Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
What does it mean to be alive? To think, to feel, to love and to envy? André Alexis explores all of this and more in the extraordinary Fifteen Dogs, an insightful and philosophical meditation on the nature of consciousness. It’s a novel filled with balancing acts: humour juxtaposed with savagery, solitude with the desperate need to be part of a pack, perceptive prose interspersed with playful poetry. A wonderful and original piece of writing that challenges the reader to examine their own existence and recall the age old question, what’s the meaning of life?
Arvida by Samuel Archibald
Samuel Archibald’s stories come from over there: way, way over there. They live in the woods, hunting for creatures that may or may not exist, and they sometimes go surging down the highway at reckless speeds. At other times, they freeze, paralysed by the strange sounds that should not be coming from empty rooms in very old houses. This writing – so wise and funny and impeccably crafted – is the best kind of gossip: it tells us everything we need to know, the real dirt, about this place and about all the people, the true ‘characters,’ we meet wandering up and down the cryptic streets of a real but mythic Arvida. There is a lot of whispering going on in this town, a lot of information that strains credulity, a lot of laughter, a lot of suspense, a bit of fear. Arvida is just like life: a tender, sometimes terrifying, mystery unfolding before our eyes.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
Compulsively readable and dazzlingly intelligent, Rachel Cusk’s Outline follows a writer’s journey to Athens to teach a summer writing course. Along the way she encounters a cast of characters who share with her the outlines of their own life stories. The result is a novel of breathtaking skill and originality. Perfectly paced, without a word out of place, Outline reminds us of the truly formidable power that good literature has to change our hearts and our minds.
Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill
This is a work of acute charm and radically deft imagination. Whether probing the behaviour of clones for some sign of a relationship between genes and genius, eavesdropping on the anecdotes of abandoned dolls, or detailing the particulars of ‘A Portrait Of The Marquis de Sade As A Young Girl’, O’Neill’s stories continually spar with that which so often defines our lives or limits our daring – the problem of pain. Here are characters born of a distinctive sensibility and sent forth to chart the strange and volatile terrain where grace is found, lost, and found again. There’s no thrill quite like encountering tales this tall, and few tall tales offer up their gifts this freely.
Martin John by Anakana Schofield
Stylish and provocative, Martin John comes at you as soft and lyrical as a folk song. But like the tune that refuses to stop repeating itself, it is hauntingly about all those memories of suspect desires and guilty pleasures, of knowing right from wrong, of wanting to do what even your mamma would want you to do but maybe you just can’t. As readers, we find Martin John a tantalizing reflection on living the contradictions in every identity and of definitively knowing what is real. At its heart, this is a bittersweet story of personal confrontations such as asking do I always want what others — even my mother — want for me.
For more information (biographies, access to the first few pages of the books), check out the Scotiabank Giller Prize website: http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/finalists/2015shortlist/. If you are interested in the other seven books on the longlist which didn't make the shortlist, check my blog for September 9.
The winner will be announced on November 10.