By Jean Baird | April 21, 2013

In May 2011, The Writers’ Trust announced a new sponsor for its non-fiction prize—Hilary Weston—claiming now to own the richest Canadian prize for non-fiction, at $60,000.

Just a few months before a new poetry prize was announced: “The Montreal Prize is a first-of-its-kind global poetry competition awarding $50,000 for one poem. Our international jury of ten distinguished poets from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas will select the top 50 entries. This shortlist will be published in our groundbreaking global poetry anthology. And from that shortlist our prize judge, Andrew Motion, will select the winner of the 2011 prize.”

I’m not sure how you can claim an anthology is “groundbreaking” before it is published, or before you even know what will be in it, but the prize does set a new high for a single poem—the rules stipulate the poem can’t be longer than 40 lines so it might set a record per word, as well. The prize isn’t endowed—an anonymous sponsor has supplied the funding for one year only so time will tell if the prize makes it past the first year.

Just how do the Canadian awards stack up financially? Here’s the picture as of mid-2011. Let me know what I’ve missed.

English Language Book Awards in Canada by Prize Amount

Except for lifetime achievement awards and the CBC literary awards (included because of $ value), I have not included contests or prizes that are for manuscripts rather than books. For example, Prince Edward Island does have Island Trust Literary Awards but for manuscripts, not books. Prizes with values of less than $500 aren’t included. There are also many prizes, medals and contests for chapbooks, manuscripts, academic essays, research and PhD theses as well as various genre writing, illustration, script writing…

Lifetime Achievement or Body of Work Awards

$50,000 Molson Prizes for arts awards. A lifetime achievement or body of work award. Administered by the Canada Council (CC) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). National.

$30,000 Athanase David Prize for body of work for a Quebecois writer.

$25,000 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for a writer in mid-career. The prize does not officially alternate between a male and female writers but the jury is asked to be mindful of past recipients so that a gender balance is maintained over time. Administered by WT. National.

$20,000 Matt Cohen Award. Administered by WT. National.

$20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s literature. Administered by WT. National.

$20,000 New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor’s Awards for High Achievement in the Arts. Administered by ArtsNB. The prize alternates, one year for an English writer, one year for a French writer.

$5,000 BC Lt-Gov Award. Administered by West Coast Book Prize Society.

$5,000 Pierre Berton, popularizing of Canadian history—individuals or organizations. Administered by Canada’s History Society.

$1,500 Mayor of Halifax Award for Literary Achievement, for residents of the Halifax Regional Municipality. For authors, publishers, librarians, archivists, journalists, educators, booksellers, and teachers. Administered by the Municipality.

National and International Awards

$65,000 Griffin prize for poetry. Each of the 7 short listed (SL) poets receive $10,000 for the public reading on the evening before, so essentially the two winners receive $75,000 each and the five short listed writers receive $10,000 each. Administered by the Griffin Trust. International.

$60,000 Writers’ Trust Hilary Weston prize, $5,000 for SL. A prize for non-fiction, administered by the Writers’ Trust (WT).

$50,000 Giller prize, novel or short story collection, $5,000 for each SL. Administered by Jack and Elana Rabinovitch.

$40,000 BC Award for Canadian Nonfiction, $2,500 for each SL. Administered by the British Columbia Achievement Foundation.

$35,000 The Donner Prize for best book on Canadian Public Policy, $5,000 to SL. Administered by MDG & Associates/Donner Foundation.

$25,000 plus $3,000 for publisher and $1,000 to SL: Governor General Literary Awards, in fiction, poetry, drama, non-fiction, children’s text, children’s illustration, translation—in English and French. Administered by CC.

$25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for Non-fiction. $2,000 to SL. Administered by June Dickenson.

$25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, $2,500 for SL. Administered by WT.

$25,000 each (one English one French) TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. An addition $10,000 in each language goes to SL books, the amount is divided by the number of books. For example one winner and two short listed books, each SL would receive $5,000. Administered by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC).

$25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political writing, $2,500 to SL. Administered by WT.

$20,000 Marilyn Baillie Award for Picture book. Administered by CCBC.

10,000 pounds Commonwealth Writers Prize. Administered by the Commonwealth Foundation. International with a regional component.

$15,000 Lionel Geiber Prize (books on local/global forces). Administered by the Munk School of Global Affairs at U of T.

$10,000 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for humour. Administered by the Stephen Leacock Association.

$10,000 each (one English, one French) Canada-Japan Literary Awards. Administered by CC.

