Who's On Your Giller Short List?
by Tricia Dower
The long list for the 2007 Giller Prize was announced on September 17th and I’m just getting around to reading last year’s prize winner, Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures.
Without even reading Lam’s book, I was going to write a blog a few months ago about how Carol Windley was robbed of the Giller. I didn’t think Lam’s collection could be anywhere near as good as Windley’s Home Schooling. I mean, others said it wasn’t that great, and sometimes I just don’t feel like thinking for myself. Rumour has it he won because his was the only book none of the jury was obstinately against. Another rumour has it he won because Margaret Atwood helped him get published. Both Atwood and Michael Winter (one of the three 2006 Giller jurors along with Alice Munro and Adrienne Clarkson) are mentioned in Lam’s Acknowledgements as having helped him “begin to learn the art of writing.” Winter probably should have excused himself from the jury. There was a lot of grousing about that and the whole issue of who ended up the short list — a bunch of unknowns and two translations. The literary in-crowd appears to be grousy, in general; even — dare I say? — bitchy. I can just imagine them at the Giller and Governor General awards ceremonies flashing chemically whitened smiles at each other while thinking “hack” or “sycophant.”
Anyway, I finally read Lam’s collection and understood the appeal. It might not have been the best Canadian book of the year but it has power. Maybe I’ll write more about it later. But right now, it’s time to speculate about who might win this year’s prize. On the jury are David Bergen, Camilla Gibb, and Lorna Goodison. They’ve long listed:
- David Chariandy for his novel Soucouyant, Arsenal Pulp Press
English for her collection of short stories Zero Gravity, The Porcupine’s Quill Sharon
- Barbara Gowdy for her novel Helpless, HarperCollins
- Elizabeth Hay for her novel Late Nights on Air, McClelland & Stewart
- Lawrence Hill for his novel The Book of Negroes, HarperCollins
- Paulette Jiles for her novel Stormy Weather, HarperCollins
- D.R. MacDonald for his novel Lauchlin of the Bad Heart, HarperCollins
a Phyllis Bruce Book Canada,
- Claire Mulligan for her novel The Reckoning of Boston Jim, Brindle & Glass Publishing
- Mary Novik for her novel Conceit, Doubleday
- Michael Ondaatje for his novel Divisadero, McClelland & Stewart
- Daniel Poliquin for his novel A Secret Between Us, trans. Donald Winkler, Douglas & McIntyre
- M.G. Vassanji for his novel The Assassin’s Song, Doubleday
- Michael Winter for his novel The Architects Are Here, Penguin Books Canada
- Richard Wright for his novel October, HarperCollins
, a Phyllis Bruce Book Canada
- Alissa York for her novel Effigy, Random House Canada
In less than a week, we’ll learn the names of the short list. The finalists will be honoured and the winner announced at a gala to be held on November 6th. Having read only one of the books, so far, I will take a stab, nonetheless, at guessing the five finalists.
1. Sharon English for Zero Gravity. Pro: How could I not pick the only short story collection? Plus it’s from a small press and sounds gloomily Canadian. Con: It may be too gloomily Canadian.
2. Lawrence Hill for The Book of Negroes. Pro: I read his Black Berry Sweet Juice, so we have sort of a relationship and his book is a bestseller — the Canadian Roots, perhaps. Con: He’s such a do-gooder, it would be difficult to gossip about him at the awards.
3. Michael Ondaatje for Divisadero. Pro: It’s the only nominated book I’ve read so far. Con: He already won — in 2000 — but it was a tie, so maybe this actually is a Pro as the jury might think he deserves his own award.
4. Michael Winter for The Architects Are Here. Pro: he’s done a lot for CanLit, doesn’t write for a mass audience, and is due for a sales boost. Con: the hint of conflict of interest over last year’s prize may cause the jury to shy away from him.
5. Alissa York for her novel Effigy. Pro: great reviews, good web site, she’s young and we’ve gotta have at least two women on the list. Con: None, unless someone on the jury has problems with a story about Mormons.
I wanted to pick Barbara Gowdy because she’s so “in” and photogenic, but her book wasn’t well-reviewed. M.G. Vassanji’s was, but he’s already won twice. One reviewer called D.R. MacDonald’s book “luxuriant,” but you can’t have two Maritimers on the list and I’m going with Winter. It’s not easy predicting how strangers will vote.
Who are your picks and why? Let’s get some grousing going. If your short list matches the jury’s and you post it before the October 9th announcement, you might win something, provided my hand-picked jury can agree on a prize.
Photos of my Giller short list, clockwise from top left: Sharon English (credit Jolie Dobson), Lawrence Hill (credit Lisa Sakulensky), Michael Winter, Alissa York, Michael Ondaatje.