Books

The Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists discuss the role fiction plays in a troubled world

David Bezmozgis, Alix Ohlin, Ian Williams, Steven Price, Megan Gail Coles and Michael Crummey are the finalists for Canada's biggest literary prize. The winner will be revealed on Nov. 18, 2019.
The winner of the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced on Nov. 18, 2019. (CBC)

The 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be awarded to one of six authors at a gala in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 18.

The ceremony will air on CBC, CBC Radio One and will be livestreamed on CBC Books.

At a Between the Pages panel discussion hosted by The Next Chapter's Shelagh Rogers in Toronto, the shortlisted authors were asked: What is the role of fiction in a troubled world?

Here's what they had to say.

Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

Immigrant City is a short story collection by David Bezmozgis. (HarperCollins Canada)

In Bezmozgis's short story collection Immigrant City, a wannabe boxer finds work as a security guard in the Toronto suburbs, a father and daughter end up in a strange rendition of his immigrant childhood and a young man unwittingly makes contact with the underworld. 

"This is not the worst the world has been. It has been a lot worse than this. We just happen to be here now. I think the role of fiction probably hasn't changed much in the 20th century. In terms of the role of fiction in a free society — where you're able to say whatever you please and nobody can shut you down — writers need to understand our role in that context.

How do books maintain an importance in our culture — or find an importance that is different or at least on the same level as all the other things?- David Bezmozgis

"With all these other forms of media out there, fiction has never had to compete quite so hard for attention. The question then is, 'How do books maintain an importance in our culture — or find an importance that is different or at least on the same level as all the other things?'" 

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

Megan Gail Coles's debut novel Small Game Hunting At The Local Coward Gun Club is out now. (Playwrights Canada Press, House of Anansi Press)

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, Megan Gail Coles's debut novel, revolves around a cast of flawed characters who are implicated in each other's hopes, dreams and pains as they try to survive harsh economic times in the province. 

Fiction allows me to be a part of a number of different communities all across the country.- Megan Gail Coles

"Fiction allows me to be a part of a number of different communities all across the country. It allows me to speak to people from various different lived experiences about those communities and in support of those communities."

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Michael Crummey's new book is called The Innocents. (Doubleday Canada, Holly Hogan)

In Crummey's novel The Innocents, a young brother and sister live in isolation in Newfoundland, surviving alone on the bits of knowledge their parents left behind. Their loyalty to one another is the reason they are able to persist through storms and illness, but their relationship is tested as they grow older.

Fiction allows us to unplug from our crazy long enough to think about other people's lives and how our lives relate to those other lives.​​​​​- Michael Crummey

"Fiction is one of the few places we have left that encourages a private interior life in our culture. That's a political thing, particularly in the world that we live in. Fiction allows us to unplug from our crazy long enough to think about other people's lives and how our lives relate to those other lives."

Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

Dual Citizens is a novel by Alix Ohlin. (House of Anansi Press)

In Ohlin's novel Dual Citizens, Lark Brossard is a supporting character in the lives of her artistically talented loved ones: her sister Robin is a wild and brilliant pianist, while her sometime lover Lawrence is a famous filmmaker. When Lawrence tells her he doesn't want children, Lark re-examines her life and takes control of her story.

"I came to writing as a reader. As a reader I was able to travel — across a place and time and culture and generations — and enter into other people's lives to hopefully get some better understanding of what it was like to be those people. Fiction is a perfect vehicle for empathy, for compassion and for the understanding of other people's lives. 

Fiction, even though it is made up, is deeply rooted in human experience. It can offer a truth about the world that is important.- Alix Ohlin

"There's a phrase that people use a lot about fiction, that it's the 'lie that tells the truth.' We live in a time when there are a lot of publicly traded lies, a lot of falsity. Fiction, even though it is made up, is deeply rooted in human experience. It can offer a truth about the world that is important."

Lampedusa by Steven Price

Steven Price is the author of Lampedusa. (McClelland & Stewart)

In Price's novel Lampedusa, the last prince of Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi, faces the end of his life in 1950s Sicily. He spends his final days labouring over the manuscript of his novel, The Leopard, which he believes will be his lasting legacy.

Fiction reminds us of the dignity of lives that are different than our own.- Steven Price

"Fiction reminds us of the dignity of lives that are different than our own. The way that it does that is by letting us get inside the head of someone else."

Reproduction by Ian Williams

Ian Williams the author of the novel Reproduction. (CBC, Penguin Random House )

Williams's novel Reproduction is about Felicia and her teenage son Army. After they move into a basement apartment, they bond with the house's owner and his two children. But strange gifts from Army's wealthy, absent father begin to arrive at their doorstep, inviting new tensions into the makeshift family's lives. 

"By writing fiction, we leave behind a record of what it's like to be alive in 2019. One hundred years from now, we can look at the news reports and then we can read the writers and realize everything was more complicated than the news suggested. 

By writing fiction, we leave behind a record of what it's like to be alive in 2019.- Ian Williams

"I think fiction also does something to our language by refreshing it and showing us what's possible through books. It's an old technology but it's a technology that's still ripe for exploration." 

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