The 20th anniversary shortlist of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, announced this morning in Toronto, contains some surprises, some new faces, and some past nominees.
Among the biggest surprises is who was left off the list. Longlisted author Joseph Boyden did not make the cut despite receiving stellar reviews for his third novel, The Orenda (Hamish Hamilton Canada), which was recently nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award.
Wayne Johnston also failed to make the shortlist for The Son of Certain Woman (Knopf Canada). The Toronto-based novelist has now been longlisted for the Giller for his three previous novels without moving on to the next round, and has been shortlisted twice (for The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams) without winning.
Also notably absent from this year’s shortlist is David Gilmour, whose recent comments about his narrow literary tastes have stirred much controversy. The jury noted, however, that it had decided on the five-title shortlist before the media firestorm was ignited.
Instead, the shortlist comprises well-reviewed titles that have largely flown under the radar. Perhaps the only exception is Lisa Moore’s Caught, a follow-up to the St. John’s“based author’s Canada Reads winner, February.
Set during the late 1970s and involving a pot dealer on the lam, the novel is nominated alongside Edmonton-based author Lynn Coady’s short-story collection Hellgoing, which could be considered another frontrunner.
Both Caught and Hellgoing are published by House of Anansi Press (the only Canadian-owned press on the shortlist), and both are also nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Both authors have been shortlisted for the Giller in previous years: Moore received the nod in 2002 and ’05, and Coady’s previous novel, The Antagonist, was nominated in 2011.
The shortlist is rounded out by a trio of first-time nominees. Dennis Bock appears for his third novel, Coming Home Again (HarperCollins Canada), the story of two brothers dealing with personal and familial crises. Also nominated is Craig Davidson’s Niagara Falls“set novel Cataract City (Doubleday Canada), about two friends on opposite of the law, and Dan Vyleta’s The Crooked Maid, set in post“Second World War Vienna.
Speaking to Q&Q after the announcement, jury member Margaret Atwood noted the strength of this year’s submissions, which comprised 147 titles from 61 publishing houses.
“In my past experiences, there were fewer contenders,” says Atwood, a past Giller winner who is now serving on the jury for the fourth time. “If you think of it as a steeplechase, [in previous years] the number of starters was fewer, and the ones that ran out in front were fewer in number and … they were pulling away from the pack in a more obvious way.”
Fellow juror Jonathan Lethem agrees it will be a challenge deciding on a winner, though he notes that the high level of competition reflects well on the current state of Canadian fiction.
“As a national literature, it has a very thrilling character of being open to negotiation,” says Lethem, the Brooklyn-based author of Dissident Gardens. “The identity is being worked out in front of you, and that is a very vibrant characteristic.”
Lethem also acknowledges that he is drawn a wide variety of fiction but tends to favour books with elements of humour and good storytelling.
“Obviously, to reach this position among the final five, a book has to be doing an extraordinary number of things well, but I do find that I like to be beguiled,” he says. “You want to be thrilled by a book, and whatever larger themes, whatever other ambitions you might detect, they still have to operate on the level of the reader’s excitement.”