The 2013 Shadow Giller Prize winner is…

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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 Indigo.ca

    Purchased at Indigo.ca

    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.

    21 Responses to “The 2013 Shadow Giller Prize winner is…”

    1. Judy Gardner Says:

      Thank you for such interesting and stimulating discussion about the Giller prize. Not having read any except The Orenda I can’t say much but I too felt as all of you, Boydens book is outstanding.
      I look forward to Kevin’s review and also one for The Lowlands.
      Thank you for all your effort.
      Judy

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        I’ll finally be getting to The Lowlands soon — I’m afraid that my prize reading piled up a bit this year (they seemed to be longer than usual) and it was one that got set aside when the Booker winner was announced. For me, both The Orenda and The Crooked Maid would have been entirely worthy Booker longlist titles — although I would also have to say that the Booker-winning The Luminaries should have been on the Giller longlist (and would have been on my shortlist).

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    2. Sharkell Says:

      I really enjoy following your Shadow Giller discussions and usually pick up a book or two from the list. I usually wait until you’ve reviewed a few of the short list before I choose what to read (plus my choices are limited as many of these books are not yet released in Australia). I am over half way through The Crooked Maid and loving it and I have bought The Orenda (which I have decided to give to my husband for Christmas as he will love it too). So thank you to all of the Shadow jurors, this is a great promotion of some well-deserving Canadian literature.

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Thank you very much for your kind words — I’d say you have made a very good choice with your two selections.

        I am planning on returning the Antipodean reading favor between now and year end. I have a whole shelf of unread ones on my hands — Kimbofo sent me My Brother Jack, Charlotte Grimshaw was featured at our local authors’ festival and I have a whole stack of Alex Miller’s to get to. And that is just for starters.

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    3. Lisa Hill Says:

      Two books for my shopping list! Thank you all, as usual!

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    4. Anna O'Grady Says:

      I can’t wait to read the new novel from Joseph Boyden, he is an outstanding writer and unfortunately this is not the first time he is left out of The Giller😦 I will be definitely checking the Crooked Maid too, sounds really good!

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        As you can tell from both our votes and comments, the Shadow Jury can’t understand why he was left off the shortlist. The best hypothesis that I could come up with is that the first 100-150 pages are a bit of a challenge — there is a lot of violence and it took me a while to feel in tune with the three narrating voices (and there is a fair bit of plot background that needs to be put in place). I could see where a juror looking at a pile of more than 140 books to read might become impatient.

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    5. Tony Says:

      You’ve got to love the decisions these panels make – good to see that the eventual winner was near the bottom of virtually everyone’s list…

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Sorry Tony, your comment came in before my post on the Real Giller decision was up. As you correctly report, none of the four of us were remotely close to agreeing with the Real Jury this year. That’s the way it goes sometimes, I guess.

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    6. winstonsdad Says:

      nice choice Kevin after reading Kims review suspect this would be shadow choice ,lets hope the jury match your decision ,all the best stu ,

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        I think we did rather tip our hand when we decided to call the novel in — but I’m glad we did. It will be interesting to see how it does in the Governor-General’s awards where it is shortlisted — but faces competition from four strong novels, including the Booker-winning The Luminaries. None of the five G-G nominees (The Hungry Ghosts, The Lion Seeker and A Beautiful Truth) made the Giller shortlist — I would rank all three that I have read ahead of the G-G winner, so I am obviously out of touch with this year’s jury.

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    7. Kerry Says:

      As with the other commenters, your Shadow Giller coverage is a highlight every year. And your (personal and collective) recommendations are never a letdown. To that end, I am sold on Boyden but unsure whether I should start here or is he good enough I should just go back to the beginning? (From your earlier review of Through the Black Spruce, it seems the beginning may not be the ideal starting point, but then where? Here or 2008? Also, you may get into this in your review tomorrow so if my questions are premature, I can wait.)

      Great job, Shadow Jury!

      Like

      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Thanks for the comment, Kerry, because it gives me a chance to say something about The Orenda that I might (or might not) be able to fit into the review when I get to it.

        I had originally thought it was part three of the trilogy but a commenter pointed me to an interview where Boyden says it is not: rather it was a book that demanded he write it.

        In some ways, it is in fact a “prequel” to the trilogy, although we do not discover that until the final pages of the book. The key Huron character in the book is “Bird” — the family at the centre of Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce is the Birds. In the final pages (which are not really what the book is about), The Orenda is an explanation of how they came to be in Moosenee/Moose Factory on the shores of Hudson Bay. I can understand why Boyden felt that he had to write it.

        Given your background, I’d suggest starting with The Orenda (although wait until you see the review) — it is as good an example as I can remember of the exploitation of Native people in the “opening” of the New World. The other two, on the other hand, are more about ongoing relations with the conquering Europeans (and Through Black Spruce is very contemporary in that).

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        • Kerry Says:

          Thanks. The Orenda moves onto my shortlist. You guys have given me good recommendations in the past and seem particularly enthusiastic about this one. And thanks for the forewarning about the first 140 or so pages. That always helps.

          Eager for the review. Now if only it would make the Tournament of Books field.

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    8. Patti Hamilton Says:

      Our NWT Giller (not so light) Bash had similar voting results to the Shadow Jury. So we were disapointed and confused by the Giller choice but had a greay party despite the results. Prize for the winner of our draw was Orenda.

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    9. Buried In Print Says:

      As a reader who prefers longlists to shortlists, I appreciate the group’s decision to pull one of the other titles into final shadow-contention. But I was expecting a little more from The Orenda, so I didn’t respond quite as wholeheartedly as the shadow jury did. Nonetheless, I both loved and admired Dan Vyleta’s novel, so would have been pleased with that outcome. Some great reading this year, and it’s been fun following your discussions.

      Like

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