2014 Booker Prize shortlist — and 2014 Shadow Giller Jury plans

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booker logoThe 2014 Booker Prize Jury has done it again: completely befuddled KfC with its shortlist. I had read six of the longlist (reviews of Orfeo and The Bone Clocks are still to come) and figured at least four of those would be on the shortlist. Not so fast, Kevin — only two, one of which I hated. Whatever, here is the official list.

Already reviewed here

2014 flanaganThe Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. A truly worthwhile novel that will likely end up being my choice for the Prize. Dorrigo Evans is an Australian doctor, the senior officer at a POW camp involved in building the Siam to Burma railway for the brutal Japanese. The highly dramatic POW experience is bookended with less satisfying (for me at least) sections on Dorrigo as a love-struck youth and as an unworthy, yet heroic, survivor of the war, damaged forever by his prison camp experience.

2014 ferris1To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris. I couldn’t understand how this disappointing novel made the longlist — a shortlisting is totally beyond me. Paul O’Rourke is a successful Park Avenue dentist — the rest of his life is pretty much a disaster. The downward spiral gets worse when a reasonably accurate website for his practice that he has nothing to do with suddenly shows up, soon to be followed with Facebook and Twitter accounts. That “identity theft” part of the novel is actually quite funny, but it heads into absurd (and thoroughly non-entertaining) territory when those social media accounts start to quote “scripture” from a long lost, forgotten Israeli tribe and the book becomes a cult exploration.

Reviews to come

2014 mukharjeeThe Lives of Others, by Neel Mukherjee. I have a fondness for multi-generational Indian sagas (Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance remains my favorite novel), so I was personally not disappointed to see this one on the list, even if it has met very mixed (actually, mainly negative) reviews from readers whom I respect. The Ghosh family starts out rich but is headed into decline as the novel opens. That produces a wealth of inter-family disputes. And when one son heads into radical politics, the door is opened to exploring the abuses and brutality of the Indira Gandhi era.

2014 fowlerWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. I had every intention of giving this one a pass, but a couple of positive comments here from visitors when the longlist was announced have convinced me it deserves a try. Still…the story of a 20-year-old whose parents decided to raise her with a chimpanzee for a sister? By the author of the best-selling Jane Austen Book Club? Doesn’t seem like my cup of tea, but I guess that on occasion I should try one of these more “populist” works.

2014 smithHow to be Both, by Ali Smith. I have respect for Smith’s work and planned on reading this one (it is just out) but early reviews from acknowledged Smith fans say it is not up to her usual standard, so I am somewhat concerned. The novel is actually two linked novellas — one set in Italy in the fifteenth century, the other in modern day Cambridge. Then again, I do like “art” books and there is an art theme to this one.

And one I won’t be reading

2014 jacobsonJ, by Howard Jacobson. I don’t like Howard Jacobson books (see my troubles with his Booker-winning The Finkler Question). And I loathe dystopian novels. So this dystopian tale by Howard Jacobson (promoted on its cover as a new 1984 or Brave New World — although there are rumors Jacobson writes his own blurbs) has no appeal whatsoever. Here’s a link to Mookse’s Booker Forum discussion of J for those who want more data — so far those who have read it seem to share my distaste.

All in all, I find this quite a bizarre shortlist. I thought Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World was an amibitious effort, even if it had some weaknesses. Niall Williams’ History of the Rain was an impressive “Irish village” novel. And I’ll tease my upcoming review of The Bone Clocks by saying it is my new favorite David Mitchell novel — and I have read every one that he has written. So I really can’t understand what the Booker Jury was thinking — perhaps the Booker and KfC are finally parting ways.

11shadow logo

On to a more positive note: the 21st Giller Prize Jury will announce its longlist one week from today. And that will open the deliberations of the 20th year of the Shadow Giller Jury, chaired by KfC. I’ve repeated the Shadow Giller story so many times here that I won’t be doing it again this year — if you are new to this site, here’s a link that tells the story.

For the first time in history, the Shadow Giller Jury last year was so unimpressed with the Real Giller shortlist that we were forced to “call in” an additional title for our own shortlist deliberations — and Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda emerged as the Shadow Giller winner. Let’s hope this year’s Real Giller Jury shows better judgment than their predecessors (or this year’s Booker Jury for that matter).

This year’s Shadow Jury will be the same as it has been for the last four years: Our American judge, Trevor, who blogs at The Mookse and the Gripes; Kimbofo, our London-based Australian ex-pat, who blogs at Reading Matters, Alison Gzowski from the Globe and Mail (who doesn’t blog but comments on the three who do) and KfC. We are even more international than the Real Giller Jury.

As is usual with only three weeks between longlist and shortlist, the Giller is a challenge for the Shadow Jury — we try to make sure at least one of us reads each longlisted book before the shortlist is announced, but our real action doesn’t start until then. Trevor and Kimbofo will be posting their thoughts on shortlisted titles on their blogs — I will offer excerpts from those reviews here and there will be a sidebar on the right where you will find links to reviews from all Shadow Jury members as they are posted.

