… 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
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.