Author Archive

2017 Giller Prize shortlist announced

October 2, 2017

Earlier today the shortlist for the 2017 Giller Prize was announced.

The books on the shortlist are:

The Shadow Giller jury will now swing into full reading and reviewing mode as we try to determine who we think should be the winner. We will announce our chosen title a few days before the official winner is named on Monday 20 November.

In the meantime, if you are on Twitter do follow us @ShadowGiller. Please use the hashtag #ShadowGiller


2017 Giller Prize longlist — and the long-awaited return of the Shadow Jury!

September 18, 2017

Hello friends, it’s that time of year again: the longlist for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize has been unveiled. And the Shadow Jury is going to be following along as per usual. Hooray!

Before naming the 12 titles on the list, let me explain a bit about how the Shadow Jury works in case you’ve not followed along before.

There are three of us on the jury: Toronto-based Alison Gzowski, who is an editor at The Globe and Mail; Novia Scotia-based Naomi MacKinnon, who blogs at Consumed by Ink; and myself, Kim Forrester, who blogs at Reading Matters and lives in London, UK.

Our late chairman Kevin began chairing a “shadow jury” in 1995 when he was publisher of the Calgary Herald  — you can find the story of its history here. When he died last year, we decided to honour his memory by continuing to run the Shadow Giller jury and now, with the blessing of Kevin’s widow, Sheila, we continue to use Kevin’s blog to promote and champion the Canadian literature he loved so much every Giller Prize season.

Over the next couple of months we will post excerpts of reviews by Naomi and myself (with links back to our own blogs). Alison also promises to contribute a few guest posts and be actively involved in the comments, too.

Because of the short timing between the longlist and shortlist announcement on 2 October, it’s unlikely we’ll be reviewing the entire longlist, but we will endeavour to read every title on the shortlist and take it from there…

In the long-established tradition of the Shadow Giller Jury, we will announce our winner a few days in advance of the official Giller Prize announcement on November 20.

Shadow Giller logo

In the meantime, here’s the longlist, which was announced earlier today:

  • David Chariandy for his novel Brother, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • Rachel Cusk for her novel Transit, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • David Demchuk for his novel The Bone Mother, published by ChiZine Publications
  • Joel Thomas Hynes for his novel We’ll All Be Burned in Our Beds Some Night, published by HarperPerennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • Andrée A. Michaud for her novel Boundary, published by Biblioasis International Translation Series, translated by Donald Winkler
  • Josip Novakovich for his story collection Tumbleweed, published by Esplanade Books/Véhicule Press
  • Ed O’Loughlin for his novel Minds of Winter, published by House of Anansi Press
  • Zoey Leigh Peterson for her novel Next Year, For Sure, published by Doubleday Canada
  • Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square, published by Doubleday Canada
  • Eden Robinson for her novel Son of a Trickster, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada
  • Deborah Willis for her story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada
  • Michelle Winters for her novel I Am a Truck, published by Invisible Publishing

Please do add comments and chime in with your own thoughts on the titles as we review them. Taking part in the Shadow Giller is always a highlight of my reading year, but it’s made all the better when booklovers from across the world jump in and take part, too. We’ll be delighted and honoured to have you along…

The 2016 Giller Prize winner

November 8, 2016


Congratulations to Madeleine Thien whose novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing was named the winner of the 2016 Giller Prize last night.

You will recall from our Shadow Giller announcement on Saturday that we thought very highly of Thien’s novel — we have reviewed it here and here — but after much discussion we chose  Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall as our winner. Both titles, we would argue, are brilliant books deserving of your attention.

Do Not say we have nothing British edition

To see Thien’s (rather touching) winning speech, please visit the CBC Books website.


Sadly, that’s the end of the Giller Prize season for another year. We hope you’ve enjoyed following our Shadow Giller proceedings, reviews and tweets over the past two months. We’ve had a brilliant time doing it and read some wonderful books in the process. Thanks so much for your support.

The 2016 Shadow Giller winner

November 5, 2016

Well, it took a bit of deliberating, across time zones, provinces and continents, but we are delighted to reveal the winner of the Shadow Giller:


Links to all the 2016 Shadow Giller reviews

November 4, 2016

Shadow Giller logoThis weekend we plan on announcing the winner of the Shadow Giller. It’s hard to believe that eight weeks ago we were trying to make up our mind as to whether to continue this venture without Kevin, our chairman, at the helm. I’m so glad we did. This year’s books have proved to be sometimes challenging, often daring and always intriguing reads.

While we three jury members — Alison, Naomi and myself — busy ourselves trying to choose which book should win, here are the links to all our reviews, both on this site and our own blogs.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux (trs. Lazer Lederhendler)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

Which book would you like to see win the prize?

