In the spirit of representing for books that you believe in and helping readers who may be hesitating to participate in the Giller/CBC Readers’ Choice, here are three books written or translated by Vancouver writers that I believe deserve to be on the 2011 Giller Prize long/short list.
I limited my choices to three and only three. The books in question represent a novel, a collection of short stories, and a novel in translation. There are surely others that are deserving – Gurjinder Basran’s Everything Was Goodbye has practically lapped the field in online voting – but these three books are amazing pieces of work and really deserve wide recognition and consideration for this prestigious/lucrative prize.
In no particular order (not even alphabetical!):
Exit, Nelly Arcan (translated by David Scott Hamilton), published by Anvil Press.
This book plucked the brain from my skull and punted it through the uprights of remembering what writing can be like when a true artist unleashes her talent, passion and fearlessness in a book. No false compromises here. No half-steps. Just a rigorous exercise in ethics and contemporary morals wrapped in humour, helplessness and the absurd.
For a book about suicide the writing is tight, energetic, rigorous.
Vancouverite David Scott Hamilton really makes the language shine in the English translation.
Nelly Arcan was widely acclaimed for her writing in Quebec and France. She took her own life shortly after Exit (Paradis clef en main) was originally published in French.
Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada.
Zsuzsi Gartner is a pure force of nature, a great writer, a great friend to writers, and we really need to see her work better recognized on the national stage.
In her first book of stories in over ten years Zsuzsi takes the already absurd world of everyday Vancouver and twists it just a little bit more. To the point where the things that she’s imagining just might be true.
And in many cases her stories are true in the way that all things can be true in Vancouver. Where sometimes you’re never really sure whether something that you just saw happen downtown reminds you of the obsession of Conrad’s Kurtz or the story that you read in Zsuzsi’s book and what’s the difference?
Why would there be a difference between what you experience IRL and what you read in books?
It was a long wait for this book and I think that we should seize the moment now to cast a vote to ensure that we see it on the Giller longlist.
We may not get another chance to represent for Zsuzsi for another long time. This book and her talent are too rare to waste this moment.
The Blue Light Project by Timothy Taylor, published by Knopf Canada.
This one is probably closest to my heart because the story and the setting are closest to my experience of Vancouver and because Tim’s writing is so clean and his style so correct.
When you’re quoting Obi-Wan Kenobi and inserting graffiti slides within the story you’re shaking things up a little bit, you’re introducing voices and influences that rarely appear in Canadian writing.
Having spoken with Tim in his office high up in the Dominion Building overlooking Vancouver’s legendary Downtown Eastside and knowing some of the ways that he gathered information and influences for his book from the streets and people living and working on the streets below I can speak to the authenticity of the characters and the setting.
This story is universal, it could happen anywhere. It is happening right now on the streets of Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, Halifax, Montreal.
It’s a universal story set in a riot city.
There’s three books that I would like to see on the Giller long list. It could have been much, much longer, tho.
What books do you think deserve to be on the Giller long list?