Gearing up for the Giller Prize

Our chief book reviewer takes a look at the shortlist for Canada’s most glamourous fiction award

  • Leading up to the Giller Prize gala and winner announcement on Tuesday, October 30, Maclean’s will be publishing short essays by the five authors, book excerpts and interviews with the contenders. Stay tuned for more.

Now that the era of big data is upon us, busy living what the geeks call its “secret life” while recombining the millions of electronic traces we leave of our likes and preoccupations, there’s bound to be a literary prize algorithm just waiting to be developed. Something like jurors divided by writing on offer times literary/national politics minus whatever happened last year. Or maybe last month. Consider the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Four weeks ago, the book trade buzz about the Giller’s 13-title long list—as devoid of prominent authors as any ever proposed for Canada’s most glamorous (and lucrative) fiction award—was a more-curious-than-hostile “who are these guys?” And after today’s shortlist of five was announced? “Good choices,”  “Best ones,” “Nice job.” Go figure.

As for the actual shortlist, the jury—a Hungarian-born Canadian (Anna Porter), a Russian-born-American (Gary Shteyngart), and an admittedly Irish-born Irishman (Roddy Doyle)—liked Kim Thuy’s Ru (already a prize-winner for the 2010 Governor-General’s Literary Award in its original French) for its “exquisite, unsentimental rewriting of the immigrant memoir.” They further liked humour writer’s Will Ferguson’s dead serious 419, as pointing to “something new—a global novel.” Similarly, the other nominees, novels by Alex Ohlin (Inside) and Nancy Richler (Imposter Bride), and Russell Wangersky’s short-story collection, Whirl Away, drew the jurors’ praise not just for the precision of their writing but for new ways of looking at familiar subjects in an unsettled world. More grist for that algorithm: for this jury, with these possibilities, what mattered was the widest possible lens and the longest-range telescope.

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