The Giller Prize 2019: Shortlist

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.

17 thoughts on “The Giller Prize 2019: Shortlist”

    1. Yes, the ones I’ve read are all quite different in voice and content. I mean, three of the authors are white males but Bezmozgis isn’t Canadian born and his story collection is largely about the experience of immigrants. I wanted to see Frying Plantain on the shortlist because I do think it is short on minority voices but the longlist kind of was too.

  1. I’m getting some fairly disappointed/meh vibes from folks reading The Testament. It’s very deja vu of when the publisher (and I write “publisher,” not “author” on purpose) Go Set a Watchman came out. Like, people couldn’t NOT read it, but they were so disappointed that they did?

    1. Yeah, there’s a similar vibe, isn’t there? I do think Atwood is a lot more in control of her decisions and writings than Lee was. I’ve read some positive reviews but mostly the feeling seems to be that she’s talented but the sequel feels unnecessary. I’m not necessarily surprised that it wouldn’t deserve to be shortlisted, more that it didn’t make it simply on the strength of Atwood’s name.

    2. Harper Lee seemed completely out of control of the publication of Go Set a Watchman. At the time, people were in a tizzy about how a publisher was trying to make a huge buck off a woman who was basically incapacitated due to health issues and age. I remember NPR had so many conversations around what a horrible scam it was to an old lady to take her papers that were a crappy draft of a successful novel and publish them like a second book.

    3. Yes, and the timing of it so soon after her sister’s death too. Reading Furious Hours was interesting because although Cep didn’t touch on the publication of Go Set a Watchman, we do see the timeline quite clearly and she very much shows Lee as someone who did not want to publish work she didn’t feel was complete. So what changed at the end other than the fact that there was no one looking out for Lee’s best interests?

      With Atwood, I feel like she saw a situation she could capitalize on and, possibly, felt inspired to say more about Gilead after watching the TV adaptation and seeing a new generation’s reaction to her book.

  2. Great post! I was not very familiar with any of the longlisted titles this year (other than The Testaments) so I’m intrigued to look into the shortlist more and keep an eye out for the winner. I’ll look forward to your review of Lampedusa as well, that one looks interesting to me!

    1. I enjoyed Lampedusa though I can see that it might not be for everyone. I think you might enjoy it, based on what I’ve seen of your reading!

  3. None of the four books I’ve read made it to the shortlist! Except that I’ve read half of Megan Coles’ book, but then had to take it back to the library. I’ll have to skim it over to remind myself what happened.
    I’m really happy to see Michael Crummey on the list – he’s one of my favourites. And I’m 50 pages into Reproduction – so far, I’m into it!

    1. I think the odds are in Crummey’s favour to win, though I haven’t read The Innocents yet. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Reproduction. I liked it at the beginning too but felt it went on too long.

  4. Sounds like an interesting shortlist and I’m always rather glad when newer names get on rather than the Atwoods of this world, who surely don’t need either the publicity or the prize! Intriguing that the judges aren’t all Canadians – I wonder why they do that?

    1. I actually had no idea the jurors weren’t Canadians until this year. I will have to investigate further as to why that is. And I’m glad to see some other authors get recognition too. We all know about Margaret Atwood!

  5. So I just discovered I’m defending Small Game Hunting at our Giller LIght Party, which I’m excited about, because I was really looking forward to reading it. I haven’t read Reproductions but I really want to, and I have an inkling that previous wins do affect some jurors decisions (although not all, re: Esi’s win last year). Margaret Atwood doesn’t want to win another giller prize, she’s trying to make room for other writers i think…

    1. I think she has her eye on the Nobel 😉

      That’s exciting that you’re defending Small Game Hunting – it looks like a good one. I’m hoping that our library will get it in now that it’s been shortlisted. I want to read it but I’m trying to buy fewer books!

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