Archive for November, 2019

Shadow Giller Winner 2019

November 18, 2019

It was an unusual year for us shadow jurors – with only two of us reading and reviewing the books – so we went about our deliberations a little differently. Marcie and I revealed our top two books (of the six on the shortlist), and Alison (who has read four of the six books) joined in our discussion.

We are thrilled to announce that this year (and in the spirit of the Booker) we have a tie!

Congratulations to Michael Crummey (Doubleday Canada) and Ian Williams (Random House Canada)!

 

Jury Citation for The Innocents: “Written in a language that is at the same time fresh and ancient, Michael Crummey’s The Innocents is a (mis)creation myth that demands a reconsideration of what we think we know about love and death, family and loneliness, oblivion and wisdom, horror and beauty, bodies and knowledge, violence and desire. Anchored in exquisite specificity and heartbreaking simplicity, and inviting us into a distant past that makes fresh matters of ever-present concern about survival and sacrifice, Crummey’s novel has the capacity to change the way the reader sees the world.”

Jury Citation for Reproduction: “Ian Williams’s Reproduction is many things at once. It’s an engrossing story of disparate people brought together and also a masterful unfolding of unexpected connections and collisions between and across lives otherwise separated by race, class, gender and geography. It’s a pointed and often playful plotting out of individual and shared stories in the close spaces of hospital rooms, garages, mansions and apartments, and a symphonic performance of resonant and dissonant voices, those of persons wanting to impress persuade, deny, or beguile others, and always trying again.”

 

Our thoughts on The Innocents

Alison: “It’s a brave and beautiful book.”

Marcie: “Michael Crummey is a favourite writer of mine. There are a lot of qualities I admire in his novel and I wouldn’t be sorry to see it take the prize. In terms of story and language, it’s outstanding. Also, I have a soft spot for fiction which emerges from history. And apparently this story was pulled from the history books. I also have a predilection towards stories about the forgotten and overlooked, and The Innocents reminds me how often stories of the powerless are relegated to the margins. Some might feel that this work does not represent a diverse choice, but the story of these two children is not an oft-told tale: it is, nonetheless, an archetypal tale, too. It’s an engaging story about how fragile we are, as human beings, and how tragic circumstances can be devastating but also empowering: these children are victims in one sense but are valiant in every other sense.”

Naomi:I was mesmerized by Crummey’s use of language throughout the book. In addition, he took a sensitive subject (that even he admitted to not wanting to touch) and turned it into a tender story of survival that is successful at eliciting feelings of compassion and sympathy for its characters and their circumstances.”

 

Our thoughts on Reproduction

Marcie:For me, Reproduction scratches every literary itch I have: it leaves me satisfied after just a single reading and, simultaneously, yearning to reread, with an awareness that there are still many echoes and layers that I likely missed along the way. The way that the theme resonates throughout the novel tickles my reader’s fancy; I enjoy puzzling out the ways that habits and attachments, mistakes and fractures reproduce in the narrative. One aspect that I particularly admire is the way that the novel thickens as the pages accumulate; across the generations, the human patterns intersect and loop in different directions, until it’s all a blur of loving and losing. And even though absences overshadow presences at times, bonds remain and you’re left to imagine the ways in which these characters’ stories will continue to reproduce after the last page has been turned.”

Naomi:The thought and creativity that went into this book amazes me. Not only do we get an engaging story with strong characters, we also get an interesting and playful structure (whether you choose to pay attention to it or not).”

 

Now we wait to see what the real Giller Prize jury has to say. They will name their official winner tonight (Monday, November 18th)! For specific timings, please visit the official website.

 

What do you think of our choice(s)? How do you feel about the tie? Which book would you choose?

 

You can find the review links to all the shortlisted books here!

 

We have also done some longlist reading. Here’s where you can find our reviews:

Days By Moonlight by André AlexisConsumed by Ink  and Buried in Print

Dream Sequence by Adam FouldsConsumed by Ink

Late Breaking by K.D. MillerConsumed by Ink 

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-BentaConsumed by Ink

Greenwood by Michael Christie – coming soon to Buried in Print

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – coming soon to Buried in Print

 

 

Giller Shortlist: Lampedusa by Steven Price

November 15, 2019

Insights into Steven Price’s novel, Lampedusa, may differ depending on if you’ve read Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard.

 

Marcie’s review, which can be read in full at Buried in Print, shows how The Leopard relates to Price’s novel as well as to the present day.

