The Scotiabank Giller Prize, handed out this week at a gala in Toronto, is considered Canada’s most prestigious literary prize.This distinction may once have come from careful marketing, but today, especially with a $50,000 purse, its top billing is genuine.
This year’s short list contained a pleasant mix of newcomers and household names. Michael Ondaatje was the Can lit heavyweight on the list, nominated for The Cat’s Table. The story of a young boy travelling by ship from Ceylon to England in the 1950s, it is one of Ondaatje’s best. His writing always showcases complex characters and sharp style, but the plots can feel over-crafted. This time everything came together seamlessly. Ondaatje was heavily favoured to win.
In the past, it was often well-known writers who made the Giller list. Canadian literary icon Alice Munro has won two separate Gillers. When she was nominated for a third in 2009, even she thought it was too much, and refused to allow her name to stand. Ondaatje himself won for Anil’s Ghost in 2000.
Perhaps in reaction to recent years, the Giller has featured more variety. So it may be no surprise that this year Ondaatje was beat out by a relative newcomer to the literary scene. Esi Edugyan won for her second novel, Half Blood Blues.
The Giller prize jury is certainly not alone in picking this winner. Half Blood Blues was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction prize. It is short listed for the Governor General’s Award to be announced on Nov. 15.
The other shortlisted authors for this year’s Giller were Patrick deWitt for The Sisters Brothers, Lynn Coady for The Antagonist, David Bemozgis for The Free World and Zsuzi Gartner for her short story collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives.
On a local note, the Authors & Artists Christmas Faire is being hosted in Penticton on Nov. 19 at the Penticton Lakeside. Stan Chung, author of Global Citizen, will be reading at 1:30 p.m. Tina Powell, author of Picnic in Pisticci, will be signing books from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and giving a reading at 1:45 p.m. David Korinetz, author of Halfling, will be signing books from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton.