And they’re off: the fall award season begins

September 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Early September marks – for better or worse – the start of literary awards season, and the first indicators of the frenzy to come are already being noted.

Man_Booker_Prize_logoYesterday, the jury for the Man Booker Prize – which comprises chair Robert Macfarlane and jurors Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Natalie Haynes, Martha Kearney, and Stuart Kelly – released the shortlist for the 2013 award. The six books on the shortlist include two by Canadians: Eleanor Catton’s sophomore novel The Luminaries, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. The other nominees are NoViolet Bulawayo for her debut novel We Need New Names, Jim Crace for The Harvest, Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland, and Colm Tóibín for The Testament of Mary.

The official Man Booker announcement calls the shortlist “the most diverse in recent memory,” and there is some validity to this. Catton, the youngest nominee in the history of the prize, was born in London, Ontario, and lives in New Zealand. American-born Ozeki resides in British Columbia. Bulawayo is the first shortlisted author from Zimbabwe. Only two of the authors – Crace and Tóibín – have been nominated for the prize previously. The longest book on the list (Catton’s) is 848 pages; at 104 pages, the shortest (Tóibín’s) is virtually a novella. Catton’s novel is set in 1866 New Zealand; Bulawayo’s in contemporary Zimbabwe; and Tóibín’s in biblical times.

Calling the list “fiendishly difficult to categorise,” the official announcement continues:

It is clear that the perennial complaint that fiction is too safe and unadventurous is a ridiculous one; [the shortlist] shows that the novel remains a multi-faceted thing; that writing and inspiration knows no geographical borders; that diaspora tales are a powerful strand in imaginative thinking; and that human voices, in all their diversity, drive fiction.

Scotiabank_Giller_Prize_logoHere in Canada, some are thinking that the fall award season will amount to a showdown between two heavyweights: Catton, and Joseph Boyden, for his third novel, The Orenda. This will begin to come clear next Monday, when the Scotiabank Giller Prize unveils its longlist. This year marks the Giller’s 20th anniversary, and for the first time, the longlist is being unveiled outside Toronto, at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia. (Lest anyone fret that Toronto’s status as the centre of the universe might be in jeopardy, the shortlist announcement and the gala dinner to crown the victor both take place here.)

This year, for the first time in the history of Canadian literary prizes (so far as I am aware), the Giller jury will appear in public to speak about the process of settling on the longlist. The event, called “Behind the Curtain,” will take place on October 7 at the Manulife Centre branch of Indigo Books and Music (located in – yes – Toronto). Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s Q, will interview this year’s Giller jurors, novelists Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem. According to a press release, they will discuss “the longlist, the upcoming shortlist, and what’s it like to read close to 150 books to make their decisions.”

Because this event takes place before even the shortlist is announced, the jury will necessarily be curtailed in what they are able to say, but this is nevertheless an interesting development. It does not represent going behind the curtain, so much as cracking the curtain slightly to peer inside, but it does offer some small glimpse into a process that has historically been shrouded in secrecy. It’s not likely that any of this year’s jurors will go so far as former juror Victoria Glendinning, who took to print to declaim that most of the CanLit she read was frankly mediocre, but the discussion could prove to be an interesting one, depending upon how free the jurors feel to be honest.