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Ray Robertson on baiting the Giller

Writing in the National Post books blog, novelist Ray Robertson says that while Alice Munro may have to forcibly remove her work from Scotiabank Giller Prize consideration, he doesn’t even bother with the formality “ he just writes the kind of gritty, contemporary novels that offend the priggish literary sensibilities of the established “culture industry.”

There’s inevitably been some point during the writing of every one of my six novels when I knew that I was unofficially but no less effectively disqualified for Giller Prize consideration.

Some point, in other words, when I knew that the tender sensibilities of that year’s distinguished arbiters of taste would no doubt be chafed by some damning reference of mine to either bodily functions (because we all know that people in works of literature don’t go to the bathroom) or popular culture (because we all know that people in works of literature spend the majority of their time occupied not with jobs and families and television and boredom, but with either travelling to remote countries looking for lost lovers or distant family members or else sitting in abandoned lighthouses alternately listening to the mournful sounds of the sea and brooding upon those timeless day-to-day concerns of time, loss, and memory) or for simply failing to set said novel in a sufficiently charmingly bucolic and/or fascinatingly exotic locale (because we all know that real literature doesn’t take place where most people actually live and work and go to the mall and die).

Certainly, there’s room to criticize and debate this year’s Giller shortlist, but Robertson’s embattled tone seems a little self-serving. Consider, for instance, that while historical novels are generally well-represented on the Giller shortlist, the odd gritty, urban novel does occasionally slip past the censors “ think Rawi Hage’s De Niro’s Game or Cockroach. And never mind that Robertson’s latest novel, David, is in fact an historical novel set in the Elgin Settlement, near Chatham, Ontario. Presumably, there are enough references to bodily functions to have effectively disqualified it from consideration.