$10,000 Norma Fleck Award for Children’s Nonfiction. Administered by CCBC.

$6,000 CBC Literary Award, $4,000 for runner-up. For unpublished work in non-fiction, poetry and short story. Administered by CBC.

$5,000 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical fiction for Y.A. Administered by CCBC.

$5,000 Sir John A. Macdonald non-fiction award for Canadian history. Administered by the Canadian Historical Association

$2,500 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction

$2,500 Lela Common–Canadian Authors Association Canadian History Award

$2,000 François-Xavier Garneau Medal, awarded every five years, honours an outstanding Canadian contribution to historical research. Administered by the Canadian Historical Association

$1,000 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry

$1,000 Wallace K. Ferguson award for history other than Canadian. Administered by the Canadian Historical Association.

$1,000 Sunburst Award for Fantasy, administered by the Sunburst Award Society for Excellence in Canadian Literature of Fantasy.

$1,000 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Poetry. Women only. Administered by the League of Canadian Poets.

$500 Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel, administered by the Crime Writers’ Association of Canada.

$500 Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry award, administered by an independent group of poets.

$500 Prix Auroa for Best Novel, administered by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

Provincial Awards

Newfoundland and Labrador

$10,000 Winterset Award to encourage and promote excellence in all genres. Two SL awards of $2,000. Administered by NL Arts Council.

$2,000 in 4 categories that alternate yearly—one year Children’s literature and Fiction, and the following year Poetry (E J Pratt award) and non-fiction. $500 to SL. Prizes are named for sponsors. Administered by the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador. Jury of 3 for each prize. Jurors are paid $300. Jurors are selected by an ad hoc committee that changes each year. Jurors are a mix of provincial people and folks from outside the province.

$500 Lawrence Jackson Writers’ Award

Atlantic Book Awards

For writers from PEI, NB and NS and NL

$20,000 T H Raddall fiction prize.

$5,000 Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association’s (APMA) award for Best Atlantic Published book. $4,000 to the publisher, $1,000 to the writer. The book must contribute to a better understanding of Atlantic Canada. $250 to SL writers. Administered by APMA.

$2,000 Ann Connor Brimer Children’s literature award, administered by the Nova Scotia Library Association

$2,000 Atlantic Book Prize for Poetry, administered by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia.

$2,000 Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing, administered by the Halifax Public Library Association.

$1,000 Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Award, administered by the Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association.

$500 Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration. The children’s book illustrator must be a native of or currently residing in Atlantic Canada OR have illustrated a children’s book set in Atlantic Canada. Administered by the Atlantic Provinces Independent Booksellers’ Association.

Nova Scotia

$2,000 Evelyn Richardson Memorial Prize for non-fiction, administered by WFNS

New Brunswick


All prizes are administered by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. If there are fewer than 5 entries in a category, the prize is not given and eligible titles are carried forward to the next year. An independent committee from the publishing community prepares a list of potential jurors for each prize. At least one member of that committee must be from outside the province—except of the Chair and Vice Chair, members of this committee cannot serve more than two years. Preference is to have one juror from the Montreal area (so that juror can attend the ceremony and present the prize) and two from outside Montreal which generally translates into out of province. Sometimes an international juror is selected. All prizes use a ranking system:

Each of the three jurors submits a list of five books in order of preference. The first book on the list, the one that the juror believes to be the best submission, is automatically included on the category’s short list of three books. (This procedure is deemed preferable to other systems in which it is possible that best-loved books might be excluded from the short list, while a collective second or third choice wins.)  

Each juror writes a short report (maximum 1 page) describing the merits of his/her first choice, a paragraph or two about his/her second and third choices, and a sentence or two about his/her fourth and fifth choices. A jury statement describing the merits of the three short-listed books will be culled from these reports by the Executive Director and/or selected board members and read during the presentation ceremony on the evening of the Awards Gala. It may also be released to the media. 

Every book that wins is the first choice of at least one juror. No discussion. Jurors do not know the identities of the other jurors. Jurors are paid $300.

$2,000 Paragraphe prize for fiction

$2,000 Mavis Gallant prize for non-fiction.

$2,000 QWF prize for children’s literature

$2,000 A. M Klein prize for poetry

$2,000 Cole Foundation prize for translation, French to English


$20,000 Trillium Book award, any genre, $2,500 to publisher. Administered by Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC). Ontario.

$10,000 Trillium Book award for children’s literature, $2,500 to publisher. Alternative years with the Trillium French prize. Administered by OMDC.


