By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
It’s that time of year again when literary hopefuls and their publishers wait anxiously to see if their book has made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist to be in the running for Canada’s highest literary initiative—prestigious bragging rights and the endowment of a whopping $25,000.00 cash prize.
This year’s jury consists of:
André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His novel, Fifteen Dogs, won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other books include Pastoral (nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), Asylum, Beauty and Sadness and Ingrid & the Wolf. His latest novel, The Hidden Keys, was published in 2016.
Anita Rau Badami
Anita Rau Badami is the author of four novels: Tamarind Mem, The Hero’s Walk, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? and Tell it to the Trees. She is the recipient of various awards including the Marian Engel Prize, the Regional Commonwealth Award, and the Premio Berto Prize for International Literature. Published worldwide, her novels have also been nominated for the Ethel Wilson Prize, Hugh MacLennan Prize, the Orange Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The Hero’s Walk was a finalist for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads in 2016. Born in India, Anita lives in Montreal, Quebec.
Richard Beard’s six novels include Lazarus is Dead, Dry Bones and Damascus, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His latest novel Acts of the Assassins was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2015. He is also the author of four books of narrative non-fiction, including his 2017 memoir The Day That Went Missing. Formerly Director of The National Academy of Writing in London, he is a Visiting Professor (2016/17) at the University of Tokyo, and has a Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia.
Lynn Coady is a novelist whose fiction has been garnering acclaim since her first novel, Strange Heaven, was published and subsequently nominated for Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction when she was 28. Her short story collection, Hellgoing, won the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, for which her novel, The Antagonist, was also nominated in 2011. Her fiction has been published in the U.K., U.S., Holland, France, and Germany. Her most recent book is a nonfiction enquiry into reading and digital culture called Who Needs Books? Coady lives in Toronto and writes for television.
Nathan Englander is the author of the internationally bestselling story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, the novel The Ministry of Special Cases, and the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. He’s received the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His fiction has been widely anthologized, most recently in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, and has been translated into 20 languages. He’s the author of the play The Twenty-Seventh Man, which premiered at New York’s Public Theater, and translated the New American Haggadah (edited by Jonathan Safran Foer). He lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York.
After 112 titles were submitted by 73 publisher imprints from across the country to the Scotiabank Giller Prize literary jury, the list was comprehensively downsized to a competitive longlist of 12 titles:
The 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist
Brother by David Chariandy, published by McClelland & Stewart
An intensely beautiful, searingly powerful, tightly constructed novel, Brother explores questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity as they are played out in a Scarborough housing complex during the sweltering heat and simmering violence of the summer of 1991.
With shimmering prose and mesmerizing precision, David Chariandy takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home.
Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry — teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them. Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves.
Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music. Michael’s dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow.
With devastating emotional force David Chariandy, a unique and exciting voice in Canadian literature, crafts a heartbreaking and timely story about the profound love that exists between brothers and the senseless loss of lives cut short with the shot of a gun.
Transit by Rachel Cusk, published by HarperCollins Publishers
In the wake of family collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions—personal, moral, artistic, practical—as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city she is made to confront aspects of living she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.
Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed Outline, and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change. In this precise, short, and yet epic cycle of novels, Cusk manages to describe the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life, through a narrative near-silence that draws language toward it. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one’s life and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.
The Bone Mother by David Demchuk, published by ChiZine Publications
Three neighboring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.
Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.
David Demchuk has been writing for theatre, film, television, radio, and other media for more than thirty years. His reviews, essays, interviews and columns have appeared in such magazines as Toronto Life, Xtra, What! Magazine, and the Toronto Star. The Bone Mother is his first novel.
We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes, published by HarperCollins Publishers
A blackly comic and heart-rending odyssey by the inimitable author of Down to the Dirt scrappy tough guy and three-time loser Johnny Keough is going a little stir-crazy awaiting trial for an alleged assault charge involving his girlfriend, Madonna, and a teapot. Facing three to five years in a maximum-security prison, Johnny knows this might just be the end of the road. But when Madonna doesn’t show up for court due to a fatal accident, shell-shocked Johnny seizes his unexpected “clean slate” as a sign from above and embarks on an epic hitchhiking journey across Canada to deliver her ashes to a fabled beach on the outskirts of Vancouver.
Johnny’s wanderings see him propelled in and out of the driver’s seat of stolen cars, knocking heads with cagey cops, nearly decapitated by a moose, coming face-to-face with his incarcerated biological father in a Kingston jail, and finding surprising connections with strangers on the lonely road west. But most of all, he revisits the choices and mistakes of his past—his relationships with his adoptive father and a cousin who meant the world to him, and his first real chance at love with the woman who is now lost to him.
We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night is the story of one man’s kicking-and-screaming attempt to recuperate from a life of petty crime and shattered relationships, and somehow accept and maybe even like the new man emerging from within, the one he so desperately needs to become.
Boundary: The Last Summer by Andrée A. Michaud, published by Biblioasis International Translation Series
It’s the Summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary Pond, a holiday haven on the US-Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air.
Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blonde Lolitas. Life seems idyllic.
But then Zaza disappears, and the skies begin to cloud over…
Tumbleweed: Stories by Josip Novakovich, published by Esplanade Books/Vehicule Press
In this latest short-story collection Josip Novakovich explores the shallow roots of emigration as he traverses North America from university post to writing residency. These stunning stories showcase the author at his most intimate, taking on an aura of memoir as they invite us into the privacy of his family experiences. Above all, Novakovich is in search of a natural existence, whether it be living close to the land or raising animals.
