Michael Redhill has won the Giller Prize, Canada's richest literary award, for his novel Bellevue Square.
Redhill was named winner of the $100,000 honour at a televised Toronto gala Monday night, the first Giller Prize awarded since the death of founder Jack Rabinovitch in August.
Bellevue Square tells the story of a woman who tries to track down her doppelganger following rumours that someone who looks like her hangs out at Bellevue Square, a park in Toronto's Kensington Market.
Redhill seemed shocked as he accepted the prize and gave a tearful speech thanking his supporters as well as the late businessman Rabinovitch.
"I was a little more emotional than I was expecting to be — but life doesn't prepare you for receiving a $100,000 cheque and then addressing people live across the nation, so I think I will probably have no memory of this evening in about 20 minutes, just to protect myself," he said with a laugh in an interview after the awards ceremony.
"Living as a writer, you sometimes surf on credit and goodwill, and this will make me a much better risk for the various people who may have to help me in the future," he said. "But right now, I can row my own boat."
This year's shortlist included first-time nominees as well as past contenders. The four remaining finalists receive $10,000 each.
- Rachel Cusk for her novel Transit
- Ed O'Loughlin for his novel Minds of Winter
- Eden Robinson for her novel Son of a Trickster
- Michelle Winters for her novel I am a Truck
Redhill started out as a literary writer, poet and novelist but branched out in the mystery genre in 2006. He was a Giller finalist in 2001 for Martin Sloane.
Bellevue Square was inspired by the things he learned when he was a mystery novelist and centres on a park in Kensington Market that "is a strange kind of clearing house for humanity," he said.
"It's been 11 years since I published a book under my own name, so it's fun to come out again," said Redhill, who was born in Baltimore, Md., but grew up in Toronto.
"This is more of a literary novel that explores what is a person, what is consciousness, how do we know we are who we think we are and all those kinds of things."
Rabinovitch, a Montrealer who dreamed up the prize with longtime pal Mordecai Richler, established the award in 1994 as a tribute to his wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, a year after her death. His aim was to create a literary prize that honoured her memory while also celebrating excellence in Canadian fiction (both novels and short stories).
"For the price of a dinner in this town, you can buy all the nominated books. So, eat at home and buy the books," Rabinovitch famously recited, as his signature line, at every Giller Prize gala.
The prize has also sparked a so-called "Giller effect:" a significant boost in sales and exposure for both nominees and, especially, the winners.