$5,000 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award

$3,500 Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-fiction

$3,500 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction (Manitoba)

$2,500 McNally Robinson Book for Young People, older

$2,500 McNally Robinson Book for Young People, younger

$1000 Aqua Books Landsdowne Prize for Poetry

$1000 Mary Scorer Award for Best Book By Manitoba Publisher

All prizes are administered by Manitoba Book Publishers Association. Each jury has one Manitoba juror and two jurors from out of province, using discussion method. Jurors are paid between $150 and $300 depending on the number of books submitted in the category, usually between 10 and 30. Jurors cannot serve more than once in 3 years. Manitoba has suspended its provincial reading tour due to finances but hopes to resume it in the future.


$3,000 Book of the year

$2,000 in each of the following categories—young adult, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, scholarly writing, First Peoples Writing.

Administered by the Saskatchewan Book Awards. Jurors must have a minimum of 4 published books. All jurors are from out of province. Jury process is discussion using conference calls. Jurors are paid $200 to $300 based on the number of books in the category. Short-listed writers give readings—two readings are rural, two are urban and include schools and university.


$10,000 Reader’s Choice Awards for Alberta-based published books. Joint initiative of the Alberta Book Publishers Association and the Alberta Public Library Association. Jury process includes librarians, a panel of 5 noted Albertans to a short-list of 5, then public voting on those 5 to determine the winner.

$1,500 for children’s literature, fiction, non-fiction, drama (published or performed) and poetry.

$700 for short non-fiction, short story and essay (published or unpublished.

Prizes are administered by the Alberta Writers’ guild and are named for Alberta writers. One juror is urban (from Calgary or Edmonton), one is from Alberta but not Calgary and the third is out-of-province. Juries use discussion format and are paid $250.

BC Book Prizes

$2,000 BC Book Prizes, 7 categories. Full examination in 1997 report.

City Awards

$15,000 City of Toronto Award, $1000 for each finalist. Administered by the City.

$10,000 City of Edmonton Book Prize, administered by Alberta Writers’ Guild.

$7,500 City of Ottawa Book Awards, $1,000 to SL. English and French in two categories, fiction and non-fiction. Administered by the City.

$5,000 City of Victoria Book Prizes. Butler prize for adult book in any genre. Bolen prize for children’s book. Administered by the Victoria Book Prize Society.

$5,000 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award. Administered by the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers.

$5,000 W. O. Mitchell City of Calgary book prize, administered by the City.

$2,000 City of Vancouver Prize. Administered by the City.

$2,000 Regina Book Award, Administered by SK Book Awards.

$2,000 Saskatoon Book Award, administered by SK Book Awards

$1,500 Archibald Lampman Award, for poetry by a resident of the National Capital Region, administered by Arc Poetry Magazine

$1,500 Dartmouth Book Award, fiction and non-fiction categories. Administered by Halifax Library Association. For books about Nova Scotia and/or its people.

$1,500 Mayor of Halifax Award for Excellence in Book Illustration, for residents of the Halifax Regional Municipality, administered by the Municipality.

First book/Emerging Writers

10,000 pounds Commonwealth Writers Prize. Administered by the Commonwealth Foundation. International with a regional component.

$10,000 Journey Prize, McClelland and Stewart (short story for emerging writer). Administered by WT. National

$10,000 Danuta Gleed Award for first collection of short fiction, $500 to SL. Administered by The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC). National

$10,000 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, $2000 to publisher. For emerging poets, first, second or third poetry collections are eligible. Administered by OMDC. Ontario

$10,000 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-fiction, for a first or second book. Administered by Wilfred Laurier University. National

$5,000 Bronwen Wallace Memorial award, alternates between short fiction and poetry. Under 35, manuscript, unpublished in book form. $1,000 to SL. Administered by WT.

$4,000 Fresh Fish Award for an emerging NL writer, plus $1,000 in editing services. For a NL writer unpublished in book form. In partnership with the Literary Arts Foundation of NL

$2,500 John Hirsh Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer.

$2,000 Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First book – Manitoba

$2,000 Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Best First book—Quebec

$2,000 Brenda MacDonald Riches award for first book—Saskatchewan

$1,500 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. Administered by Halifax Public Libraries. For a writer from Atlantic Canada.

$1,000 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, first poetry book. Administered by League of Canadian Poets

$500 Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award. National

$500 Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel, administered by the Crime Writers’ Association of Canada.

