narrators, but once he did I was completely enthralled in the story. As he moved from one to the other, my own mind came to join in the orenda (the Wendat spirit) of each and appreciate the challenges, losses and joys that each faced — with the ever present constant of an often hostile nature a common factor for all three. The concluding section of the book is the most engrossing, dramatic and heart-breaking reading that I have experienced all year.”
  • With six titles on our shortlist, this year I asked each of the jurors to take 120 points and spread them across the six books. Here were our results:

    1. Trevor: The Orenda, Boyden 34; The Crooked Maid, Vyleta 27; Cataract City, Davidson 21; Caught Moore 17; Hellgoing, Coady 16; Going Home Again, Bock 5.
    2. Kevin: Boyden 30, Vyleta 24, Davidson 21, Bock 17, Coady 14, Moore 14.
    3. Kimbofo: Boyden 50, Vyleta 30, Bock 15, Davidson 12, Coady 8, Moore 5.
    4. Alison: Boyden 40, Vyleta 30, Davidson 15, Moore 15, Bock 10, Coady 10
    5. Total: Boyden 154, Vyleta 111, Davidson 69, Moore 52, Coady 48, Bock 47

    Purchased at

    Purchased at

    That voting summary not only shows our strong preference for The Orenda, it also indicates a unanimous agreement from the Shadow Jurors on our choice from the Real Jury shortlist, Dan Vyleta’s The Crooked Maid. Just for the record, I asked the jurors to spread 100 points among the five titles without Boyden’s book and here are the results:

    1. Trevor: Vyleta 33, Davidson 25, Moore 19, Coady 18, Bock 5.
    2. Kevin: Vyleta 30, Davidson 24, Bock 18, Coady 14, Moore 14
    3. Kimbofo: Vyleta 40, Bock 20, Davidson 17, Coady 13, Moore 10
    4. Alison: Vyleta 30, Davidson 20, Moore 20, Bock 15, Coady 15
    5. Total: Vyleta 133, Davidson 86, Moore 63, Coady 60, Bock 58

    Summary comments for Dan Vyleta’s The Crooked Maid:

  • Kim: “Ambitious in scope, it recreates Vienna in 1948, peoples it with a sizable collection of well-drawn characters, connects them all in a myriad of brilliant and unexpected ways, then throws in a murder mystery, a missing person case, a courtroom trial, several love affairs and a scandal or two.”
  • Trevor: “Much like The Orenda, The Crooked Maid has remarkable scale, and Vyleta controls all of the characters and mysteries nicely, giving a propulsive (yet intricate) narrative in a setting I love: post-war Vienna.”
  • Kevin: “Author Vyleta says he set out to create “a world” and I think he succeeded. Vienna in 1948 is a city in search of a new morality and code of conduct — each of the central characters is involved in his or her own search, collectively they represent the confusion and quest of the capital emerging from war and Nazi abuses. The Crooked Maid is one of those complex, intriguing novels that serious readers will find to be a triumph.”
  • Kim, Trevor and I have all reviewed The Crooked Maid — you can find links in the side bar on the right.

    And so all that remains now is to sit back and await the Real Jury decision from a list that we obviously felt missed the best book. I speak for all four of us in saying that we felt this year’s Giller reading was much better than last year’s — there may have been stronger long and short lists in the Giller’s 20 year history, but this one is a vintage that can hold its head high.

    Finally, again from all four of us, our thanks to all who followed our deliberations. We look forward to next year.

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