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Munro scuppers anticipated battle of the titans

Anyone who was champing at the bit for an awards-season showdown between the two reigning CanLit deities “ Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood “ must be feeling a bit disappointed following the news that Munro has taken her new collection, Too Much Happiness, out of contention for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize. According to an article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, “punters” are upset that the literary cage match between Munro and Atwood (whose new novel, The Year of the Flood, is also a likely contender for the award) won’t materialize. Among the most disappointed, unsurprisingly, are Munro’s own publisher and the organizers of the Giller Prize itself:

Her reason is that she has won twice and would like to leave the field to younger writers, Munro’s publisher, Douglas Gibson, confirmed this week. In my role as greedy publisher I pointed out that the Giller Prize produces so much publicity, that even to be nominated for it is tremendous publicity, he said. But her mind is made up on this. Alice preferred to withdraw from the competition.

Giller Prize administrator Elana Rabinovitch echoed the disappointment. I appreciate the reason she’s doing it, but I also think it’s a bit of a shame, she said. Ultimately the prize is for the best work of fiction in Canada, period, and this takes a likely contender out of the mix.

Translation: Munro’s classy move puts the kibosh on a no-brainer of a marketing campaign for the Giller organizers and McClelland & Stewart, which publishes both authors.

It is perhaps worth noting that when Munro’s 2001 collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage failed to garner a Giller nod, there was speculation that Munro had pulled the title from contention. At the time, Gibson told Q&Q, “It would be entirely consistent with [Munro’s] personality” to do so, although if she had, it was without his knowledge. That same year, Timothy Findley pulled his novel Spadework from consideration “for any literary prizes.” Munro and Atwood have both taken books out of the running in years that they served on the Giller jury, the former with The View from Castle Rock in 2006, and the latter with The Blind Assassin in 2000.

In this year’s case, it is hardly “disappointing” that Munro is generous enough to put her own interests aside and allow other writers the opportunity to share in some of Giller’s reflected glory. (If there is anyone still unconvinced of Munro’s merit, her winning another award is unlikely to change that.) The disappointment voiced by Gibson (who is admittedly speaking with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek) and by Rabinovitch smacks of self-interest. By recusing herself, Munro has made it harder to argue that CanLit is dominated by a hegemony of familiar figures that keep popping up again and again.

In fact, the only person who seems to appear completely selfless in all of this is Alice Munro.