 

If that kind of circularity appeals to you, then you will need to know a little more about the origins of the original novel, the one that inspires Price. The Everyman’s edition of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s 1958 classic The Leopard (translated from the Italian by Archibald Colquhoun in 1991) contains a short work of memoir afterwards. In only 30 pages, one begins to understand how important time and memory are to the author, personally and creatively.

Di Lampedusa’s novel about how life changed for a prince in 19th-century Sicily, dramatically and irreversibly, is also a meditation on how we, as human beings, face and experience change and how we cope with inevitability, as well as the larger questions simmering beneath (say, about authenticity and decline).

And also how we, as human beings, share this cyclical challenge with other animals, with four-legged creatures as well – the prince’s dog, Bendicò, begins and ends the novel – and, yet, there are so many things about being human which we prize (and sometimes claim to be unique to our species): literature, communication, friendship, love, art, beauty and understanding.

 

My review, which can be read in full at Consumed by Ink, shows that the message of the novel shows through even if you have not read The Leopard.

 

Readers of The Leopard, I think, will likely get more out of this novel than I did, but even so I can admire what Price has done with it. Giuseppe comes to life on these pages; quiet, thoughtful, soft-spoken, solitary, melancholy, bookish, a Sicilian through and through with a fondness for sweet pastries. A character study of a dying man who reflects on his life with questions and regrets, but also with moments of joy.

These moments of joy give us relief from the somber atmosphere of the book. Giuseppe’s wife Licy, an independent and intelligent woman, makes a good match for him and his fondness for reading, studying, and conversation. But literature is Giuseppe’s great joy – and has been with him throughout his life – reading, writing, reflecting, and discussing it with friends and family.

No life can be lived deeply… if it is lived outside of art.

 

Interested in more? You can find the Shadow Giller reading schedule here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Lampedusa. Or any other bookish thing you’d like to say! Have you read The Leopard?

 

We’ve now read and reviewed all the books on this year’s Giller shortlist. It’s time to come up with our winner – so stay tuned! Any predictions?

 

 

Giller Shortlist: Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

November 8, 2019

This is the first time I’ve read a book by David Bezmozgis. Marcie, on the other hand, has read several. Did this have any effect on the way we reacted to the book?

 

Here is an excerpt from Marcie’s review, which can be read in full at Buried in Print

 

Along the way, I’ve missed only one of David Bezmozgis’ books. The last novel of his I read was The Free World and, reading through the quotations I saved from that reading, I was struck by how many older passages resonate with this new collection.

Here is one which strikes me today because I’ve been thinking about how we move through patterns in the ways we relate to people and how we yearn to connect. About how many challenges to that desire exist. About the additional challenge when one must navigate that challenge while building a new home somewhere that used to be just ‘elsewhere’.

“The thrill was in saying the words and having someone say them back. The conversation was always the same anyway. You repeated at twenty-six what you’d said at sixteen. And, if you were lucky, you got to repeat it again at fifty-six and ninety-six. To see yourself through admiring eyes, to tell a woman what you wanted – what could be better? How could you tire of that? Emigration had already spoiled too many pleasures and hadn’t granted many new ones in return.”

You can spot a shift in focus between these two works immediately with the last sentence about ‘emigration’ and the title of this year’s Giller-nominated stories, Immigrant City. The former emphasizes the process of leaving one’s country to settle in a new country and the latter emphasizes the process of resettling in a new country having left another country behind. But of course these states are intertwined.

 

Here is an excerpt from Naomi’s review, which can be read in full at Consumed by Ink.

 

Although David Bezmozgis has been on the Giller list before (with Free World in 2011 and The Betrayers in 2014), this is the first of his books I’ve read. And the only short story collection on the shortlist this year.

Not only did I find his writing style engaging, it was my first experience reading about the Latvian Jewish community. David Bezmozgis himself was born in Riga, Latvia.

The title story, Immigrant City, was probably my favourite. I could connect to the narrator who is the father of three young daughters – one of which loves to go with him everywhere. He doesn’t hesitate to take her across the city of Toronto on the subway to find a used door to match his car. “Didn’t every kind of flotsam wash up on the blasted shores of the Internet, including a black 2012 Toyota Highlander front passenger-side door? Indeed, there was one, offered for sale by Mohamed Abdi Mohamed of Rexdale.”

I love the image of the father and daughter riding home again on the subway; one carrying a car door and one wearing a hijab (given to the daughter by Mohamed’s wife).

In an immigrant city, a city of innumerable struggles and ambitions, a white man with a car door and a daughter wearing a blue hijab attract less attention than you might expect.

