Before deciding on the longlist for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize, which was announced in Montreal on Wednesday, this year's jury considered a record-setting 168 books, a process they said "reminded us of the extraordinary treasures to be found in contemporary Canadian literature."
The 12 books they've chosen comprise the most intriguing and wonderfully unexpected list in the prize's 22-year-history, an enticing mix of established names and emerging talent, and clear affirmation for the work being done by this country's independent publishers. The decision to expand the jury from three to five people – Canadian authors Cecil Foster, Alexander MacLeod, Alison Pick, British novelist Helen Oyeyemi and Irish writer John Boyne – is already paying dividends.
The list includes four former finalists – André Alexis for Fifteen Dogs, in which a pack of dogs are granted human consciousness; Patrick deWitt for his quirky fable-cum-novel Undermajordomo Minor; Marina Endicott for Close to Hugh, about a middle-age gallerist grappling with mortality; and Heather O'Neill for her story collection Daydreams of Angels, marking the first time an author has been nominated in successive years.
Other nominees include Globe and Mail arts columnist Russell Smith for his typically urbane short-story collection, Confidence; Samuel Archibald for his prize-winning short-story collection Arvida, translated by Donald Winkler, who was last nominated in 2007; Canadian expat Rachel Cusk for her semi-autobiographical novel Outline; Connie Gault for A Beauty, about a young woman's effect on a small Saskatchewan town; Vancouver's Anakana Schofield for her inventive second novel, Martin John; and a trio of first-time novelists: Clifford Jackman for his violent western The Winter Family; Michael Christie, whose short story collection The Beggar's Garden made the longlist in 2011, for his debut novel, If I Fall, If I Die, about the son of an agoraphobic woman discovering the outside world for the first time; and Alix Hawley for her reinterpretation of the life of Daniel Boone, All True Not A Lie In It, winner of this year's Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
Breaking down the longlist by publisher, Penguin Random House leads with five nominations, while HarperCollins secured two spots on the list; the big winners, however, were Canada's indie publishers, including House of Anansi and Coach House Books, which each earned one spot on the list, and Windsor, Ont., press Biblioasis, which scored three nominations, the most in their history.
"We're a small, regional press, and it's not always easy to get attention for our books and our writers, no matter how much we believe in them," said Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells, speaking from Windsor a few minutes after the longlist was announced. "I think we've been in the top handful of presses – for a few years, anyway. If anything, maybe, hopefully, this will get other people to take a closer look at us."
The shortlist will be unveiled Oct. 5, while the winner of this year's Giller Prize and the accompanying $100,000, will be announced on Nov. 10.