Linden MacIntyre wins Giller Prize

Linden MacIntyre, co-host of CBC's The Fifth Estate, has won the Giller Prize for his book The Bishop's Man, which deals with the sensitive topic of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Linden MacIntyre, co-host of CBC's The Fifth Estate, has won the Giller Prize for his book The Bishop's Man, which deals with the sensitive topic of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.

The winner of the major literary award, with a $50,000 cash prize, was announced at a gala in Toronto on Tuesday by Jack Rabinovitch, founder of the award.

"It's just a huge honour to be here," MacIntyre said, adding a tribute to the people of Antigonish, N.S., and the priests struggling to work within the Catholic Church today when trust has been shattered by abuse.

"I thought it was time for someone to take a deep look at the impact of sexual abuse on a lot of people, not the least of which are the priests who have to continue to represent this church, in spite of the bad behaviour and deviance of other priests," he said in describing the inspiration for his book.

The Bishop's Man is about "a priest who goes into the business idealistically, who realizes that priests also have feet of clay, and it leads him to a personal crisis," MacIntyre said.

Father Duncan, the first-person narrator, has been his bishop's dutiful enforcer, employed to check the excesses of priests and to suppress the evidence, but he is forced to examine his own past under the strain of suspicion, obsession and guilt. The book is set in Antigonish, a place that MacIntyre calls one of most religious communities in Canada.

The community was shaken this fall when Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey was charged with possessing and importing child pornography. Lahey resigned just before the charges against him became public.

The prize jury called MacIntyre's book "a brave novel, conceived and written with impressive delicacy and understanding." 

MacIntyre said he was raised as a Catholic but slowly became agnostic. Everyone in his family is more faithful and he was worried as he wrote the book that it might offend them.

"When they read the book, they had to admit it is not an anti-Catholic book. It’s not an anti-priest book, but it’s about moral and ethical problems that we all have to deal with," he said.

The Bishop's Man is MacIntyre's second novel. He won in a field that included the hotly anticipated second book by Anne Michaels, author of Fugitive Pieces, and The Golden Mean, which also earned nominations for the Writers' Trust and Governor-General's Literary Awards.

Established by Toronto businessman Rabinovitch to honour the memory of his wife, the literary journalist Doris Giller, the annual prize is one of Canada's most prestigious and lucrative literary awards. It celebrates the best Canadian novel or book of short fiction published in the past year and results in a spike of sales for the winner.

The other finalists were:

  • The Winter Vault, by Michaels, which tells a love story set against the displacement caused by the construction of Egypt's Aswan Dam and Canada's St. Lawrence Seaway.
  • Toronto writer and teacher Kim Echlin, nominated for her third novel, The Disappeared, about a young Canadian woman who follows her exiled Cambodian lover to his homeland as he searches for his family amid the killing fields.
  • New Westminster, B.C.-based short story author Annabel Lyon, for her novel debut The Golden Mean, which shines a light on history in its exploration of the story of Aristotle and his one-time pupil, Alexander the Great.
  • Montrealer Colin McAdam, nominated for his second novel, Fall, a boarding school tale about two roommates — one outgoing and popular, the other a loner — enamoured of a beautiful schoolmate who then, mysteriously, disappears.

This year's jury included Britain's Victoria Glendinning, Canadian writer Alistair McLeod and American writer Russell Banks. Each finalist receives $5,000.