Well yes of course I watched the Giller gala last evening: I was home and it was on TV. And this year, turns out I’d actually read the winning book, Fifteen Dogs. Which made me happy with the happiness one has in also having read what others regard as very important. Started Saturday, finished Sunday in fact. (It’s not a particularly long or difficult book.) I’d also managed to read Rachel Cusk’s Outline, which struck me on every page as a winner for sure, so flawless is the flow of her language and so compelling the conversations of marriage and loss, and several of the stories in Heather O’Neill’s Daydreams of Angels, which I enjoyed but in a weird way where I was watching what she was doing more than losing myself inside it (but then mulling it later).
With this small sampling of the five shortlisted books, but based on my reading about them, I’d ultimately wagered in my own mind that Anakana Schofield would take the $100,000 cheque home for her Martin John. Which just proves again that it’s good I’m not a betting woman.
We can all be public reviewers and critics nowadays, so I had my thoughts about the hour of television too. It’s hard to make the “fact” of a book work dramatically, and writers (I’m certainly including myself) are rarely as compelling as their work, and so too here. Host Rick Mercer was his usual energetic cheerful self though he had a hard crowd, I felt, and somehow it all seemed flat, not nearly as much fun as his own show, the Rick Mercer Report, though I and everyone else loved his line about the Giller evening shining “a bright light on introverts.” And the tuxes were fine but the dresses were awful. (Weren’t they? she says uncertainly.) Whatever happened to the demure little black introverted dress?
André Alexis was surprised and had a nice thank-you speech, and as I said, I was glad I’d read his book, which recently also won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The novel was well-written, though not in a way that was stylistically outstanding. It seemed uneven. But it’s the ideas in this fable of fifteen dogs being granted human intelligence by the gods Hermes and Apollo that are the star performers. Sure enough, the “gift” unfolds in violence both human and dog-like, in jostling for power or attention, in packs and loners, in loneliness and love. In poetry. One dog is a poet and a rather fine poet at that.
There were lines near the end of the book that I copied into my book journal. (This isn’t a spoiler in terms of the plot, but if you plan to read the book and want to come to them gradually, stop HERE.) Hermes is reflecting on his inability to bridge to mortals because death is between them:
He could no more understand what it was to live with death than they could what it was to exist without it…Death was in every fibre of these creatures. It was hidden in their languages and at the root of their civilizations. You could hear it in the sounds they made and see it in the way they moved. It darkened their pleasures and lightened their despair…”