Although she failed to win the coveted Man Booker Prize for her bestselling novel, Room, Irish-Canadian novelist Emma Donoghue earned the consolation of returning home as a finalist in the $25,000 Governor-General's Literary Award for English-language fiction.
But international recognition doesn't make Donoghue a favourite to win the contest, the last of the three major competitions of the Canadian literary season to announce its shortlist. Although they agreed on little else, the three Canadian juries each nominated Annabel, a first novel by Montreal writer Kathleen Winter, making it the only novel of the year to appear on all three shortlists.
Room was also nominated for the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, but excluded from either the long or the short list for the $50,000 Giller Prize.
Both novels are exotic in their own way. Room is a child's first-person account of being born and raised for five years in a tiny dungeon where his mother is kept as a sex slave. Annabel chronicles an "intersex" child's coming of age in remote Labrador.
Taken together, the three contests nominated a likely unprecedented 13 different novels to represent the best of the breed in Canada today, reflecting both the richness of local production and the futility of achieving any consensus as to its quality.
In addition to the two already-recognized novels on its short list, the Governor-General's jury nominated three that are uniquely its own. They include two from Saskatchewan: Sandra Birdsell's Waiting for Joe, a naturalistic account of a prosperous couple's descent into bankruptcy and homelessness; and Dianne Warren's Cool Water, described as a "gut-wrenching and inspiring" story of a small town and its ordinary citizens. Both authors live in Regina.
Native writer Drew Hayden Taylor, the lone male among the five finalists, earned a place for Motorcycles & Sweetgrass, the fantastic tale of a modern-day Trickster at loose in a place very much like the Curve Lake Reserve in Central Ontario, where the author lives.
The finals for this year's Governor-General's Award for non-fiction in English will be a rematch of sorts for three titles that competed in earlier contests. They include The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search for his Disabled Son, by Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown, which has already won the 2010 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and Ontario's Trillium Book Award; and John English's Just Watch Me, the second of a two-volume biography of Pierre Trudeau, winner of the 2009 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and a Taylor Prize finalist.
Also back in the fray is Calgary writer Karen Connelly's Burmese Lessons: A Love Story, a travel book that competed in the 2010 B.C. prize.
Joining them are Elizabeth Abbott's A History of Marriage, described by the Governor-General's jury as "by far the most comprehensive book written on the subject," and Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada, a travel book by Allan Casey of Saskatoon.
Organized by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Governor-General's Awards nominated a total of 70 finalists in both official languages and six categories, including poetry, drama, children's literature and illustration. Twelve separate juries reviewed a total of 1,702 books, with the winners sharing a purse totalling $450,000.
Announcements of the winners of the three major contests takes place over the first three weeks of November, beginning with the Writers' Trust awards on Nov. 2, followed by the Giller Prize on Nov. 9 and finally the Governor-General's Awards on Nov. 16