The Giller Prize’s 2017 short list is confounding

The jury spreads the wealth among deserving titles, but the absence of David Chariandy’s Brother remains a mystery


Literary juries are famously unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that many people are confounded by the short list for this year’s prestigious Giller Prize.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of the books chosen for the list by Canadians Anita Rau Badami, André Alexis and Lynn Coady – the last two both Giller winners – and American Nathan Englander and Brit Richard Beard.

Rachel Cusk’s Transit, Ed O’Loughlin’s Minds Of Winter, Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square, Eden Robinson’s Son Of A Trickster and Michelle Winters’s I Am A Truck are all worthy – and very different.

Cusk’s protagonist, Faye, reappears in her follow-up to the Giller short-listed Outline. Here, Faye connects to an astrologist who has information for her, and Cusk’s prose is as pristine as ever. O’Loughlin’s near-mystery pursues his – and many other Canadians’ – fascination with the Franklin expedition. Redhill’s period piece, in which his passion for historical Toronto is in full view, is a bona fide mystery in which a doppledanger figures prominently. Winters’s infinitely readable work is the most experimental, shifting from English to French seamlessly – and without translation. And Robinson’s definitely found her groove with Trickster.

It’s just that David Chariandy’s long-listed Brother, about two brothers growing up in Scarborough in the early 90s, is so beautiful and, though set two decades ago, miraculously of the moment. Its absence is very strange.

It’s a fool’s game to try to get inside the heads of the jurors. But you can’t help but notice how each book is from a different publisher. Cusk’s comes from HarperCollins, O’Loughlin’s from Anansi, Redhill’s from Doubleday, Eden’s from Knopf and Winters’s from a very small house aptly named Invisible, which it won’t be for long.

Then again, it could be that the list already skews toward Toronto, something juries typically try to avoid. Redhill is based here, and so is Winters, though her roots are in the east. Another T.O.-based writer would just be too much.

On a side note, many observers have expressed skepticism about the Giller process this year. The number of books submitted from publishers has been reduced from three to two. Every imprint gets to submit, provided one of their books has been previously short-listed. In the past, new books by former Giller winners and Governor General Award winners were submitted automatically, over and above the two-book limit. This year, only the former Giller winners’ books were automatically considered.

But the jury wasn’t restricted to those books sent in by publishers – they could ask for a copy of books by any other they wanted to consider.

As it is, you might think that in the year of Canada 150, Robinson is the favourite. That would be unwise. Though last year’s jury definitely had a political edge, this one does not. We’re looking at a total crapshoot.

susanc@nowtoronto.com | @susangcole

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