Established in 1968 to honour literary excellence in the Commonwealth, the Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the English-speaking world. While the winner of the Booker Prize receives £50,000 and literary stardom, as the Booker prize website observes, “both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus a dramatic increase in book sales.”
The 2007 shortlist will be announced on September 6th, and the winner will be revealed on October 16th. This timing coincides closely with the Toronto Book Award, for which Redhill's Consolation is also a finalist. The winner of the Toronto Book Award will be announced on September 5th.
Consolation is a historical novel in the tradition of some of Toronto's best literary fiction, including Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion and Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces. It's a story about memory, transience and longing, told largely in the guise of an archaeological quest for valuable photographic plates believed sunk near the long since landfilled original location of Toronto's harbour.
Redhill's use of the lost photographic plates as a fictional device is an especially fitting one in a city that has struggled with its erosions of memory even as it buries its own past as if compelled to do so. As literary scholar Germaine Warkentin observes in a 2005 essay published in the Literary Review of Canada,
A key difficulty in constructing the city's metaphors is the handling of meaning from one generation to the next, or across barriers of birth, class and circumstance. For a large part of its history, Toronto has been in a state of near-amnesia, seeking desperately for its own memory.But after reviewing Toronto writers' efforts to chart the city's past, Warkentin cautions, "nostalgia will not help us to explore that map of the city today." And despite its title, Consolation offers something more than mere nostalgia. It is a measured assessment, a meditation, on Toronto's propensity for banishing and then calling back its past, the killer who cannot help but return to the scene of the crime. It is a thoughtful book, exquisitely written, and well deserving of both nominations.
It is an important book for Toronto, too. If appearing on the Man Booker longlist will help propel Michael Redhill's career even further (Redhill's previous novel, Martin Sloane, was nominated for a variety of awards, including the Giller Prize and the Toronto Book Award; and his ouevre of stories, novels, poetry, and magazine writing/editing is both substantial and excellent), then the nomination will also undoubtedly increase Toronto's visibility as a literary city.
Readers interested in Toronto's photographic history will also wish to explore Sally Gibson's lovely book, Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors, 1880s to 1920s (Cormorant, 2006; also a finalist for this year's Toronto Book Award) and Maureen Jennings' detective novel set in Victorian Toronto, Night's Child (McClelland & Stewart, 2005). Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of Lion (McClelland & Stewart, 1987) perhaps most famously references civic photography in the construction of urban identity.
[This commentary originally appeared at Reading Toronto.]