Carnival, the latest novel by Montreal's Rawi Hage, is among the contenders for the 2012 Writer's Trust Awards, one of Canada's top literary honours.

Hage, who won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his debut novel De Niro's Game, is one of five nominees for the $25,000 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize revealed in Toronto on Wednesday.

He taps his experience as a former taxi driver for Carnival, which offers a portrait of an unnamed city as seen through the eyes of a unique narrator: a cabbie named Fly, whose parents were circus performers.

Rage's rivals for the fiction prize are:

  • Edmonton writer and poet Tim Bowling, nominated for his Civil War-era tale The Tinsmith.
  • B.C. writer Tamas Dobozy, nominated for his short fiction collection Siege 13, about a bloody wartime attack and its terrible legacy decades later.
  • U.S.-based Montrealer Alix Ohlin, nominated for Inside, a modern tale following the lives of four intertwined characters.  
  • Toronto writer Linda Spalding, nominated for her 18th-century set novel The Purchase, centred on a young farmer's struggle with living amongst slave-owners.

Jurors Drew Hayden Taylor, Esi Edugyan and Lynn Coady, all writers themselves, pored through 116 books that were submitted by 45 publishers for consideration for this year's award.

"The three of us got together and talked about what makes a good book for us. And it was a combination of good storytelling, of memorable and interesting characters, of stories that — using that cliché — push the envelope," Hayden Taylor told CBC News.

"Once we read all these books, we went away and it was the stories that stayed with us, the characters that we couldn’t put down, that stayed with us halfway into another book, that we thought ... there’s something special about this book, that has put its fingers into our consciousness, and has made us say 'This is a very good book.'"

Organizers also revealed on Wednesday the shortlisted authors vying for the $10,000 Journey Prize, which honours the best short story by an emerging writer published in a Canadian literary magazine.

This year's finalists are:

  • Simcoe County, Ont.'s Kevin Hardcastle for To Have to Wait, published in The Malahat Review.
  • Halifax writer Andrew Hood for Manning, published in PRISM International.
  • Nova Scotia writer Alex Pugsley for Crisis on Earth-X, published in The Dalhousie Review.

"Fiction has a powerful ability to transport readers to different worlds and reveal our hopes, dreams and fears," Writers' Trust chair Peter Kahnert said in a statement.

"The Writers' Trust is proud to recognize this year's diverse range of nominees and add their names to the growing list of great Canadian writers we have the good fortune to celebrate."

The winners and the recipients of four additional awards, each celebrating a body of work, will be revealed at the Writers' Trust Awards gala in Toronto on Nov. 7.