The shortlist for the 2019 Giller Prize was announced yesterday. This is, arguably, the most prestigious of awards for Canadian literature. The announcement yesterday narrows the playing field from twelve to six. This year I’ve decided to read as many as I can. As it turns out, I’ve already read 4 of the shortlisted titles so finishing the final two before November 18 is quite doable. (In fact, I’ve just picked up a copy of The Innocents from the library. Unfortunately, our local library doesn’t have Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club.)
The big surprise is definitely that Atwood’s The Testaments didn’t make the cut. This was her third nomination and she won for Alias Grace in 1996. (The Giller Prize didn’t exist when Handmaid’s Tale came out in 1985.)
I was also surprised to see Bezmozgis’ short story collection make the shortlist over, say, a writer like Andre Alexis. This is Bezmozgis’ third nomination; he has never won. Alexis, on the other hand, won for Fifteen Dogs in 2015. I’m honestly not sure how much previous nominations and wins weigh on the jury’s minds.
If they do, then I could imagine that Michael Crummey stands a good chance of winning this year. He’s only been nominated once before but he seems like an author who should win the Giller Prize. I’ll be curious to see how The Innocents matches up to his previous work. What might work against Crummey is that he’s very much a Newfoundland writer. To the extent that I find his work hard to access as a West Coast Canadian. I just don’t entirely get Newfoundland and I wonder if the jury might feel similar. (The jury members, interestingly enough, are not necessarily Canadians.)
If the prize doesn’t go to Crummey, I see Ian Williams as a top contender. While Reproduction wasn’t my favourite read of the summer (my review is here) I did gain a better appreciation for it after hearing Williams speak at the Sunshine Coast Writers Festival in August. He does do some interesting and experimental things with form and that could very well be what wins the jury over.
Lampedusa I finished reading only Sunday night. I liked it a lot (review coming later this week, I hope) but I was surprised to see it on the shortlist. I don’t think it has the broader appeal of some of the past Giller winners. But then if it’s a more commercial appeal we’re looking for Dual Citizens might be the one to bet on.
All in all, it’s a decent shortlist with a variety of styles and voices on it. I did think Frying Plantain would make it to the shortlist; although I haven’t read it, many readers have raved over it and it seemed to add a new voice to the CanLit arena. Each of the stories that are here though are unique and that does make it hard to classify the shortlist as a whole. Which, I think, is a good thing. There are stories here of Italian princes, Latvian immigrants, and American-Canadians who live with wolves. We’re a big country and we have a lot of stories to tell.