The Scotiabank Giller Prize, perhaps Canada’s most recognizable literary prize, announced its finalists for 2012 this week. The award, now in its 19th year, is given to the author of the best Canadian work of fiction or short story collection published or translated into English according to its three-person jury. That all-important jury this year included American satirist Gary Shteyngart, Canadian publisher/writer Anna Porter and well-known Irish author Roddy Doyle (remember The Commitments and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha?).
Shteyngart told the CBC the finalists all “know how to tell a good yarn. I mean, these are all books, that … I was glued to it, page after page after page. Some of these books I read months ago, and they’ve stayed with me entirely.”
The top prize, which includes a not-too-shabby $50,000 cheque (the other finalists receive one/tenth of that), will be announced in Toronto live on CBC-TV on October 30. Even if you don’t care much for literary prizes, the five finalists can be a great way to help you construct your next ‘must read fiction’ list. So who’s in the running this year?
Here are the publishers’ snapshots. Hint number 1: the jury just so happens to like authors from beautiful Montreal. Hint number 2: click on the cover graphic to reveal the library’s catalogue page for the book, and reserve a library copy.
419 , a dark thriller by Calgary’s Will Ferguson: “Step into the world’s most insidious internet scam that begins with a single email: ‘Dear Sir, I am the son of an exiled Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help…’. When Laura’s father gets caught up in one such swindle and pays with his life, she is forced to leave the comfort of North America to make a journey deep into the dangerous back streets and alleyways of the Lagos underworld to confront her father’s killer. A story of love in a time of darkness, of one woman’s search for redemption, and of a young boy who will triumph above it all.”
Whirl Away by St. John’s-based Russell Wangersky: “In his new short story collection, Whirl Away, Russell Wangersky … looks at what happens when people’s personal coping skills go awry. These are people who discover their anchor-chain has broken: characters safe in the world of self-deception or even self delusion, forced to face the fact that their main line of defense has become their greatest weakness. From the caretaker of a prairie amusement park to the lone occupant of a collapsing Newfoundland town, from a travelling sports drink marketer with a pressing need to get off the road to an elevator inspector who finds himself losing his marriage while sensuously burying himself in the tastes and smells of the kitchen, these are people who spin wildly out of control, finding themselves in a new and different world.”
The Imposter Bride by Montrealer Nancy Richler: “When a young, enigmatic woman arrives in post-war Montreal, it is immediately clear that she is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters as she disappears, leaving a new husband and baby daughter, and a host of unanswered questions. Who is she really and what happened to the young woman whose identity she has stolen? Why has she left and where did she go? It is left to the daughter she abandoned to find the answers to these questions as she searches for the mother she may never find or really know.”
Inside by yet another Montrealer, who lives now in the U.S., Alix Ohlin:”When Grace, a highly competent and devoted therapist in Montreal, stumbles across a man in the snowy woods who has failed to hang himself, her instinct to help immediately kicks in. Before long, however, she realizes that her feelings for this charismatic, extremely guarded stranger are far from straightforward. At the same time, her troubled teenage patient, Annie, runs away and soon will reinvent herself in New York as an aspiring and ruthless actress, as unencumbered as humanly possible by any personal attachments. And Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband, a therapist as well, leaves the woman he’s desperately in love with to attend to a struggling native community in the bleak Arctic. We follow these four compelling, complex characters from Montreal and New York to Hollywood and Rwanda, each of them with a consciousness that is utterly distinct and urgently convincing. With a razor-sharp emotional intelligence, Inside poignantly explores the manifold dangers and imperatives of making ourselves available to, and indeed responsible for, those dearest to us.”
Ru by Montrealer Kim Thúy (translated by Sheila Fischman): “A runaway bestseller in Quebec, with foreign rights sold to 15 countries around the world, Kim Thúy’s Governor General’s Literary Award-winning Ru is a lullaby for Vietnam and a love letter to a new homeland. Ru. In Vietnamese it means lullaby; in French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow – of tears, blood, money. Ru is literature at its most crystalline: the flow of a life on the tides of unrest and on to more peaceful waters. In vignettes of exquisite clarity, sharp observation and sly wit, we are carried along on an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec. There, the young girl feels the embrace of a new community, and revels in the chance to be part of the American Dream. As an adult, the waters become rough again: now a mother of two sons, she must learn to shape her love around the younger boy’s autism. Moving seamlessly from past to present, from history to memory and back again, Ru is a book that celebrates life in all its wonder: its moments of beauty and sensuality, brutality and sorrow, comfort and comedy.”
They all sound great, don’t they?