And, of course, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Please join us for another exciting Giller Prize year.

21 Responses to “2014 Booker Prize shortlist — and 2014 Shadow Giller Jury plans”

  1. David Says:

    Well, I loved ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ when I read it last year so am thrilled to see that on the shortlist. As for the rest, I would have been reading the Ali Smith anyway but find I can summon very little enthusiasm for the rest. Honestly, I’ve paid very little attention to the Booker this year.

    I am however very excited about the Giller (as I always am). I think I’ve read seventeen or eighteen eligible titles so far and I’d be pretty happy to see almost any of them on the longlist, though I do hope Susan Downe’s ‘Juanita Wildrose: My True Life’ makes it as I thought that was an absolute joy to read, even if I do question whether it is actually ‘fiction’.
    Shani Mootoo, Tasneem Jamal, Richard Wagamese, Michael Crummey and David Adams Richards would also get my vote. On the short story front, KD MIller’s “All Saints” and Claire Battershill’s “Circus” have really stuck in my mind. I’m even finding myself quite enjoying Margaret Atwood!
    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to both the longlist announcement and the shadow jury’s reviews.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Thanks for those thoughts, David. I am halfway through the Crummey (Sweetland) and am quite impressed. I did not like the Richards as much as you did (perhaps I am over-exposed to him); I did like The Lobster Kings much more than you did. And I am finding that Us Conductors is getting better in memory as time goes on — always a good sign.

      As well, Caroline Adderson is getting very good reviews. The new David Bezmogis is just out and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the list. Ann-Marie Macdonald’s book (Adult Onset) is not out yet — and previous winner Johanna Skibsrud’s Quartet for the End of Time isn’t out until Sept. 23.

      And I am afraid I am totally out of touch on the short story front. Juries always seem to include two or three on the longlist — we shall have to see how your choices do. Even your endorsement can’t convince me to read Atwood’s dystopian short stories — Trevor will be assigned that Shadow Jury task if it makes the longlist.

      I am certainly looking forward more to the Giller than I am the Booker shortlist books that I haven’t read yet.

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      • David Says:

        If you’re halfway through the Crummey and are already quite impressed, Kevin, you should end up loving it. At the halfway stage I was wondering why I was reading a book I seem to have read many times before, but the way he turned it all on its head in the second half more than won me around.

        I have copies of both the Adderson and Bezmozgis and am looking forward to both – Adderson’s seems to be a novel-in-stories and I think she writes fantastic short stories. And I can’t wait for ‘Adult Onset’ – it has been a long time since MacDonald’s last book. Less excited about the Skibsrud I must say.
        Thomas King’s and Carrie Snyder’s new books arrived last week and I really want to get stuck into both of those. I’m also looking forward to Kathleen Winter’s story collection and David Bergen’s new novel (I’m hoping ‘The Matter with Morris’ was just a blip as I’ve loved the other two of his I’ve read).
        There’s usually at least one translated book on the longlist and I’m hoping it is either Dominique Fortier’s ‘Wonder’ or Elise Turcotte’s ‘Guyana’ as I quite fancy reading both of those, unlike Kim Thuy’s ‘Man’ which doesn’t appeal at all.

        I’m not an Atwood fan either, but (so far) these are neither dystopian or aggressively feminist, the two traits that I don’t enjoy in her work. Though I’m only two stories in so that might change!

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  2. Trudie Says:

    On vacation here in the US and yours was the first report I read on the shortlist announcement. First reaction was I was very pleased that two books I personally rated highly made it through – The Narrow Road To The Deep North and We are Completely Beside Ourselves ( I do think it has a very interesting premise – so keen to get your thoughts ). Like you, I vowed never to touch another Jacobson novel and I also feel similarly about Ferris. I purposely left my copy of The lives of Others at home as I thought it maybe too arduous a read for traveling but I think I will now pick that one up.
    Have not yet read The Bone Clocks but I am a Mitchell fan girl so I am predisposed to be gutted his book did not make it !
    I don’t think I have read many Giller prize novels being from NZ I might need to start following it !

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Trudie. I have had The Lives of Others on hand for a while but, like you, haven’t opened it because all I have read about it suggests it is a bit of a slog. However, we had our first snowfall in Calgary last night (in early September, for crying out loud) and more cold is promised for the rest of the week — so once I finish with Sweetland, conditions seem to be right for settling into a longish “winter” read.

      My biggest disappointments were that the Mitchell and Hustvedt didn’t make it — both are flawed but light years better than Ferris.

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      • Lee Monks Says:

        Would’ve loved to have seen Siri Hustvedt on there but I’ve never been as surprised at an omission as I was at Mitchell missing out. Possibly the most ridiculous single omission from a shortlist in my lifetime. It gets crazier as the hours pass…

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  3. Rose McIntyre Says:

    Was interested in David’s comment about having read seventeen or eighteen books suitable for the Giller. What would they be?………..Rose

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  4. Guy Savage Says:

    A friend of mine is currently reading the Flanagan novel, but I don’t think I’d care for it. Actually, what a dreary list as far as my interests are concerned. You already know that I’m not big on these contests anyway, but this list seems particularly dreary, and from the sounds of it, you agree.

    Well back to my TBR stack.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I think you would appreciate it for the skill involved, but it does not fit any of your particular fields of interest.

      All prize juries do develop their own “personalities” — this one seems to have evolved into a particularly strange one. They definitely left some quite good novels off their short list.

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  5. BookerTalk Says:

    I’m similarly perplexed that Fowler made it to the longlist even. I wasn’t going to read it but when it got through to the next round I thought maybe I was doing her a disservice. Having read it I am still perplexed. Once you pass the stage of the reveal it’s just a straight forward story and not that well written. Do give Mukherjee a go. It’s. It a winner but still worth reading.

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  6. Caz Says:

    I had read Flanagan and Fowler before the longlist release, and very much appreciated both books – I had no prior knowledge of the Fowler spoiler which helped. I read the Ferris book after the longlist was released, and I am rather perplexed at how it got that far. I can’t stand the “long pointless waffle” school of writing, that seems particular to NY writers. This book was just so dreadful I can’t help thinking there’s a hidden agenda or powerful market demographic I’m missing here…
    Enjoyed Orfeo, but as I’m not musically inclined I suspect much was wasted on me. Currently still reading History of the Rain and loving it’s whimsical ways.
    The Blazing World was stunning, in a slap your brain around with a book kinda way. If it had made the shortlist, I’d be scared for Flanagan, but as it confusingly didn’t, Flanagan’s safe.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      With the exception of your thoughts concerning Fowler (which I haven’t read and hence don’t yet have an opinion), I agree with all of your observations — including the “long pointless waffle” school of NY writers (which I have to admit Hustvedt falls into on occasion as well). That includes Orfeo — I’m having some trouble coming up with the words to say that much of the “music” writing just did not work for me.

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  7. Penny Says:

    It’s like you are in my head Kevin. I feel the exact same way about all of your comments for the Bookers! It will be a crushing blow if Flanagan’s incredible book isn’t named the winner. I still have to read The Lives of Others and think this would be the only other contender, in my opinion. I won’t bother in any way with the Ferris book. Why is that on the list? I read Fowler’s and enjoyed it – but think it’s more of a book club choice, not a major literary prize award nominee/winner. Like you, I cannot even consider venturing into J – I’m no dystopian fan either. I’m on the fence about reading Ali Smith’s book – I did read The Blazing World (why that wasn’t on the shortlist over a few of the other titles on there is beyond me) and I’m not sure I want to jump right into another “art world” book.
    (And ha! I’m listening to A Fine Balance right now!)

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      We are in a similar space. Of those I have read, I would give a slight nod to Hustvedt over Flanagan, but the two are close. I intend to get to Ali Smith’s book before the decision but am waiting for the right “mood” before I start — from what I have read, it may be a bit of a challenge.

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      • David Says:

        I got to the Ali Smith a week or so ago, Kevin, and whilst I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for Flanagan I’d be equally happy if Smith won. I didn’t find it “a challenge” at all – as ever with her writing it is witty and playful, packed with ideas and “ah!” moments and a joy to read.

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Thanks for that David. We are headed up to Lake Louise for a mini-holiday next week, so I will take Ali Smith along.

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  8. Caz Says:

    I’ve now read 7 (and started 2 more) of the long-list, which translates across to 3 of the shortlist (and started 2 more).

    My conclusion at this stage is that it’s Marketing, not the judges, who are making the major moves. The books are just that bit too well spread, that bit too representative of diverse demographics and styles, all consistent in their inconsistency. (The patterns too random, as Carrie Mathieson would say)*. It smells like Marketing separated the books into categories (eg “Jewish American authors”, “American contemporary”, “fantasy”, “historical fiction in 3rd world countries”, “working class life European”, “War stories”) and the judges are not allowed to pick more than one from each category.

    The short and long list just look a little too well designed for the diverse styles they cover. It’s like they’re anxiously and consciously trying to keep every group happy and were preemptively responding to potential criticisms.

    ps – The Bone Clocks was beautiful. Not flawless, but so ambitious that beautiful is more than enough.

    *Apologies for the Homeland reference.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I don’t think you can point the finger of blame directly at “Marketing” since that department doesn’t have a seat at the judging table. Having said that, I think different panels of judges develop their own “frameworks” — one of which could well be “let’s make sure our list(s) reflect diverse demographics and styles”. I haven’t followed the usual Booker politics reporting very closely this year, but I have seen a couple of references that indicate this year’s jury is more a collection of individuals than a real “panel” — and that both the long and short lists are more a reflection of individual favorites than a jury consensus. Whatever the reason — I think this year’s bunch missed a number of excellent books (including The Bone Clocks).

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