Amazon.ca First Novel Award

$2,000 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction

$2,000 Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction

$2,000 AM Klein Prize for Poetry

$2,000 McAusian First Book Prize

$500 Archibald Lampman Award for poetry, Ottawa


Jury: Gerald Kaufman, Shena Mackay, John Sutherland, Boyd Tonkin, Natasha Walter

Anita Desai—Fasting, Feasting VPL

Uma is the oldest daughter in a middle-class Indian family. Twice her parents have arranged marriages, paid the dowry and been duped, so Uma ends up a middle-aged spinster looking after her grumpy, controlling parents, MamaPapa. Aruan, the middle daughter arranges her own successful marriage and essentially disappears. Arun is the late-born much-adored son.

The first lengthy section of the novel focuses on Uma. While I can’t charge Desai with the excess of Mistry or Rushdie, her economy of language doesn’t succeed in developing these characters, and with this sort of novel, characters are essential. These characters, it seemed to me are stereotypes. But, hey, what do I know about middle-class Indian families?

Uma’s family is an island. Uma is treated as a servant rather than a loved daughter. Her emotions and needs have no place in the small world of her parents; she shows an inability to nurture their children.

When the focus in the last, and much shorter, section of the novel switches to Arun we find him in the US, living for the summer with an American family. This section confirmed my suspicion about stereotypes. Mom is a bored suburban housewife who jumps quickly from fad to fad. Dad is a BBQ obsessed workaholic. The teenaged son is jogging. The daughter, yes you guessed, is bulimic and ends up in rehab. It’s bunk. Of course I see the attempt to compare the feasting East with the fasting West and the dysfunctional nature of both worlds but the representation is trite.

Michael Frayn—Headlong VPL

Martin and his wife Kate, young art academics, move to their country house for several months so Martin can complete a book he had been putting off writing. They are invited to visit the “boorish local landowner” where Martin is shown a painting that he believes to be a “lost” Bruegel. So another book with lengthy descriptions of paintings, including The Hunter and Icarus, hence the title since Martin decides to acquire the painting and dives headlong, like Icarus, into obsession.

Martin doesn’t know much about the period so must do museum and library research to be certain his find is in fact a Bruegel. The result is akin to a mystery plot, with an amateur detective. But as handled by Frayn much of Martin’s research is revealed like history, or a university lecture on Netherlandish art. Part of the novel is madcap schemes, doubling dealing akin to a bedroom farce with paintings flying out windows into hedges or ending up covered with straw. The other part consists of lengthy and detailed expositions on iconography, the meaning and value of art, and intellect versus commerce.

Andrew O’Hagan—Our Fathers Kobo book

As the title suggests, this is a generational story of three men. Grandfather, Hugh Dawn is known as Mr. Housing for his commitment and vision to remake Glasgow by tearing down tenements and building high rises. Hugh believes this is progress. Hugh’s son has no vision, doesn’t accept the one of his father, and becomes a drunk. Hugh’s grandson, Jamie does take on the tradition of housing but in his case it involves the destruction of the housing towers built by his grandfather, in favour of more modern visions.

The novel is narrated by Jamie. Hugh is ill and dying and Jamie returns to be by the side of the grandparents who raised him after he “escaped” the domestic unrest and violence of his parents. On his deathbed Hugh is charged with cutting corners. The tenants of the high rises hate them; they are full of problems because of cheap materials. Jamie and his grandmother know Hugh would bargain for more materials rather than better materials. Hugh did what he needed to further his vision, but as time passes his reputation is challenged and even degraded.

The novel raises the expected themes and issues—past versus present, ideals versus the reality, generational conflicts, holding onto grudges, inheritance with all its nuances. The primary focus is the relationship between Jamie and his grandfather, and that is part of the problem, at least for me. The middle character, the drunken father, in some ways is the most interesting but his story is only a sliver here and there. The novel seems too bent on reconciliation/redemption and in the end Jamie does go meet his remarried mother, then his father. But the whole thing is also a comment on the reform-minded Scotland at the turn of the century.

Colm Toibin—The Blackwater Lightship VPL

It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Three women, Helen O’Doherty, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora, have arrived, after years of strife, at an uneasy peace with each other.” Helen finds out her beloved brother Declan is dying of AIDS. He asks her to tell their mother and grandmother which she does. Declan is allowed a few days away from the hospital and they all head to the grandmothers on the sea, a place where Helen and Declan spent a lot of time as children.

