November 12th, 2011

Rose-coloured Reviews the Giller Prize Show 2011

To watch last year’s Giller show, Mark and I had to head for someone else’s house, but this year through the power of live-streaming, we could watch at home and keep the kitten company. I have no idea if CTV had a live-streaming version of the Gillers, too, but the CBC one was hitchless–no hiccups or buffering issues. Lots (and lots) of commercials, but I guess that was the point.

So there we were with our smartpop, our wine, our kitten going insane under the desk, watching the camera roll over the vast and glittering crowd at the Four Seasons up to…Jian Ghomeshi?? Hooray, I love that guy. He was the host at the Writers’ Trust Awards the year I was a presenter, and he did a lovely, low-key, and charming job of it. What a shock to find that at the Gillers, right off the bat, Ghomeshi was unfunny!

Worse, as the show wore on, he seemed to be rolling his eyes at his own jokes. He’d kind of grimace, look down at his notes, make the joke quickly, and then say, “C’mon, c’mon, that’s funny, right?” It was all a lot more Fozzie-Bear-ish than I was expecting.

But that was the cumulative effect of the entire show–at the beginning he just seemed a little stiff as he introduced Lang Lang, who played something lovely on the piano and was, unique among the men I saw on the telecast, wearing an open-collared shirt.

The next segment was a bit from the judges, talking about how hard it was to read so many (140+) nominated books. One of the judges (I don’t know who any of them were except Annabel Lyon–always nice to see her) said, “All of the books had something about them that made them worthy of the prize,” or something along those lines. “They’re talking about my book!” I squealed. (Full disclosure: I have no idea if *The Big Dream* was put forward for the Giller, I just know that–technically–it was eligible.)

Like last year’s event, things moved along at a good clip, and as I recall after that we got pretty much directly into the book presentations. As with last year’s, the presentaters were a random assortment of vaguely famous non-book-related people. The first one, “international celebrity” Lisa Ray was no one I’d heard of and her telepromtation delivery of the introduction to David Bezmozgis’ novel did not make me want to investigate further. Nelly Furtado, Robbie Robertson, and that guy from Hedley did slightly better jobs, but still–who cares? I seriously doubt anyone who was not going to watch the show would see an advert and say, “Hey, Nelly Furtado is not singing, but is speaking for 120 seconds? I’m so there.” As for me, who was looking forward to the show, there’s pretty much no one whose literary opinion I respect less than the Hedley guy’s, and I consider myself *un*curmudgeonly among litsy types–why not cater to your audience?

Weirdly, the only presenter who did such a good job that I believe (a) that he was speaking extemporaneously, and (b) that he had read the book, was Ron MacLean introducing *The Antagonist* by Lynn Coady. Mark explained that he is some sort of hockey commentator, and he certainly spoke bomastically, but also with genuine enthuasiasm for the book and its author, whom he address directly, as “Lynn”–he also said he was going to call her parents and congratulate them. If all the presentors had been like that, I could’ve forgiven their literary irrelevance.

I should admit that Michael Ondaatje’s book *The Cat’s Table* was introduced last and, though I genuinely liked the excerpt in the New Yorker, by that point I was not paying attention. I don’t even know who introduced it. Part of the problem was that the kitten had become increasingly destructive, flipping a folder off the desk and sending a plume of papers into the air, followed by partially eating a little rubber thing that could not be subsequently identified. But also, there was the fact that I was freaking bored.

The best parts, as last year, were the personal interviews with the authors. This year’s however had shucked off the lame invasive aspects–showing the writers with their partners and kids–in favour of actually focussing on the books, and writing in general. They had also left off the syrupy natural settings (strolling beside a river, anyone?) in favour of a really nice, book-lined studio, the same one for all six. The questions were interesting if not overly intellectual, and the editor kept in only the bits where the authors sounded thoughtful and smart. I liked last year’s pieces very much, but these were far better–weirdly, making the setup less personal allowed the authors’ personalities to come through far better. I was especially impressed with what Coady said about what the reader owes the book (nothing) and what Zsuzsi Gardner said about why she writes (to comment on the world). I also liked that the writerly questions were folded in with the life ones, so that no one was stuck standing in front of a white wall just after the commercials, talking about what is their muse. Really well-done segments, all six (fine, I didn’t really watch Ondaatje’s–the cat was trying to dig through the floor).

I said it last year and I’ll say it again–why are there no readings at the Gillers? The Oscars show clips, the Tonys show song-and-dance numbers, the Grammys have songs, the Gillers have…that Hedley guy reading the back cover bumpf. These are supposed to be our country’s best crafters of words–how come some speech-writer is crafting everything that’s said in the awards presentation? And if the worry is that the authors themselves would be too nervous and unprofessional for a CBC telecast, one could certainly hire actors to read passages–they’d be cheaper than Robbie Robertson, I’m guessing. Although I vastly prefer to see how a writer reads his/her own work, and anyway, this year the writers didn’t even get to stand up on tv (except the winner) and I wanted to see what they were wearing.

And while I’m ranting, with all the serious, respected, professional criticism and reviews that has been written about these 6 books, why was the only quotation in the broadcast of Nelly Furtado’s tweet that she was “consumed” by *Half-Blood Blues*?? WHO ARE THEY TRYING TO APPEAL TO???

Deep breath. Esi Edugyan won. I’ve only read Better Living through Plastic Explosives and The Antagonist (and loved both) but Mark read *Half-Blood Blues* and assured me it was strong novel and a worthwhile winner…though he, like me, was pulling for Coady’s novel. And Edugyan gave a calm, sweet speech and also is absolutely stunning, so it was pleasant to watch her (though for some reason I STILL couldn’t see what she was wearing).

So though we were happy enough with the outcome and were glad these 6 books were celebrated, I found the broadcast of the Gillers extremely lame and unrepresentative of the glorious books it was supposed to be showcasing. And there were *so many* commercials. I haven’t watched broadcast TV with any kind of regularity in nearly a decade, and almost never with my partner, and it turns out there is a strange kind of silence that comes the first time you watch a yeast-infection-treatment advert together…which was probably the most memorable part of the experience.

One Response to “Rose-coloured Reviews the Giller Prize Show 2011”

  • Kerry says:

    I love this! I only watched the last 3 minutes of the broadcast, but SO many commercials.


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