Tomorrow, September 8, the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist will be announced. This is my second year as a shadow juror, a role I take seriously even though it is just for fun. It is a huge pleasure to read so many great novels, short stories and graphic novels by Canadian writers. So far, I've read 46 eligible titles and bailed on an additional four. Some books that I think might be strong contenders have not yet been published, and so I will have to guess about them. Before revealing my longlist prediction (plus wish list) for the 2021 Giller, I want to talk about my judging criteria.
This is what I'm looking for:
Life-affirming stories that acknowledge the complexities of existence and that make me think. I want lots of white space, by which I mean room to wonder and imagine, rather than having everything neatly laid out.
Style. Whether it's using a conventional structure or an innovative format, the writing is crafted with rigorous care. I want to experience freshness and surprise, through word choice and perspective. I'm especially drawn to a unique narrator's voice.
Believable characters. I slip into characters as I read, so I need to trust that the author is treating their characters with respect, no matter what kind of character I inhabit. Also, I immediately resist if I feel like my emotions are being manipulated.
Insight. Feeling a resonance with the issues our society is grappling with, such as colonialism, xenophobia, feminism, social isolation, conspiracy theories, and aging with dignity.
Setting. A sense of grounding in time and place that enriches the story experience.
Plot. The story must have intrinsic coherence and hang together. I want to sense the narrative arc over the course of a novel or short story, whether the action is internal or external.
Enlargement. An inner expansion that comes as a result of reading a particular piece of literature.
Okay, so here are my nine longlist picks in alphabetical order by title:
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Molly Falls to Earth by Maria Mutch
Return of the Trickster by Eden Robinson
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu
Speak, Silence by Kim Echlin
We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. by Sheung-King
And, because there are so many fine possibilities, I also have a wish list composed of honourable mentions (which I've read) and books not yet published (which I haven't read, so they are marked with an asterisk):
Astra by Cedar Bowers
The Book of Form and Emptiness* by Ruth Ozeki
Em* by Kim Thuy
A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens
Ghost Lake by Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler
Manikanetish* by Naomi Fontaine, translated by Luise von Flotow
The Strangers* by Katherena Vermette
To Know You're Alive by Dakota McFadzean
What do you think? I look forward to seeing what the Giller judges have chosen this year.