This year's Scotiabank Giller Prize, the longlist for which was revealed on Monday, features several firsts. Most bittersweet is the fact it will be the first time the prize is awarded since the death of its founder Jack Rabinovitch, who died in August. It was the first time the longlist was announced in Newfoundland, with a press conference taking place at The Rooms, a cultural hub in St. John's. And the longlist itself includes the first-ever horror novel to be in contention for Canada's most prestigious literary prize.
That would be David Demchuk's The Bone Mother, a fable filled with mythical creatures ranging from werewolves to witches, and is set, in part, among the villages of eastern Europe on the eve of the Second World War. Demchuk, a Winnipeg-born, Toronto-based playwright, is one of three first-time authors on the longlist – Vancouver's Zoey Leigh Peterson is nominated for her novel Next Year, For Sure, about a couple who decide to explore polyamory, while Toronto-based writer and painter Michelle Winters is up for her novel I Am a Truck, about a woman whose husband goes missing on the eve of their 20th anniversary.
The longlist also features a quartet of authors who have been previously nominated for the $100,000 prize: Vancouver's David Chariandy (whose debut novel, Soucouyant, was longlisted in 2007) is recognized for his second novel, Brother, a searing account of two siblings growing up in Scarborough in the early 90s; U.K.-based author Rachel Cusk is longlisted for her novel Transit, about a writer moving to London after the dissolution of her marriage (it is a follow-up to Outline, which was shortlisted for the prize in 2015); Toronto's Michael Redhill is longlisted for Bellevue Square, about a bookseller searching for her apparent doppelganger (his debut novel, Martin Sloane, was shortlisted for the prize in 2001); and Kitimat, B.C. author Eden Robinson made the longlist on the strength of Son of a Trickster, the first in a planned trilogy of novels about a teen with magical powers.
This year's longlist includes a pair of short-story collections: Calgary writer Deborah Willis is longlisted for her second book, The Dark and Other Love Stories, while Montreal's Josip Novakovich was recognized for Tumbleweed. (Novakovich – who was born in the former Yugoslavia, moved to the United States for school and currently teaches at Concordia University – is a writer who is perhaps better-known outside of Canada than within; he was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013.)
The sole book in translation to make the cut was Boundary, a literary thriller by Quebec's Andrée A. Michaud, a two-time winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction. The novel was translated by Donald Winkler, who was last on the list for his translation of Samuel Archibald's Arvida in 2015. A book in translation has still never won the Giller Prize.
The other nominees are Newfoundland-born, Toronto-based actor/writer Joel Thomas Hynes for We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, about a felon hitchhiking across Canada with his girlfriend's ashes, and Toronto-born, Dublin-based Ed O'Loughlin for his Arctic historical epic Minds of Winter.
In their citation, this year's jurors – former winners Lynn Coady and André Alexis, British writer Richard Beard, American author Nathan Englander and jury chair Anita Rau Badami – called 2017 "an intriguing year for Canadian fiction.
"As with any year, there were trends, themes that ran through any number of books: the plight of the marginalized, the ongoing influence of history on the present, the way it feels to grow up in our country, the way the world looks to the psychologically damaged. But 2017 was also a year of outliers, of books that were eccentric, challenging or thrillingly strange, books that took us to amusing or disturbing places. In fact, you could say that the exceptional was one of 2017's trends. It gave the impression of a world in transition: searching inward as much as outward, wary but engaged."
In total, the jury considered 112 titles, 49 fewer titles than in 2017, owing to new rules which limited the number of books each publisher could submit. Some argued the changes punished publishers who'd never placed books on the long- or shortlists before, but, notably, this year's longlist includes two publishers appearing for the first time: Montreal's Véhicule Press (Tumbleweed) and Peterborough genre enthusiasts ChiZine Publications (The Bone Mother).
The Giller Prize shortlist will be unveiled on October 2, while the winner of this year's prize will be announced November 20 at a gala ceremony in Toronto.
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