The summer issue of CNQ (Canadian Notes and Queries) carries a withering attack on the Giller Prize by Alex Good, who may be the only person in Canada to have read (and to admit having read) or slogged his way through the entire Giller shortlist of 2007. In a thoughtful and amusing polemic, he concludes that the Gillers, as an institution administered by a “poisoned pool of peers,” have grown “sclerotic and incestuous.” The effects of the Giller process of culture-making-by-coterie, he suggests, are insidious and widespread, and tend to reinforce the making of a dull semi-official literature consisting of “historical” novels and soft romance stories set in exotic locales. After fourteen years, the Gillers, he writes, have “led to the creation of our own home and native genre: the ‘Giller bait’ novel”:
Stephen Henighan is another critic who writes on the Giller Effect; his column in Geist two years ago provoked cries of foul-play from offended Giller supporters. CNQ is the venerable literary review published three times a year by Biblioasis.
Giller bait novels are very serious books emphasizing history and geography, generally without any sense of humour, and written in a vague, pseudo-poetically lush and highbrow style. And it’s not only the authors who are being corrupted. Getting the Giller Prize winner has become a ritual for many occasional readers. Indeed the “bounce” in sales provided by being selected for the shortlist is often publicized. But what kind of introduction to the world of Canadian literature does the shortlist provide? How will books like Divisadero or The Assassin’s Song turn anyone on to Canadian writing? As Russell Smith put it in the Globe and Mail, the Giller Prize shortlist is typified by “ecstatically lauded, good-for-you Canadian books . . . that you can’t bear to even begin.”