So, as you might imagine, the novel explores love and loss through the three generations of these women. All three feel unloved and misunderstood. All three can be miserable and difficult company. The novel is about failure to meet needs, and the failure to face it. Having the brother die seems a highly contrived way to reunite the women. The most interesting characters are the two friends of Declan who have been caring for him during his sickness, and stand up to the cranky trio of women. Toibin can certainly write, but I wasn’t smitten by this novel.

Andaf Soueif—The Map of Love VPL

This book comes with a complicated family tree at the beginning and 12-page glossary at the end, not that I got that far. Two stories, an hundred years apart, tied together by the love of women. In 1900, Lady Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, travels to Cairo where she falls in love with Sharif Pasha al-Barudi, an Egyptian nationalist. She leaves a trunk full of letters, journals, notebooks and other relics that finds its way to Amal an hundred years later. Amal tries to patch the story together.

The novel is part historical romance, a lyrical love story. But too often it spills over into melodrama. As well as patching together the story of Lady Winterbourne, there are lengthy history lessons about 1900 Egypt, and the history of the country. And also the complicated history of the family. It switches back and forth so quickly it is hard to tell which time zone you are in. If you like historical romances, and books where you must flip to the glossary every other page then search this one out. I made it to page 100, then returned it to the library.

For the record if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m really bored of the journal/diary device. Same old, same old.

J. M. Coetzee—Disgrace VPL Winner

Here’s the blurb from Penguin: “Set in post-apartheid South Africa, J. M. Coetzee’s searing novel tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.

Lurie pursues his relationship with the young Melanie—whom he describes as having hips “as slim as a twelve-year-old’s”—obsessively and narcissistically, ignoring, on one occasion, her wish not to have sex. When Melanie and her father lodge a complaint against him, Lurie is brought before an academic committee where he admits he is guilty of all the charges but refuses to express any repentance for his acts. In the furor of the scandal, jeered at by students, threatened by Melanie’s boyfriend, ridiculed by his ex-wife, Lurie is forced to resign and flees Cape Town for his daughter Lucy’s smallholding in the country. There he struggles to rekindle his relationship with Lucy and to understand the changing relations of blacks and whites in the new South Africa. But when three black strangers appear at their house asking to make a phone call, a harrowing afternoon of violence follows which leaves both of them badly shaken and further estranged from one another. After a brief return to Cape Town, where Lurie discovers his home has also been vandalized, he decides to stay on with his daughter, who is pregnant with the child of one of her attackers. Now thoroughly humiliated, Lurie devotes himself to volunteering at the animal clinic, where he helps put down diseased and unwanted dogs. It is here, Coetzee seems to suggest, that Lurie gains a redeeming sense of compassion absent from his life up to this point.”

As I think I’ve mentioned, my Booker Book Club has been mutinous. “When,” they scream at me, “are we going to read a good book?” I thought J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace might shut them up. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out we scream and yell even louder and longer when we really like the book.

Jean’s Booker Club reads Disgrace

We all agreed that Disgrace has the best literary style of the books we’ve read so far, and compared it to E. M. Forster and Graham Greene. As always, George complained about the historical present tense so we discussed that for a while, when and why it works (Margaret Laurence’s A Jest of God). The present tense suggests that there will be no movement forward in time, that things are incomplete, not yet firm. We admired the complex plotting and excellent writing.

Disgrace is a highly educated but casual narration that often is about the very essence of communication. David is an English professor whose job has been altered by the “great rationalization” and now teaches a course on Romantic poets but otherwise “teaches Communications 101, ‘Communication Skills’, and Communications 201, ‘Advanced Communication Skills’. Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: ‘Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.’ His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.”

David is a failure at writing and communicating. The play he is trying to write is “crap.” He has no relationships that go beyond the surface, including the one with his daughter. But more importantly the English language has failed to handle Africa: “He would not mind hearing Petrus’s story one day. But preferably not reduced to English. More and more he is convinced that English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa. Stretches of English code whole sentences long have thickened, lost their articulations, their articulateness, their articulatedness. Like a dinosaur expiring and settling in the mud, the language has stiffened. Pressed into the mould of English, Petrus’s story would come out arthritic, bygone.”

Nothing in this novel is easy. The novel is very interested in consequences but it isn’t as simple as cause and effect. These characters are caught in the time and place, and the reader can never forget the changed and changing world of South Africa. All of the characters are the products of that situation. There are no simple answers to anything, race, culture, rape, ownership, community, love.