The author of the critically acclaimed Ex-Yu, which illustrated the lives of those scarred by the Balkan wars, here revels in the rootlessness of America and its wide-open spaces. As a companion to Ex-Yu (2015), Tumbleweed reveals a rarefied author who is as capable of warming readers’ hearts as he is of probing the depths of global despair.
Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin, published by House of Anansi Press
When history looks through the annals of polar exploration, it is sure to deem Sir John Franklin’s 1845 campaign in search of the Northwest Passage as the darkest chapter. All 129 men would be lost to the ice; and nothing retrieved from an inventory that included two Greenwich chronometers given to the expedition.
When historians analyze the most profound mysteries of the modern age, they therefore remain mystified as to just how one of those very same timepieces would reappear in London – crudely disguised as a Victorian carriage clock -over a century and a half after being recorded as lost in the famous disaster.
It is a real-life mystery that did, and still continues to, defy an explanation. When Nelson Nilsson catches the eye of the lone female in the arrivals hall of Inuvik airport in the Northern Territories of Canada, the last thing his life needs is further complication. Still unable to comprehend the enigmatic obsession that led his brother to take his own life, Nelson just wants to get in his care and drive.
When travel-weary Fay Morgan looks up and mistakes Nelson for a taxi driver, she realizes for the first time that she has finally made it to the one place on earth that may hold the answer to her burning question. And when she capitalizes on Nelson’s good nature and obtains a lift, she feels fate is on her side.
It is an improbable meeting that will unearth an impossible connection: as the questions Nelson has about his present, and those Fay has about her past, share a common link -itself inextricably tied to the movements of an elusive timepiece.
Next Year for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson, published by Doubleday Canada
In this moving and enormously entertaining debut novel, long time romantic partners Kathryn and Chris experiment with an open relationship and reconsider everything they thought they knew about love.
After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy. They speak in the shorthand they have invented, complete one another’s sentences, and help each other through every daily and existential dilemma. When Chris tells Kathryn about his feelings for Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the Laundromat, Kathryn encourages her boyfriend to pursue this other woman—certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather a little side dalliance.
As Kathryn and Chris stumble into polyamory, Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory, and often very funny year that follows. When Chris’s romance with Emily grows beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily’s communal home, where Kathryn will discover new romantic possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions, and upheavals of their new lives, both Kathryn and Chris will be forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.
Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey L. Paterson has written an empathic, beautiful, and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what lies at the mysterious heart of relationships, and what true openness and transformation require.
Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill, published by Doubleday Canada
From award-winning and bestselling author Michael Redhill comes a darkly comic literary thriller about a woman who fears for her sanity–and then her life–when she learns that her doppelganger has appeared in a local park.
Jean Mason has a doppelganger. At least, that’s what people tell her. Apparently it hangs out in Kensington Market, where it sometimes buys churros and shops for hats. Jean doesn’t rattle easy, not like she used to. She’s a grown woman with a husband and two kids, as well as a thriving business, and Toronto is a fresh start for the whole family. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved in anything dubious, but still . . . why would two different strangers swear up and down they’d just seen her–with shorter hair furthermore?
Jean’s curiosity quickly gets the better of her, and she visits the market, but sees no one who looks like her. The next day, she goes back to look again. And the day after that. Before she knows it, she’s spending an hour here, an afternoon there, watching, taking notes, obsessing and getting scared. With the aid of a small army of locals who hang around in the market’s only park, she expands her surveillance, making it known she’ll pay for information or sightings. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants–the regulars of Bellevue Square–are eager to contribute to Jean’s investigation. But when some of them start disappearing, it becomes apparent that her alleged double has a sinister agenda. Unless Jean stops her, she and everyone she cares about will face a fate stranger than death.
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada
Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.
Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don’t.
The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada
The characters in the thirteen stories that comprise The Dark and Other Love Stories exist on the edge of danger, where landscapes melt into dreamscapes and every house is haunted. A drug dealer’s girlfriend signs up for the first manned mission to Mars. A girl falls in love with a man who wants to turn her into a bird. A teenage girl and her best friend test their relationship by breaking into suburban houses. A wife finds a gaping hole in the floor of the home she shares with her husband, a hole that only she can see.
Full of longing and strange humor, these subtle, complex stories about the love between a man and his pet crow, an alcoholic and his AA sponsor, a mute migrant and a newspaper reporter—show how love ties us to each other and to the world.
I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters, published by Invisible Publishing
A tender but lively debut novel about a man, a woman, and their Chevrolet dealer.
Agathe and Rejean Lapointe are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary when Rejean’s beloved Chevy Silverado is found abandoned at the side of the road – with no trace of Rejean. Agathe handles her grief by fondling the shirts in the Big and Tall department at Henderman’s Family Apparel and carrying on a relationship with a cigarette survey. As her hope dwindles, Agathe falls in with her spirited coworker Debbie, who teaches Agathe about rock and roll, and with Martin Bureau, the one man who might just know the truth about Rejean’s fate.
Reminiscent of 2015 Canada Reads finalist And the Birds Rained Down and Gone Girl, I Am A Truck is a funny and moving portrayal of Acadian love and loyalty.
So, which of the books above made the shortlist?
Congratulations to authors: Rachel Cusk, Ed O’Loughlin, Michael Redhill, Eden Robinson, and Michelle Winters!
Which books on the shortlist do you think will win the Giller Prize this year?