My first encounter with the Giller prize was in 2006 when I watched the prize on Bravo TV. It was also the first time I heard about it. Before that my favorite Canadian authors were Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, M.G. Vassanji, Alice Munro, and Mavis Gallant. I watched the ceremony with awe and followed the authors, read their books and watched their interviews.
This year however, I had this gut feeling that something was not quite right. By watching the short listed writers, listening to them talk about their books. When it comes to literature and books, my gut feeling doesn’t disappoint me. I wish I have this insight about everything else in my life. Here’s what happened:
Jacob Sheier wrote under the title ‘Giller gossip grates. Literati Feed Media Scandal Machine’:
Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller prize winning novel, The Sentimentalists, was The Scandalists, a “true” story based on speculation.
Besides the fact that The Sentimentalists was published by a small press one of this year’s Giller jurors, Ali Smith, prior to the announcement of the long list of nominees, recommended the book to her agent, who then secured a foreign rights deal for it.
“Still shocked by Ali Smith, British juror for the Giller, tipping off her agent to Giller winner Johanna Skibsrud’s novel, The Sentimentalists, before the nominations were announced. The agent then sold it to British editor Jason [Arthur] for a tidy sum because Arthur knew it had a good shot at the Giller. Smith, with her insider trading, broke jury protocols of confidentiality and failed to declare a conflict of interest.”
When we leave our stories and poems to inflame controversy, we assist a process that exploits our squabbles to delegitimize the noble purposes of literature. The effect, which cannot be a surprise to this year’s Giller critics, is that, intentionally or not, a cloud is cast over the achievement of the winner. Writers of literature are (or should be) interested only in the meat itself, or rather, the marrow.
I couldn’t agree more, but what if the meat proves to be stale and indigestible?
Here are some excerpts of readers’ comments on The Sentimentalists (taken from Chapters.Indigo.ca):
– A disjointed mess. It was impossible to feel anything for or connect with the characters. This book would make me question reading another book that wins the Giller award.
– I generally find it difficult to read Canadian lit because I’ve been let down so many times before. This was the most disappointing read for me in many years.
– Not really sure how this was the Giller Prize winner but I would not recommend this read to anyone.
– Without a doubt I can’t think of a more useless waste of paper. I struggled to page 88 & finally just threw the book away. The hype & award winning is completely without merit. It should be rated in the negative “maple leaf”. Don’t buy it.
– I was very excited to read this, but ended up disappointed in the end. Sorry, but didn’t see the reason for the this winning.
– I was relieved to hear that other readers were also questioning this award given to this book??? I had to put the book down and call it quits… Very disappointed.
– I’m making my way through this book, but without any real interest, and I’m skipping through many parts. Skipping through seems to make no difference to the plot and characters, a bad sign.
– I do not understand why this book was awarded the Giller Prize. I spent the last 4 nights trying to read it. What were they thinking.
– This is the first Giller winner that I started with great expectations, and ended with disappointment, as the story got bogged down in its style.
– After reading this book, I must now question the validity of the Giller Prize. I have always sought out the winners and finalists and enjoyed them all; this year, that’s changed. The Sentimentalists is without a doubt, not even finalist material. Sorry, but you Giller folks have messed up…
– For my part, I am beyond stunned that this book was awarded the Giller. It is badly written, badly plotted, and the characters are poorly developed.
Shame, shame, shame on the Giller jury.
So sad to read all those readers’ disappointment about the book. But aren’t our readers our biggest judges? After all, we writers write for our readers.