A bunch of years ago now, I wrote an article for Saturday Night magazine decrying the fact that the Giller Prize was a captive of big name publishers and authors. On the basis of the long list for the 2012 Giller that was released last week, as well as the one from 2011, I think it’s safe to say those days are well and truly over.
True, the big houses are still all over the lists (Harper Collins, Random House, etc.), but so, now, are middle-sized and small ones (like Thomas Allen, Cormorant, and NeWest). And a big distribution problem arose two years ago when the winner of the prize, Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, came from a publisher so small and punctilious they couldn’t possibly keep up with the resulting demand. (Eventually, Vancouver’s Douglas & McIntyre rode to the rescue.)
As for big name authors on the list, the biggest, I suppose, is . . . Will Ferguson? Katrina Onstad? Annabel Lyon? If none of these ring a bell for you, I’d suggest that’s an entirely good thing. It means the books are being judged on their merits, rather than the fell weight of the author’s reputation.
Now in its 19th year, The Giller Prize made two very good moves since I wrote that Saturday Night column (and no, I’m not suggesting that’s why — though my piece did cause Mordecai Richler to get very stern with me in The National Post). The Giller started publishing a long list before announcing the finalists, which allows for a more capacious recognition of Canadian fiction. And it internationalized the jury. In fact, two of this year’s three jury members, Gary Shteyngart and Roddy Doyle, are non-Canadians. (The third is Toronto author and former publisher Anna Porter.) That has not only inured the award to charges of regional bias, but is, I expect, the reason it more often looks now like a genuinely national prize, rather than a southern Ontario lit-fest.
So, good on the Giller. You’ll find all 13 of the long list titles in the Featured Canadian Books section of our That’s Canada Shop. And good on Canadian fiction. As the breadth of these titles indicates, it was an impressive year.