Monday morning, amidst a first-rate buffet of coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and fresh orange juice at the Four Seasons Hotel, a disheveled group of journalists and bankers gathered to hear the shortlist announced for the 14th annual Scotiabank Giller Prize. Only the second year that the final contenders were culled from an initial longlist of 15 books, this annum the task fell to the jury of staunch decipherers David Bergen, Camilla Gibb and Lorna Goodison. All three affected a slightly bemused expressions when founder Jack Rabinovitch reminded them of the fact in his opening statements, presumably as the memory of tackling so many novels in just under a month physically caught up with them. Cookies and coffee indeed: it’s a miracle they could even read their entries out at the podium.
Harkening back to the tradition of the prize, this year’s finalists are some of the big names in Canadian lit, and backed by the big publishers:
Elizabeth Hay, for Late Nights on Air, and Michael Ondaatje, for Divisadero, were both published by McClelland & Stewart; Daniel Poliquin, for his novel A Secret Between Us, translated by Donald Winkler, was published by Douglas & McIntyre; M.G. Vassanji, up for a possible third win of the prize with his novel The Assassin’s Song, was published by Doubleday Canada; and alphabetically last, Alissa York with her book Effigy, which put out by Random House Canada.
Whether the choices are political, personal, a combination of both, or perhaps even (quelle horreur!) based solely on artistic merit, is, of course, up for debate, but so long as Maggie Atwood is on the board to silence possible whistle-blowers, we may never know for sure.
The Giller itself is worth a respectable $40,000 to the author who is named the winner, without taking into account the effect it has on bolstering sales. Each of the runners-up receive $2,500.
The organizers and investors of the prize were visibly energized by CTV’s commitment to televising the event live on Bravo, before then rebroadcasting it on the main network and Book TV (“again and again,” Susanne Boyce, President of Creative, Content and Channels, said during her address), as last year the award’s main broadcast was watched by a staggering 1.3 million Canadians. It’s a truly impressive number in an age of increasingly diminished television viewers, especially when you ponder the fact that novels are a primarily printed art form, and that authors have a tenuous link to the world of visible celebrity at best.
The winner will be announced November 6th.