David Bergen. What makes David Bergen such a favourite among many Giller jury panels? It seems that each time Bergen is eligible to be on the Giller Long-and-Shortlists he is found there. Indeed, this is now his 4th trip onto the Giller lists? He won the prize in 2005 for A Time in Between (a book that sits on my shelf still unread), he appeared again on the Shortlist in 2010 for The Matter with Morris and was again Longlisted in 2016 for Stranger.
Historically, Bergen’s appeal has not quite reached the Shadow Giller, and this year’s entry is no different. Kevin from Canada talked about the disconnect between the author and the Shadow Giller and shares this thoughts here when Bergen was shortlisted in 2010. I cared not a bit for his Longlisted Stranger in 2016, and was relieved to see it not make the Shortlist that year. For Here the Dark, Lindy was shocked to find it on the Longlist and even more so to find it on the Shortlist. However, both Lindy and Naomi point to the novella, the titular story, as being the most promising aspect of this collection. Lindy says, “If this collection of stories hadn’t been on the Giller longlist, I would have abandoned it unfinished. I would therefore have missed the best part, the novella at the end, which is the title story. I remain mystified as to its presence among the other Giller prize contenders.” Naomi wrote that it was “Thoughtful and compelling, I loved this story.”
Therefore, I went into reading this collection with trepidation. However, I did go into it with open expectation and tried to not let previous reviews colour my reading. I’ve since completed two of the short stories and have no intention of completing the remaining ones. I found these two stories to be filled with toxic masculinity. For this collection to appear on a list of finalists in contention for a $100,000 literary prize is deeply disconcerting. I cannot fathom how this is celebrated, especially now as too recently we find many female authors being attacked online for what readers feel to be so distasteful they threaten the lives of these authors. Serious and destructive campaigns of hate and vitriol have been launched, even leading one author to cancel any public appearances planned to read from and promote the book due to vicious death threats she received. Yet toxic masculinity appears to get a pass. Especially if written by a man.
This toxicity brought to mind another Shortlisted Giller title in 2009. Fall by Colin McAdam was such a disgusting piece of work to me (my rating of 1-star was too forgiving), I was deeply disturbed by its content and enraged to see it celebrated on a literary prize list. I read this book when I was taking a course on Masculinity as a part of my Masters degree. This hit on so very many of the points we were reading about toxic masculinity that I literally flung the book at my professor telling him to read this, it truly hammers home everything we had been learning on that topic.
To see another book and one published in 2020, containing content like this pass through onto a Shortlist is deeply upsetting. Clearly, this kind of content is deemed acceptable for literary praise, granted it not be written by a woman.
I may read the novella, Here the Dark, based on my fellow Shadow Juror’s opinions, but I’m not racing to it at this moment in time.
Suffice to say, this collection will sit at the very bottom of my rankings for these Giller Shortlisted titles.
For shame, I bought this book too. It will immediately go into the bin for Goodwill. I want it out of my house.