Giller Prize short list includes deWitt, Edugyan

The release of the Scotiabank Giller Prize short list on Tuesday brought fresh accolades for new writers Esi Edugyan and Patrick deWitt.

The release of the Scotiabank Giller Prize short list on Tuesday brought fresh accolades for new writers Esi Edugyan and Patrick deWitt.

Both were named to a short list of six contenders for the $50,000 award:

  • The Free World by David Bezmozgis.
  • The Antagonist by Lynn Coady.
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.
  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.
  • Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner.
  • The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje.

Half-Blood Blues, the story of a black musician in Nazi Germany, is a second novel for Victoria-based Edugyan. The jury praised her conversational style, saying "any jazz musician would be happy to play the way Edugyan writes."

DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers portrays two cowboy assassins tasked with tracking down a gold prospector. "DeWitt has thrown the western up in the air and brought it down new and strange and ferociously alive," the jury said in its citation.

The same books by deWitt and Edugyan have earned them nominations for the Man Booker Prize and the Writers Trust Award.

Ondaatje, winner of the Man Booker Prize for The English Patient and the Giller for Anil’s Ghost, has the highest profile among the Giller nominees. His The Cat's Table, the story of a ship's journey told from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy, is "beautiful mingling of memory and imagination," the jury said.

Bezmozgis was named to The New Yorker magazine's 2010 top 20 fiction writers under the age of 40, but The Free World, the story of a Russian family adapting to life in the West, is his first novel. The jury called it "a passionate retelling of the most ancient sort of immigrant story," but praised it as "very modern, very hip."

In an interview from Fredericton, Bezmozgis said he was "thrilled" by the honour.

"What it means is a number of things. First of all I spent a great deal of time writing this book — I took anywhere from  six to seven years, so to have it recognized to know it's going to reach readers is wonderful. Also to feel like I am part of a tradition, even more firmly part of a tradition of Canadian literature," he said.  

CBC will broadcast the Giller Prize gala on Nov. 8 on CBC Bold at 9 p.m. ET and on CBC-TV at 11 p.m. The ceremony, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, will also be livestreamed on CBC Books.

Coady of Edmonton looks into the psychology of a hockey enforcer in The Antagonist, and was praised by the jury as "a virtuoso of sympathetic edginess." 

Gartner of Vancouver brings her trademark wit to her collection of short stories Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, a book described by the jury as "the short story form at its savage best."

"It's a complete surprise," Gartner said. "It's satirical short fiction, so now I feel I'm holding up the torch on the list among these well muscled novels for both the short story and for satire."

Howard Norman, one of three judges who chose the finalists, said the jury engaged in a very detailed discussion that centred on finding the best writing. They read 143 novels before selecting the six books for the short list.

"There was no predisposition at all to political correctness of any kind — only insistence on finding the writing that was the most insightful and most original," Norman said.

Many of the stories are set outside of Canada, showing an international outlook among Canadian writers.

"There was displacement of imagination not only from Canada to other parts of the world but also into the past," he said, praising the ability of good writers to move their stories from past to present day.

Andrew O’Hagan, a Glasgow writer who sat on the jury, said it will be difficult to choose a winner as the finalists are all "at the top of their game."

"I was fascinated by the really international nature of the stories and the depth of development in so many Canadian works," he said, adding that the writing was "competitive with the best in the world."

The long list of 17 books included  Extensions by Myrna Dey, which was a Readers’ Choice winner selected by online vote at CBC Books, but it was not chosen for the short list.

The winner will be named Nov. 8 at a gala in Toronto hosted by CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi. CBC Bold, CBC TV and CBC Books will cover the gala.

The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

Over the next few weeks, CBC will have comprehensive coverage of the Giller Prize across all platforms. Exclusive content on CBC Books will include author videos, excerpts from the shortlisted books and a "Guess the Giller" contest (launching Tuesday).