Archive for the ‘2019 Giller Prize’ Category

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: 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!

 

Giller Shortlist: Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

October 25, 2019

One of the things I enjoy about the process of sharing our Giller thoughts here on Kevin’s blog is noticing the similarities (and differences) in our reactions to the books. In The Innocents we both noticed the use of language. In Reproduction we talked about the stuff of ordinary lives.

 

In Dual Citizens we’ve both commented on the sense of distance…

 

Marcie: “But what’s remarkable about Dual Citizens is how simultaneously intimate and distanced the narrative is. Readers feel like they are privy to all of the facts, down to the details, what she does while she’s waiting for her sister to be finished with her piano lesson and the courses she takes at college, without knowing the truth of any of it. You’re super-close and at arm’s length: it’s a strange feeling.”

Naomi: “Both sisters go through life as outsiders. They create a distance from their mother, their place of birth, men, and at times, each other.”

The membrane I’d felt before in college, separating me from everyone else, still endured, but now I considered it protective, and I hummed with activity behind it, purposeful, unseen.

Most of the time I lay on my bed in the Tunnel, feeling the invisible membrane that had long separated me from other people enclose me, and now it was thick and suffocating, and yet I could do nothing to break through it.

 

We’ve both noted Lark’s tendency to “collect”…

 

Marcie: “The book is structured in four parts, of unequal length: Before, Childhood, Motherhood, and After. Even from a young age, she sees herself as a “collector of patterns, a magpie in search of scraps”. This narrative is filled with what she has collected.”

Naomi: “And both girls are collectors; Lark collecting facts that she stores in her brain, and Robin collecting abandoned pianos that she stores in her barn.”

 

And we’re both interested in the way in which Ohlin tells her story…

 

Marcie: “So Dual Citizens is about two sisters, but it’s also about how one might tell a tale of two sisters.

It’s about the way that one might frame the telling, the process by which readers can examine the shape of the frame for clues about the architect.”

Naomi: “It’s through Lark’s experiences and observations that we learn what happens to the sisters, and between the sisters, as their lives unfold independently, yet always with an eye toward the other.”

 

To read Marcie’s review in full, visit Buried in Print

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

 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Dual Citizens, Alix Ohlin, the Giller, or any other bookish thing you’d like to say!

 

 

Giller Shortlist: Reproduction by Ian Williams

October 19, 2019

Ian Williams landed in Marcie‘s stack with his longlisting for the ReLit Award in 2011…

This is why I read prizelists: they encourage me to read in different directions, when left to my own devices, I sometimes plod along, in familiar reading territory, simply out of habit.

The title of Williams’ debut poetry collection, You Know Who You Are reminded me of Alice Munro’s story collection, Who Do You Think You Are? And he does draw his epigraph for that collection from Munro. In confirming this, in the moment of flipping through his opening pages, some of my insecurity likely slipped away, for I’m not as comfortable reading verse as I am reading prose.

And Munro? She’s one of the first authors I read who made it seem possible that ordinary things that happen in very small towns in Ontario, even more specifically in the space between farm and town, could be the stuff of stories on printed pages. That little girls from ordinary places could dare to think they might write stories. About all that ordinary stuff. And here is this poet who maybe found that idea just as comforting as I did.

And what ordinary stuff? Who hurts us and who cares for us. Those we follow and those we flee. When the plot lives in whether you take a ride or stay home in the barn. And character resides in whether we ignore the noises behind the bathroom door or are thought uppity for taking a bus to see a play. And whether you eat half a grapefruit or a bowl of porridge for breakfast presents a glimpse of the future.

 

Like Marcie, I noted the ordinariness of the characters’ lives in Reproduction. And the brilliance of an author who can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary for the reader. 

 

Reproduction is character-driven, and the characters are distinct and strongly defined. Some are likeable, some are decidedly not – but they are all wonderfully imperfect and, well, … ordinary.

You might be able to argue that the odd character grows over the course of the book, but I’d argue that most of them do not. Most of them remain stubbornly the same – Edgar is just as maddening at the end as he is in the beginning; Oliver never stops whining about his ex-wife; Felicia’s determination never wavers; Army is still coming up with money-making schemes. You get the sense that they don’t care a fig that they’re in a book. They’re not thinking about redemption or forgiveness – they’re thinking about groceries and sex and paying the rent. The stuff of ordinary lives.

 

Marcie and I both found the second half of the book more challenging than the first. But Marcie makes the point that maybe it shouldn’t be easy to read.

 

… I suspect that most people found the second half of Ian Williams’ novel Reproduction a real challenge: I did. He doesn’t make it easy for his characters. He doesn’t make it easy for his readers.

But should it be easy? Is it easy for you to repeat the cyclical motion of your everyday life? Maybe reading about ordinary life should be harder? Maybe if we’ve got our noses pressed up against the ugly bits of the lives of characters like these, we might be more likely to spot a solution for them, tug at some thin thread of hope that we could put to use ourselves.

 

To read Marcie’s post in full, visit Buried in Print.

To read Marcie’s mind-blowing review of Reproduction, visit The Temz Review. (You don’t want to miss this!)

To read Naomi’s post in full, visit Consumed by Ink.

 

We would love to hear your thoughts on Reproduction. What do you think of the structure? What do you admire most about the book? Did you find it challenging to read? 

 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

Giller Shortlist: The Innocents by Michael Crummey

October 11, 2019

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an author reading with Michael Crummey at the Halifax Library. It was my first time hearing him speak in person, and I was surprised by how relaxed he seemed and how funny he was. (Not as surprised by how personable and articulate.)

Crummey spoke about how The Innocents came to be. Years ago, in the St. John’s archives, he came across a “reference to an 18th century clergyman who discovered two young siblings living on their own in an isolated cove. When the clergyman approached them to ask how they came to be there on their own, the boy chased him off at gunpoint.” (CBC) Crummey couldn’t get those youngsters out of his head. “… to be orphaned in a place without any outside influences at all, and then having to try and discover who they were and how the world worked.

Crummey also spoke of his use of a book called Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (Francis Grose, 1785), where he found some whopping insults that fit nicely into his book. The excerpt he read that night is a good example of some of the colourful language he uses in his book.

In this excerpt, Sarah Best is making jam and her husband Sennet is trying to swipe some of it before it’s done.

Their father stole the spoon away and their mother smacked him across the ear with the flat of her hand.

“You lousy hedge whore,” he shouted, grabbing at her shoulders.

“Muck-spout,” she said through her teeth. “Filthy beard splitter.”

They wrestled nearly to exhaustion before he managed to corral her arms, cuffing her wrists together in one hand to give himself unfettered access to the cooling jam. He scooped a ladleful in his bare fingers and held their mother still a long moment then, trying to catch his breath, watching her as the thickened juice dripped from his hand.

“Don’t you,” Sarah Best said, weak with laughter, almost too winded to speak.

“You dirty shag-bag,” she said, yanking with both arms, using the last of her strength to try to pull clear.

“My bob tail,” their father said, reefing her closer.

“Sennet Best,” she said, “you buck fitch.”

And he brought the dripping hand to her face then, smearing the jam across her cheeks and her mouth and her squinted eyes as she squirmed in his grip and laughed and cursed him all she was worth.

What is a muck-spout, anyway? According to Mental Floss, it’s “a dialect word for someone who not only talks a lot, but who seems to constantly swear.” And a beard splitter?… “a British slang used for ‘ a man much given to wenching.’’ (The Vintage News)

 

Marcie (Buried in Print) also notes the language Crummey uses in The Innocents; the way in which it can make us feel close or at a distance.

The language makes it seem farther away, like another nation. Take, for instance, a passage like this, sprinkled with dialect which reminds readers of the Irish/Scottish/English settlements which took root. “In August Ada swept the beach clean, scraping mollyfodge from the rocks on the bawn to make an untainted platform for laying out the cod that had been sitting weeks in salt bulk.”

But the story, in particular the relationship between Ada and her brother, Evered, the universal struggles they face (survival – how much more basic does it get – and a desire to connect), makes it seem closer. As does the occasional glimpse of humour in what is a chronicle of an often-difficult and occasionally tragic life.

“You was lost in the dawnies again,” she said. “What was it you was dreaming about?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Some old foolishness.”

“You’re an awful liar, Brother.”

He shrugged. “It idn’t for lack of practice,” he said.

‘Mollyfodge’, ‘bawn’, and ‘dawnies’: that might put you back on your heels. But Evered’s quiet joke, and the talk of dreams, the everyday work (be it sweeping or fishing): in essence, it’s everyday life.

And the way in which it reminds us of poetry.

The language is beautiful. One also cannot forget that Crummey is a poet, so we have snippets like this to enjoy: a man who reads “periodically from the black book in his hands, his voice like a spadeful of gravel against wood”.

Marcie calls his writing “accomplished and resonant”, but notes that he especially wins her “reader’s heart” when he talks about storytelling.

To find out which of Crummey’s books is Marcie’s favourite, and to read her full review of The Innocents, pop over to Buried in Print.

 

We would love to hear your thoughts on The Innocents, Michael Crummey, the Giller, or any other bookish thing you would like to say! 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist and Shadow Jury Reading Schedule

October 8, 2019

The 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist:

Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

Lampedusa by Steven Price

Reproduction by Ian Williams

 

The Shadow Jury Reading Schedule:

We, the shadow jury, are hoping that by creating a schedule (and attempting to keep to it) you, our followers, will be tempted to read along and to share your thoughts with us in the comments. We’re looking forward to some good discussions!

Friday, October 11 – The Innocents

Friday, October 18 – Reproduction

Friday, October 25 – Dual Citizens

Friday, November 1 – Small Game Hunting at the local Coward Gun Club

Friday, November 8 – Immigrant City

Friday, November 15 – Lampedusa

 

See you soon for a discussion of The Innocents!

Happy Reading! 


%d bloggers like this: