The Giller Prize and Genre Fiction

Interesting interview with Elana Rabinovitch last year in the National Post (reproduced here in part) on the question of genre fiction:

Q The list of eligible books on the Giller Prize website – those are put forward by the publishers?
A We ask all the publishers, as part of our rules and regs, to submit their list of eligible fiction for the award. And they do, and it’s a way for me to let the jury know what is out there apart from what’s been submitted to them. Because we limit publishers to three submissions apiece, they have to make quite agonizing decisions over what they submit. We limit them to three submissions apiece unless they have a former Governer General’s Literary Award in the fiction category or a former Giller Prize winner; in other words, if they have an Ondaatje, an Atwood, a Skibsrud, a Lam, a Boyden, whatever, if they have a new book by that person, then that’s the fourth submission above and beyond the three.

Q On Twitter, the Giller Prize tweeter wrote “Genre novels in general not eligible for prize so by extension, Readers’ Choice. Sorry if that’s your fave!” Can you clarify that?
A That’s a pretty sweeping statement because that’s really the only way to refer to novels like fantasy or science fiction. I mean, it’s the literary fiction first and foremost, that’s why publishers don’t submit genre novels like detective, mysteries, novels that are in a series, and the like. They just don’t because I think it’s generally known that the award is for primarily literary fiction.

Q What about books such as Oryx and Crake or Year of the Flood? Those could be classified as sci-fi and were both nominated in their respective years.
A Well, Atwood would quibble with you. She doesn’t think her fiction is science fiction.

Q Fair enough. Where does the Giller draw the genre fiction line, then?
A I don’t know that anybody has a clear line for genre fiction.

Q In the end, I guess, the choice is up to the publisher?
A The choice is up to the publisher and then again, the choice is up to the jury. If they read something that they don’t think measures up, then it won’t be selected. There’s different stages of acceptance I guess.

The eligible list for this year’s Giller includes books from Gilles Blunt’s series (mystery), Linwood Barclay (thriller), Kelley Armstrong (paranormal) and Robin Spano (mystery), and I’m sure I’ve missed some others that might also be described as genre.

Now, the eligible list is not the same as the books that publishers have submitted. As noted, they are restricted to putting forward only three books each. (Penguin, for example, has five books on the eligible list but only three of those can be submitted to the jury.)

There are a few hundred books on the eligible list; I think I read somewhere that the actual number of books submitted by publishers is around 140. So it’s not possible to look at the eligible list and know for sure if any of the mysteries on it are actually up for a Giller Prize.

The Giller jury has never long-listed a mystery, as far as I know. Yet surely genre fiction can have richness and depth and be just as character-driven as literary fiction? What about Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus? (Rankin’s work was described once as “almost literary.” Ouch.)

What do you think? Can mysteries and other genre novels be considered literary fiction? If so, what are your favourite examples?

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2 Responses to The Giller Prize and Genre Fiction

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Peggy
    I wouldn’t sweat the Giller. I am of the opinion that there hasn’t been a really good Giller since “No Great Mischief.” If they choose to ignore books written for their entertainment value and concentrate on those providing vicarious experiences, let them. Spend your efforts creating another book as good as “The Beggar’s Opera” and never mind the book selection committee.


  2. Peggy Blair says:

    Very kind of you to say so! The second (and third) in the series are already written actually. The King’s Indian will be out in February, and my editor thinks it’s as good as the first. My favourite is probably the third, Hungry Ghosts. Hope to see it published as part of the series. Thanks again!


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