Kimbofo reviews Yiddish for Pirates

November 2, 2016

yiddish-for-piratesHmm, what an interesting book this one proved to be!

This is from my review:

I’ve never read a book so jam-packed with word play and creative use of language as this one. I would describe it as a kind of literary vaudeville; a mesmirising act of vocabulary, idioms, metaphors, puns and similes. And, if that’s not enough, it’s narrated by a 500-year-old parrot with a penchant for jokes and scathing one-liners. Yes, really.

The story is essentially a boy’s own adventure set during the Spanish Inquisition involving the aforementioned parrot — an African Grey called Aaron — and a Jewish man called Moishe, whose shoulder he perches on.

Fleeing persecution, this “odd couple” is helped in part by an underground network of Jewish sympathisers as  they endeavour to save a rare library of important Jewish texts. Along the way they fall in with Christopher Columbus and set sail for the New World. Their journey is ripe with adventure, piracy, danger, violence and revenge.

Unfortunately, I had some issues with this book. Too clever, too knowing, just too much creativity going on, basically.

To read my review in full, please visit my blog, Reading Matters.

Naomi reviews Do Not Say We Have Nothing

November 1, 2016

donotsaywehavenothing-canadianedition Naomi has now completed her Shadow Giller reading with this fine review of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a book she describes as:

…one (extended) family’s experience during the cultural revolution in China. More deeply, it’s about what happens when people don’t have the freedom to live the way they want; to choose their work, where they live, and even who they live with.

Naomi found a lot to like in the book, including its scope, the narrator in the present and the passion brought to bear on the subject by the author. She also found it deeply moving.

But was there anything she didn’t like about the book?

Let me start by saying that it took me a full week to read this book, and I didn’t even mind; most of the time I was completely absorbed. But… there were a couple of parts that I felt were lagging, particularly in the development of the relationships between Sparrow, Zhuli and Kai and their many trips to the conservatory and their many practice sessions. This review at The Walrus suggests that the book is too wordy, however I think that might be a matter of taste; some people seem to have loved every word while others felt the book was too long. So don’t let this stop you from reading the book – it’s an experience that you won’t want to miss.

To read Naomi’s review in full, please visit her blog Consumed by Ink.

Naomi reviews 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

October 27, 2016

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat GirlNaomi has continued her good work reading all the shortlisted titles for the Giller Prize. Earlier this week she reviewed Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, a book she describes as almost crushing her with hopelessness for all those people who are slaves to dieting and to the gym.

I believe in healthy living, but that is not what it should look like. This book is a plea to change the way we see and represent women; a plea to let women be themselves and to feel good about it.

Naomi says the author has succeeded in putting “us inside the head of a woman with poor body image”:

Elizabeth is so preoccupied with the way she looks that there is no room in her head for anything or anyone else, leading to dire consequences in her daily life and relationships.

And while Naomi has some small issues with the book, she says:

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it because of all the important and insightful things it has to say about body image in our culture and how crippling it can be.

To read Naomi’s review in full, please visit her blog.

The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall

October 25, 2016

Review copy courtesy of House of Anansi Press

Imagine if someone close to you was accused of a sexual crime. Would you stick by them? Throw them to the wolves? Bury your head in the sand? Be perplexed and question just how well you really know them?

This is the premise behind Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People, a fast-paced and timely novel about rape culture that has been shortlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize.

The story kicks off with the arrest of George Woodbury, a popular science teacher who has been accused of sexual misconduct with three female students under his charge on a school ski trip. The allegations are particularly shocking because Woodbury is something of a local hero and has won Teacher of the Year year after year.

When he is detained by police, his family —  his 17-year-old over-achieving daughter; his adult son, who is a lawyer; and his beloved wife, a dedicated and much-loved emergency room nurse — are immediately thrown into disarray. The novel focuses on the outfall on these three characters (their stories are told in alternate chapters), which makes for a gripping and thought-provoking read.

Interestingly, we never hear George’s side of the story, nor do we hear from his accusers. This means the reader is cast in exactly the same position as George’s family, never quite sure of his guilt or innocence, and never finding out the specific details of the allegations.

As the story unfolds it’s interesting to see the effect on George’s loved ones as doubts about his innocence begin to creep in. From the outset his wife, Joan, is steadfast in her belief, telling her not-always-supportive sister: “You don’t stop loving someone in an instant because somebody accuses them of something despicable. Nothing is that black and white.” But later, when she entertains the idea that maybe, just maybe, he might have done something wrong, she tries to find excuses for such abhorrent behaviour:

If George was guilty, and she was far from convinced, then he could be sick. She took a sip of black coffee and contemplated this. She understood sick. Everyone is generally pleased to reduce a complicated situation to the notion of evil. Or a typical sleazeball man. He’s just evil. Evil is a word that’s lost its meaning recently, like bully. Overused, and weakened. She dissolved an antacid tablet in a glass of water. If it’s a sickness, it would not be his fault. There could be an undiagnosed tumour in his orbitofrontal lobe, causing him to have no control over his impulses.

