The Next Chapter

Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author Sean Michaels plays with luck in sophomore novel The Wagers

The Montreal author spoke with Shelagh Rogers about how he wrote the follow-up to his novel Us Conductors.
The Wagers is a novel by Sean Michaels. (Julie Artacho, Random House Canada)
Listen14:49

Sean Michaels's first novel, Us Conductors, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014. At the time, it was considered a surprise win to many, even to Michaels himself who said at the time he felt "stupidly lucky." 

The WagersMichaels's second novel, happens to deal with the idea of luck and long odds. The novel follows a Montreal grocer who falls into a series of events involving magic, gangsters and a globetrotting adventure.

Michaels spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing The Wagers.

Luck of the draw

"Since winning the Giller, I've spent a lot of time in the past five years thinking about prizes and the different kinds of successes, tragedies and miracles people encounter in life. With something like the Giller, it's easy to think of it as just about the worthiness of a novel.

"There are so many books that we can love in a given year — and also that taste is so fickle. It just so happens that in 2014, the particular array of judges who were judging that particular prize happened to fall in love with my book."

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Stats and probabilities

"My starting point for the book was thinking a lot about the mathematical aspect of luck. I was intrigued by probability — the notion that there are people who think they can outsmart chance by calculating what will happen. 

I was intrigued by probability — the notion that there are people who think they can outsmart chance by calculating what will happen.- Sean Michaels

"I started digging into the way that people are using data to make predictions. I went to a conference on hockey analytics in Ottawa. I have to say it was entirely over my head. I didn't want to get too lost in the technicalities but I wanted The Wagers to capture the idea that there are computer scientists and mathematicians who think that they can find statistical models of the world that let them know what's going to happen next."

Lucky in love

"We tend to think of the meaning of life as achieving goals, whether that's winning a big award, being profiled by an important magazine, making a million dollars or finding a soul mate. I wanted to propose a corrective to that.

We tend to think of the meaning of life as achieving goals, whether that's winning a big award, being profiled by an important magazine, making a million dollars or finding a soul mate. I wanted to propose a corrective to that.- Sean Michaels

"The act of loving, for example, is a daily practice. It's not just something that you achieve and then it's in your back pocket. I wanted to ask the reader to think about whether these aforementioned goals should actually be the measuring stick for where we stand in life."

Sean Michaels's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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