Our group really got screaming about David and whether he learns or changes. Many of the Booker novels are about the movement from contrition to recovery and salvation. George Stanley and Renee were adamant that David does reach salvation, that his soul is saved, through his ability to love the disabled dog. GB, Kim and I thought there was no salvation, that the ending is ambiguous and argued the novel is about survival and acceptance without salvation. It’s a tragedy. The world of the imagination is over.

Summing up, we all agreed the novel is excruciating and exciting. It made us squirm. Kim said she hated that she was feeling sympathetic to David, because Coetzee makes him so real. She gave the novel 8.9. George Stanley 9. Renee 9. GB 8. Jean 9. Charlie 8.5.

Rex Weyler was unable to attend but sent his response: “The best book we’ve read so far.

RE: meta-reading, or not: I found myself pulled into this story & the characters, such that most of the time I remained engaged in the story, not consciously meta-reading. Occasionally, yes, slipping into analysis of story and writing, but usually after I stopped reading. In other words, this author successfully kept me in the story. I actually cared about the characters, who seemed real, and their circumstances, which although contrived, also felt genuine.

Plenty of irony in all their lives and personalities.

I thought David’s girlfriend, Melanie, in the beginning was a bit of an odd character, a little unreal, but never felt that she was unbelievable, just slightly contrived for the purposes of the plot. Her motivations both in sleeping with David and then rejecting him because of her hoodlum boyfriend never quite made complete sense to me.

Nevertheless, I read the book straight through, keenly interested the entire time. I’d give this one a 7-ish sort of rating …good novel, well written, engaging plot and characters.

It seemed to me that Coetzee was being subtle about the politics of South Africa, through the characters at the farm compound and their strange relationships. I thought this was masterful. David seemed lost in the rising African culture, and maybe this reflects the larger social tensions of the S. African society. In any case, it gave me the shudders a few times. Good examination of values throughout the book, through character and action. Well done.”

And from Charlie Demers: “For the record — I loved Disgrace, thought it was a remarkable book even if I was left slightly uneasy with what appeared to be some of its politics (the initial tribunal at the school, with all its emphasis on not being a legal proceeding, and its emphasis on his telling his story, seemed to me to be sort of a weird burlesque of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission)… but I thought the messiness of the novel’s plot, the fact that it didn’t really work as a clear metaphor for anything, but still had these clear themes of living together, cohabitation after disgrace (the disgrace of apartheid, the disgrace at the school, the disgrace in the country)… if I remember properly, his daughter plans to keep the child after the rape (I may be way off)… whatever its traumatic origins, that child will have to live some sort of (totally imperfect) life; so too post-colonial/post-apartheid South Africa?”

Pauline Butling: “Here’s four bits: I re-read and liked Disgrace even more than on first reading. I loved and hated Lurie at the same time, sympathized with his yearning for his lost “high culture” and yet saw how totally irrelevant it was, felt his angst when he couldn’t protect his daughter, yet saw him as pathetic and powerless. Disabled, dead dog = him. Best of all, I like that it was well written. Whew: was beginning to wonder when we’d ever find just that.”

1999 Shena Mackay—From The Guardian

It was a very strong year for fiction. When I was a judge – alongside Boyd Tonkin, Natasha Walter and John Sutherland, with Gerald Kaufman in the chair – several books assumed to be shoo-ins weren’t on the shortlist, which caused dismay, as did the discovery by some authors that their books had not been entered, on the presumption that the judges would call them in. We failed to do so. Sorry. Pressures of time and books arriving late.

Our shortlisted authors were JM Coetzee, Anita Desai, Michael Frayn, Andrew O’Hagan, Ahdaf Soueif and Colm Tóibín. We gave the prize – controversially because he had won in 1983 – to Coetzee for Disgrace. We were vindicated recently when it was shortlisted for the Best of Bookers. John Sutherland was a strong advocate of Salman Rushdie (The Ground Beneath Her Feet) in our year, and he must be delighted that Midnight’s Children has won the Booker of Bookers for the second time.

Our chief dispute arose from John’s gadfly comments in this newspaper. As far as I remember, it was the suggestion that Natasha Walter and I had a feminist agenda which prompted Natasha to write a letter to the Guardian, which I signed. Being a judge gave me much more anxiety than being on the shortlist myself, even with the horrible bookies’ odds and the risk of being depicted as a cartoon racehorse, because as a judge you are responsible for disappointing a lot of people.



  • Jean Baird

    Jean Baird is the co-editor, with George Bowering, of The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning (Random House, 2009), and the author of The Booker Project.

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