Thoughts on the Booker Shortlist and the Giller Longlist

by Sunita

Yes, it’s awards season again. Labor Day is over and my library holds are coming in with a vengeance, what with all the Big September Releases. The Booker shortlist and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist are coincidentally released on the same day. I woke up to the Booker news, which had been announced at 10am BST, and then waited for the Giller announcement to be delivered from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 8:30am my time.

The Booker shortlist:

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I’ve only read one of the six (the Obioma, which I reviewed here). That seems unusually low for me, but I do own three of them and have a fourth coming from the library in two weeks. And I’d read five of the seven longlisted books that didn’t make it. I will probably not read the Atwood any time soon. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 1980s and still have my ancient mass-market paperback edition. It made a big impression on me then but I haven’t wanted to revisit it, and I had no interest in the TV adaptation. So I’ll wait for the reviews and word of mouth to see if I want to read the sequel. The Rushdie is getting mixed reviews, but I’m curious about it and I got in early on the library hold list so I can at least sample that before the winner is announced.

I was sorry not to see the Luiselli on the shortlist, especially after listening to her talk about it and read from it at the National Book Festival. My reading and reviewing of it was shaped by my knowledge of her personal life and Alvaro Enrigue’s work, but the panel I attended helped me separate that from the text, and the further away from it I get the more I think it is an excellent novel. But there are plenty of US awards coming up, and I’m sure it will be in consideration for at least some of those. Of the others, I don’t have strong feelings about their omissions from the shortlist. I enjoyed the Braithwaite and the Lanchester entries but they each had shortcomings and I don’t see them as Booker winners., I think the Barry, which I have finished and need to review, is stronger but a bit slight compared to some of the other entries. And I was the outlier on the Porter from the beginning.

On to the Giller longlist:

  • Days of Moonlight by André Alexis
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis
  • Greenwood by Michael Christie
  • Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
  • The Innocents by Michael Crummey
  • Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds
  • Late Breaking by K. D. Miller
  • Dual Citizens by Alex Ohlin
  • Lampedusa by Steven Price
  • Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta
  • Reproduction by Ian Williams

I love the Giller Prize. Canadian novels tend to fly under the radar in both the US and UK book coverage, so the Giller is key in introducing me to novels I wouldn’t otherwise come across. In both of the past two years I’ve found hidden-to-me authors and novels that I’m very grateful to learn about. Last year it was Éric Dupont (his Giller-shortlisted novel Songs for the Cold of Heart is finally getting a worldwide release in 2020), and in 2017 it was half the list. I still smile when I think about I Am A Truck, and Minds of Winter rekindled my interest in reading about Arctic exploration (which makes TheH happy because it leads to shared reading experiences).

As usual, I’m unfamiliar with most of these. I’m a bit surprised to see the Atwood listed, because I believe she regularly asks not to be nominated. But this is a Big Book in many ways, so maybe that’s the explanation. I’m more surprised to see no French-language entries; there’s usually at least one.

I am completely unsurprised to see that Penguin Random House is cleaning up again (as it has in the Booker short- and longlists), with nearly half of the list. But there are also some small presses, notably House of Anansi and Biblioasis. And there are three short story collections, which we don’t get to see included with novels in a lot of awards.

So there you have it. I will not be reading the entire Giller longlist, but I will definitely look at all the entries and read a handful.