Later still, she asks herself whether it’s “possible to be an intelligent human being — perceptive, intuitive — and also be married to someone who fools you so intensely, who is entirely a fraud, and you have no idea?”

George’s daughter, Sadie, is less sure from the start. She knows the girls involved — she goes to school with them — and isn’t sure why they’d make something like this up. She’s afraid that if he’s guilty, she is guilty by association. Whatever the case, the damage is irreparable.

If only she could have the privilege of believing him entirely. What kind of person, what kind of ungrateful daughter, doesn’t believe her own father? She had never doubted him before. She never thought he was anything but moral and civilized. She wasn’t even sure what those words meant. But if someone puts the possibility of something terrible in your head — and people around you believe it — you can’t go back to thinking it completely inconceivable. The possibility is there whether or not you choose to believe it, and you can’t go back to not knowing that the possibility exists.

His son Andrew is slightly more sympathetic to the situation, not least because as a gay teenager he has firsthand experience at being cast as a social pariah. He’s also very much aware that his first sexual relationship — with a man much older than himself and in a position of power — could so easily have been misunderstood by other people had they been aware of it. But even so, he also goes through moments of doubt, never quite sure of his father’s guilt or innocence, preferring instead to be practical about things and using his legal know-how to help George’s case.

Despite The Best Kind of People being an issues-based novel — it embraces everything from teenage romance to feminism, gay rights to white privilege — this story is nothing short of a page turner. It’s a compelling read for so many reasons — will George be convicted? Will he go to prison? Will the family stay together, or fall apart? Will the local community ever accept the Woodbury family ever again or cast them out into the wilderness forever?

Admittedly, I thought some of the view points and characters presented here were well-worn tropes — the wronged wife, the loyal son, the busy-body interfering sister-in-law — and that some of the writing fell into cliché. But then Whittall would  include a sentence that would make me sit up and take notice. Here’s just two examples:

By his second glass he felt the balm of his arrogance returning, like a sly old lover slipping him a hotel key card.


Improbable as it seemed, they settled into a new routine during this holding pattern — like when you’ve put gauze on a wound, and you’re waiting it out, hoping no infections seep in.

By the end of the book I realised it was nothing short of a stunning character study, for Whittall takes three seemingly normal and ordinary people — albeit white, privileged and living distinctly upper middle class lives  — and shows what happens to them when their worlds are turned upside down through no fault of their own.

What I liked most, however, was that it generates more questions than answers — book groups are going to have an absolute field day with it! — yet one thing is abundantly clear. Regardless of George’s guilt or innocence, the human toll — on his family, himself and his community — is irreparable. Once an accusation like this is out in the open, you can never make it disappear. That, I think, is the real message behind this exceedingly good novel.

For another take on this novel, please see fellow Shadow Giller jury member Naomi’s review.

This review has been cross-posted on Reading Matters.

A couple from the longlist

October 23, 2016

willem-de-koonings-paintbrush-canadian-editionAs you may recall way back when the Giller Prize longlist was announced in early September (where does the time go?), there were 12 books on the list. Of course, not all of them could proceed to the next round, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of our time.

Shadow Giller jury member Naomi has read a couple of the longlisted books that didn’t make the cut. Both just happen to be short story collections.

She describes Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell as “fantastic” in terms of stories and prose style. Her review highlights a handful that particularly stood out, including the title story, which is inspired by de Kooning’s “Woman” series of paintings. And from what she’s written in her review (which you can read in full by visiting Naomi’s blog), the book does sound rather brilliant.

Ditto for the second longlisted book Naomi has read: The Two of Us by Kathy Page. The Two of Us“This is a strong collection that kept my interest throughout,” she writes.

Among these 16 stories that vary from 4 to 20 pages, you will come across spouses growing old together, a child and her mother battling it out at the dinner table, a hairdresser and a cancer patient, a lonely mother who has alienated herself from her son, old lovers, new lovers, a woman struggling with weight issues, homeless people trying to find a place to call home,  a swim coach and his protégé. There is nothing outrageous about them; they are snapshots of people’s lives, so many different lives. It’s in reading stories like these that I realize how varied we are, yet still fundamentally the same; we feel pain, love, hurt, betrayal, fear, joy, loneliness, shame. And we all long for the same things: to matter, to belong. “United by her characters’ primal desire for intimacy, these stories reflect our yearning for meaningful connection.”

To read Naomi’s review in full, please visit her blog.

%d bloggers like this: