Scotiabank Giller longlist features surprise inclusions, omissions

September 20, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

No one can accuse them of being predictable. Anyone who was trying to outguess this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize jury – made up of broadcaster Michael Enright, novelist Claire Messud, and novelist and short-story writer Ali Smith – likely spent most of the day scratching their heads over the 2010 longlist. Granted, most of the mainstays on CanLit prize lists don’t have books out this year, the exception being Jane Urquhart, who has indeed found a spot among the baker’s dozen announced today. I’d say she’s pretty much a shoo-in to make the shortlist, too, but if today is any indication of how things will proceed from here, such prognostication is foolish in the extreme.

This year’s jury tilted toward lesser-known names and smaller publishing houses, in the process passing over some of the best-reviewed books of the year, such as Miguel Syjuco’s Illustrado (which has already won the Asian Man Booker Prize), Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal (winner of the Betty Trask Award and longlisted for the IMPAC and the Orange Prize), and Emma Donoghue’s Room (shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize). In their place, the jury chose books by Johanna Skibsrud and Cordelia Strube, both of which were published in calendar year 2009, debut story collections by Alexander MacLeod and Sarah Selecky, and a thriller set in Israel by Avner Mandelman, a virtual unknown here in Canada, despite having previously published two books with the small press Oberon. (Like Mary Swan in 2008, Mandelman’s new book doesn’t even have a Canadian publisher: it’s published by Other Press in the States and distributed here by Random House of Canada.)

Truly, this is one of the most bizarre longlists any Giller jury has produced. This is not a complaint, merely an observation.

The list in full:

  • David Bergen, The Matter with Morris (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Douglas Coupland, Player One (House of Anansi Press)
  • Michael Helm, Cities of Refuge (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Alexander MacLeod, Light Lifting (Biblioasis)
  • Avner Mandelman, The Debba (Other Press)
  • Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists (The Dial Press)
  • Sarah Selecky, This Cake Is for the Party (Thomas Allen Publishers)
  • Johanna Skibsrud, The Sentimentalists (Gaspereau Press)
  • Cordelia Strube, Lemon (Coach House Books)
  • Joan Thomas, Curiosity (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Jane Urquhart, Sanctuary Line (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Dianne Warren, Cool Water (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Kathleen Winter, Annabel (House of Anansi Press)

At three nominations, McClelland & Stewart leads the pack, followed by HarperCollins Canada and House of Anansi Press with two apiece. Like The Debba, Tom Rachman’s bestseller The Imperfectionists is published by an American house, The Dial Press, and distributed here in Canada by Random. The author is Toronto-born but currently lives in Rome.

The jury also tapped Douglas Coupland for his idiosyncratic Massey Lectures, Player One, which take the form of a novel. (Writing in The Globe and Mail, John Barber says this is “the first lecture series nominated for a literary award,” which is not entirely true: John Ralston Saul’s Massey Lectures, The Unconscious Civilization, won the 1996 Governor General’s Literary Award.) Where Coupland’s novel is concerned, at least one person would beg to differ with the jury’s assessment: writing in the Telegraph, Ian Crichtley said that the book’s characters are “more like computer avatars than people,” and that they “become more long-winded the more dire their situation becomes.”

Of the longlist, the jury writes, “This is a vibrant and exciting list. We came very harmoniously to our final decision, which, in the ranging of its featured books between astonishing debuts and brilliant new work by already well-known, major Canadian writers, and between the historical and the contemporary, the traditional and the experimental, the long, the short, and the unexpected in both story and form, stands as a showcase in its own right of the vision, the energy, the internationalism, and the open-eyed versatility of contemporary Canadian fiction.”

The key word, of course, being “unexpected.” I had high hopes for this year’s jury, given that two out of the three members are from outside the country and thus not prone (one would expect) to fall back on the traditionally accepted verities of CanLit. And both Smith and Messud have boundary-pushing sensibilities, which led me to hope that we might see something a bit more out of the box emerge from this year’s prize. So far, the jury has not disappointed. This is a truly eclectic and, yes, unexpected list. If the jury maintains the courage of its convictions, the 2010 shortlist, which is to be announced on October 5, has the potential to be the most interesting group of books since 2006. Then again, we all know how things turned out that year.

Stay tuned.


8 Responses to “Scotiabank Giller longlist features surprise inclusions, omissions”
  1. Panic says:

    Ew, Clare Messud? Really? I didn’t know about that till now. I feel sadness that the author of one of the most awful books I’ve ever read has anything to do with our literary landscape. *hiss* (Looks like she’s got Canadia in her blood though; her mother is Canadian.)

  2. Nathan says:

    “Scotiabank Giller longlist features surprise inclusions, omissions” is a headline that can be used for each year since the advent of the longlist, can’t it? Followed in short order by “Giller shortlist reverts to form.”

    Having said that, this is the least predictable list yet. I think, though, that the longlist gets used as a kind of wish-list by the jury, and that the truly tough, soul-killing consensus work doesn’t happen until the shortlist.

  3. Nathan says:

    Panic: Messud wrote Mein Kampf?

    What was the most-awful book in question? I read The Emperor’s Children, and kind of liked it for about the first 1/3, then slowly started hating it when I realized where it was going – and boy, did it go there.

  4. Panic says:

    Yep, Emperor’s Children. A bunch of mewling wealthy brats screwing up their lives in the most obvious of ways, and I’m supposed to feel sorry for these assholes? Uh, no. If she’d had any irony or complexity in the characterizations I might have gone with her, but she presented them like we should easily sympathize with their petty little rich kid troubles. It’s like asking me to feel bad for Paris Hilton for being a fuckup.
    BONUS! 9/11!

    I think I read The Keep right afterwards, and felt much better.

  5. Nathan says:

    See, I started reading TEC with the idea that it was (at least in part) a satire on the money-fed Manhattan elite. It was when I finally started noticing exactly what date was approaching that I realized, oh no, things will get “deep.”

    It was an act of will to keep reading.

  6. Panic says:

    I agree with you, I just have (more) hate. Heh.

    I would have accepted it as a satire, but I never felt like that’s what I was being given. I thought she was *serious*. It seemed to be the sort of book only a privileged NYT reviewer could love (and boy, did they!).

    The problem with using 9/11, is that it comes right at the end (and from what I remember, it’s never shown what impact this had on the self-absorbed, so one can assume, very little?), and so she’s using this encroaching horrible national tragedy as some sort of allegory for what happens when your pretty little life blows up, because you’re sleeping with your friend’s Dad. Which made my brain hurt so, so much.

  7. Finn Harvor says:

    Using 9/11 as an artistic hook in order to concoct a quick serving of tragedy is, as Lypchuk might have put it, lame pie with pathetic sauce. But almost as irksome is the tendency of the literary world to see 9/11 as primarily a singular event.

    Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. The NYT published an interesting editorial some time after 9/11 (I think after the commission released its report), and commented darkly on how more — and more vigorous — investigation was needed before the trail of evidence went cold.

    It was a point worth keeping in mind, not because the NYT’s writer was privy to special knowledge about 9/11 per se, but because there is a much larger geopolitical context that this sort of event needs to be placed within. And that context includes an understanding of the history of U.S. foreign policy since American entry into World War Two.


  8. Joe says:

    A most interesting list. The real question is, how many of these books will be read ten, twenty, thirty, or fifty years from now? For me, this is the truest test of literature: it lasts. Humanity votes with its collective opinion. Nabokov’s Lolita is still read and is part of the Western canon, while The Man of San Franciso (written by Bunin, a Nobel Laureate), is justifiably forgotten. Elinor Glyn (who sold millions of books) is forgotten, while Evelyn Waugh’s famous ditty (*) about her is remembered.

    So again, the real test of the Giller’s jury selection is, which of these books are likely to be read years from now? Which is likely to make a lasting impact? That’s the test. IMHO.

    (*) For those too lazy to google it, here it is:

    Would you like to sin
    With Elinor Glyn
    On a tiger skin?
    Or would you prefer
    to err
    with her
    on some other fur?

    (Clearly, pure art…)