Female authors of historical fiction dominate the long list of nominees for the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize - a selection that will likely silence the grumbling that followed the release of last year's long list, when only three of the 15 nominees were women.
Led by Margaret Atwood, whose The Year of the Flood stands out for its futuristic setting, this year's list of 12 nominated authors includes only two men, Colin McAdam for Fall and Linden MacIntyre for The Bishop's Man.
The action of the nominated novels takes place in a wide range of exotic settings, most of them historical, from ancient Greece to 19th-century Egypt, 20th-century Cambodia and Trinidad.
According to Giller spokeswoman Elana Rabinovitch, daughter of the prize's founder Jack Rabinovitch, the overweighting of women this year is entirely coincidental.
"The only instruction the jurors get is to pick good books," she said. "[One of the jurors]Russell Banks told me that he was startled to see that most of their picks were female and only two male. He said they hadn't given any thought to gender while reading the books at all."
Among the better-known nominees is Anne Michaels, for her book The Winter Vault, her second novel since the publication of Fugitive Pieces 13 years ago. The list also includes two first-time novelists: Jeanette Lynes, nominated for The Factory Voice; and Annabel Lyon, nominated for The Golden Mean.
The bulk of the nominations honour novels by lesser-known, albeit veteran, Canadian writers earning their first Giller nod. They include Toronto's Martha Baillie, nominated for The Incident Report, and Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared, as well as Montreal's Claire Holden Rothman, nominated for The Heart Specialist.
Also notable is the number of non-resident writers nominated for Canada's leading literary prize. They include Paulette Jiles of Texas, nominated for The Colour of Lightning; Kate Pullinger of London, nominated for The Mistress of Nothing; and Shani Mootoo, author of Valmiki's Daughter, who divides her time between Vancouver and New York.
Other authors are prominent in their absence from the list, including two of Newfoundland's most celebrated novelists. Neither Lisa Moore's February not Michael Crummey's Galore earned nominations from the three-person international jury, made up of U.S. writer Russell Banks, British writer Victoria Glendinning and Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod.
With so many newcomers in the field, the 2009 contest could become a repeat of the 1996 prize, in which Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace prevailed over Fugitive Pieces, Michaels's acclaimed first novel. Organizers plan to announce a short list, generally confined to five nominees, on Oct. 6.
Giller winners receive $50,000 and tend to become automatic bestsellers in the Canadian market. Short-listed nominees get $5,000 each and also benefit from the considerable publicity the contest generates every fall.
With files from Michael Posner