 

Interested in more? You can find the Shadow Giller reading schedule here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Immigrant City. Or any other bookish thing you’d like to say! Do you read short stories? How do you feel about short story collections competing against novels for literary prizes? 

 

Giller Shortlist: Small Game Hunting At the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

November 1, 2019

Judging by our reviews, this book seems to have made an emotional impact. As Megan Gail Coles warned us it might, it hurt to read.  

 

An excerpt from Marcie’s review, which can be read in full at Buried in Print

Despite the rather long title, the core idea of this novel is succinct: “Your truth is not more fucking true than my truth.”

Megan Gail Coles situates her story around a downtown restaurant in St. John’s Newfoundland. There, a handful of characters, who are navigating the daily grind, present their truths. The structure is simultaneously expansive and focussed: so many characters and so little time.

Readers spend time with these men and women in and out of this restaurant (but mostly out). It’s perfect for illustrating the power dynamics in everyday life.

Waiters and waitresses: they’re servers, right? There’s an inherent power dynamic. And a hierarchy within the staff and management, the age-old conflict between front- and back-of-house, and the sexism rampant in the food industry: a restaurant is the perfect scene to explore inequity.

Coles doesn’t illustrate the scenes in which the servers have an opportunity to be comfortable in their role. There’s no table with a happy couple that overtips their server at the end of the night because they are so content with their own relationship that their gratitude expresses itself in an increased gratuity. There’s no table set for the back- and front-of-house staff to share a meal together before or after the dinner shift.g.

One of my favourite scenes, an uncomfortable one, depicts a waitress at table-side, a full table too. A potentially lucrative group (large, moneyed, influential). Some interior aspects of the scene are spelled out in detail. Some are left to readers to assemble. The details are useful, but the unwritten parts – they are what made me seethe. (If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, any service industry, you can imagine.)

It’s not a comfortable scene. And neither are the other aspects of these characters’ lives. The ugliest bits are on display and unkindnesses echo and repeat (there is one notable exception, but that would be spoilery). Initially, the cast overwhelms, not for their numbers but for their natures.

 

An excerpt from Naomi’s review, which can be read in full at Consumed by Ink

Self-destructive behaviour runs rampant in this book. Grieving for Tom, Damian has just come off one of the biggest benders of his life. He came into work reeking of alcohol and is dipping into more to get through the day.

He has the look of a person who has not been eating food recently. Ben hands him an OJ and ginger ale and everyone watches it disperse through his body like African rivers flooding the great plains after the seasonal drought. John can see the vitamins and minerals moving like emergency service providers dispatched at an accident scene.

Calv seems like a good guy who has made some terrible decisions – one in particular – and it’s wreaking havoc on his conscience. To make matters worse, he continues to go out with the repugnant Roger, and is with him now at The Hazel. He knows how his sister Amanda feels about Roger (He knows how his sister feels about a lot of things!), and desperately hopes not to run into her.

Everything was always about her, about being nice to Amanda, watching her prance around, or listening to her every jesus thought on why fast food was not food and hydro projects was evil and oil was dirty and how everything and anything Calv was ever interested in or into was wrong, wrong, wrong. Amanda made Calv feel like he was destroying the fucking planet by his own self, but he was just doing what every other jesus human was doing.

Amanda is going to give herself bad nerves worrying over shit she got no control over.

And she says that’s his fault too. That he don’t do his share of worrying over anything. None of them do, so all the women is left to worry their own worries and the worries of every man nearby who is too busy playing some fake game in a fantasy world.

And then there’s Major David, Mayor of St. John’s, who seems to collect all the misconceptions and stereotypes there ever were and use them to form ludicrous opinions.

She doesn’t like him. It’s perceptible. That, or she’s on her period. Probably both. He’s heard that the serving staff, being primarily female, get synced up. He would like to see a study on that. Major David has heard that they have periods for weeks now because of the new contraceptives. He’s convinced, convinced, that all the estrogen they piss out into the harbour is why there are more homosexuals. When he was a young man there was hardly a queer in Newfoundland, and now they’re everywhere. The fellow wiping the glassware for example. Gay. Those mannerisms. That haircut. Gay gay gay.

He don’t mind gay people now, he just wishes they didn’t all look so fit.

 

Interested in more? You can find the Shadow Giller reading schedule here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Small Game Hunting At the Local Coward Gun Club… have you read it? Do you plan to? Do you like reading books that make you uncomfortable?… Or any other bookish thing you’d like to say!

 


%d bloggers like this: