My take on the Giller and the gala

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.

imagesWe 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…”

Wonderful.

11 thoughts on “My take on the Giller and the gala

  1. Thanks Dora. I like the Giller because it makes books fun and glamorous and triggers spirited discussion on the short list and the winner even though I often don’t agree with either the short list or the winner. I host a Gillers Gab with appies and bubbly. We try to read the short list or at least about them and then we place bets on the winner. First ballot pulled from the bag with winner’s name checked gets a bag of all the books.This year our discussion focused on the good books that DIDN’T make the list. My Giller group is outgrowing my living room and I think next year we’re going to have to find a larger venue. My money was on Anaka Schofield’s Martin John and second choice was Arvida. But still don’t get how Lawrence Hill’s “The Illegal” didn’t even make the long list.

    • That sounds like so much fun! There was a Giller-lite over at McNally’s in Winnipeg though didn’t get there for various reasons, but definitely it’s the kind of thing to enjoy in company. I like all the lists at this time of the year, actually, and the discussion around them and so on. You’re right about many good books not on the list. I haven’t read “The Illegal” but I’m about to get into Michael Crummey’s “Sweetland,” I’ve heard it’s good and another surprise “not on.” Anyways, great to hear from you, and I hope your writing is going well! (Oh, and wasn’t it nice to see A.M. on the jury?)

  2. Such a bonus to be on your blog list. I haven’t read any of the short listed books but always like to select one for Christmas reading. I did hear a CBC review before the Gala, and I watched the Gala itself on TV.. I wasn’y drawn to 15 Dogs when I heard it introduced … still not sure. Your recommendation for me would be???

    • Hi Al, I can’t say I was drawn to it either, even well into it I sort of pushed myself, maybe I’m not a fables or dog person, but having said that, I think you might actually enjoy this and its philosophical explorations. Yes, I think you would.
      — It’s always tough to recommend books; I’m with Tim Parks at this article about how books separate readers as much as bringing them together: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2015/nov/10/how-could-you-like-that-book/
      It’s easier to recommend books that intrigue me but which I haven’t read yet.🙂 Being a photographer you might enjoy “Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs” by Sally Mann. Also on my library holds list is 2015 Nobel literature winner Svetlana Alexievich’s “Voices from Chernobyl,” oral history work she did. Not the cheeriest Christmas reading perhaps, but probably important to listen.

  3. Ha ha, well I feel I’ve reached some sort of status, without even trying to…being ‘in the know’ about this Giller prize for “Fifteen Dogs”, and I even put a hold on it at the Library before reading your blog. I’m right up there with the times (and my oldest and wisest siblings:). However, if you Dora had to push yourself through the book I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, but hey I will give it a try when I eventually get my turn!

    • Hey welcome here, Viola, and to Fifteen Dogs! And just to clarify, push I meant in terms of doing what I too often do, which is start another book when I’m already in others so not sure, not sure, should I go on, but making myself… I’ll look forward to hearing what you think.

      • I’ll keep you posted when I get to that…still on a longish waiting list! I just finished reading a fascinating, but sad book – “My Secret Sister”. I’m sure you have heard of it. What a painful thing to have actually had sisters all your life and not even know about it or them until almost in your 60’s! Some time still for redeeming, but I can’t imagine living with the regret of all the ‘wasted years’.

  4. I love the quote about death, Dora. It’s been with me since I read it the day you posted. Thank you for giving this State-side person an idea of what’s going on on your side of the border.

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