November 13th, 2013

Rose-coloured reviews the 2013 Giller Prize

Despite the phone ringing during the opening chords, I was pretty pleased with what I caught of Whitehorse. They’re great singers, but though I thought they were struggling pretty hard to work around the stage in their formal-wear and to set up instruments mid-song. No one could have helped them? Seemed a bit chinzy not to have a tech guy at an otherwise lavish event…

Onwards to the show! Jian Ghomeshi was hosting again, and he was his usual personable, suave self. The room was filled with elaborate tables with elaborate centrepieces. Mark and I now know enough literati, at least by sight, to have fun pointing out who we knew in the crowd, a game Mark is much better at than I am. I’m out of it enough that, as Jian announced each nominee, and the camera focussed in on a face, I assumed that was the nominee. Mark thought this was hilarious.

“Is that Craig Davidson?”

“No, it’s the guy behind him. You can sort of see his hair.”

The camera guys would struggle with this all night. Not sure why.

I failed to watch the Gillers last year due to the CBC website posting the wrong time on their website for their OWN broadcast–so lame–so I don’t know whether the changes I saw in the broadcast were new this year or not. I do know that they seem to have taken my 2010 Giller Review┬áto heart and eliminated the very personal interview questions in the mini-movies. Actually they did that in 2011 too, but this year they replaced them with personal interview questions on-stage. I actually love those, but that is my nosy streak–I am not sure it was fair to ask Dan Vyleta about his late father in front of a live audience, though he handled it gracefully and wittily.

Something new, at least to me, is that the mini-movies are now readings of the stories, in the authors’ OWN voices no less. This is a huge improvement over previous years where there was neither an opportunity for the authors to speak nor any direct quotes of the celebrated books. I really liked the readings–great job, everybody. I was less crazy about the visuals in the movies, which were impressionistic, vague scenes from the books in question, more or less. I wasn’t wild about them, but nor was I embarrassed by them, and I also don’t have a better suggestion. Well, I do–it could just be the author standing there wearing nice clothes reading the book. That always does it for me at live readings. But TV being the action-packed medium that it is, I don’t think we’ll see that in future, so I’m fine with these glimpses into someone’s imagination of the worlds of the novel.

The best part of the evening, other than the winner, was unexpectedly the on-stage judge interview. Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem comprised the jury, and vast variety of heights. They were already mildly amusing just standing there, with Jian Ghomeshi onstage, before anyone spoke. They looked like invitees to different parties, or like a mischievous sprite, the queen, and an awkward teenager, respectively. Ghomeshi kicked things off by mentioning that Atwood had asked earlier about the “banter” and she teased him from there, answering all the questions gnomically–the difference between her time on the Giller jury this year and previously is “being older”–and actually covering a giggle with her hand at one point. I have almost never seen video footage of Atwood, and I was shocked by a realization I’d not had previously: Margaret Atwood *loves* being Margaret Atwood. I am so happy for her–makes me want to read her new book even though it is about the apocalypse and I am very scared of the apocalypse. Ghomeshi capped off the interview by asking if we’d be surprised by the winner, and Lethem responded that it was a book on the shortlist. I’m not sure if I’m properly conveying how funny it all was.

The presenters were useless as ever–the weakest part of the show. I don’t know why the Giller organizers insist on pulling people from showbiz to present–as if many bookish people will be drawn in if there’s a hiphop star on it. Or as if hiphop fans would be! I forget every presenter’s name and most of what they said, but I did note that there seemed to be much more emphasis on the presenters proving they had actually read the books. I do not care if they had or not, as they did not have anything interesting to say about their reading experiences.

As far as I know, other industries have people FROM that industry present at awards shows. Film actors at the Oscars, tv folks at the Emmies, musicians for the Grammies (actually, I don’t for sure know these things and think that maybe should be Emmys and Grammys). ANYWAY, surely there are some writers somewhere who are telegenic enough to be Giller presenters. Isn’t that “presenter” role supposed to be a little bit of exposure for others in the industry who aren’t nominated? I think it would be great to see more Canadian writers than just the 5 nominees on Giller night. If I thought I could pull off an evening gown, I’d apply for the gig myself.

Um…cutting to the chase: *Hellgoing* by Lynn Coady won. I was delighted, not only because it is a book short stories, nor because it was the only book on the shortlist I had read, not because I thought Coady other book *The Antagonist* should have won when it was nominated in 2011. I thought that THIS book, this book that won, was very very good and deserving of accolades. I’m wary of a cumulative effects with big prizes–none of this “write enough good books and that will eventually add up to one great book.” And I don’t necessarily feel that this was a victory for short stories, though after book Giller night and Alice Munro’s Nobel win a few weeks ago, everyone’s been congratulating me as if my “team” had a victory. It would certainly be lovely if these two events brought more readers in general to the story, but in the meantime, I think Coady can claim whole ownership of this prize. She didn’t win for her subject matter (too varied), her lifetime achievements (too young), or her gravitas (too funny): she won because she wrote an inventive, intelligent, entertaining, sad, thought-provoking book. I’m hesitant to say the best (as I haven’t read the other books) but certainly a book very much deserving of celebration.

Coady’s speech was unexpectedly boring–she mentioned being overwhelmed and fair enough. The highpoint was that she noted two big factors in her success as a writer are a happy marriage and enough food. Hear, hear!

Best Gillers in my experience–even cautiously looking forward to next year!

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