Madeleine Thien’s charmed September continued on Monday, as the Montreal-based novelist was named one of six finalists for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a decades-spanning reflection on the ramifications of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize earlier this month.
Surprisingly, this marks the first time Thien, who is originally from Vancouver, is a finalist for the $100,000 prize, despite being one of Canada’s most-acclaimed writers for more than 15 years.
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Catherine Leroux's The Party Wall
Emma Donoghue's The Wonder
Gary Barwin's Yiddish for Pirates
Despite scoring a pair of high-profile nominations, Thien isn’t necessarily the favourite to win; as with the past several years, the Giller jury – which this year includes Canadian writers Lawrence Hill and Kathleen Winter, Canadian journalist and critic Jeet Heer, Scottish author Alan Warner and British novelist Samantha Harvey – has chosen a compelling range of titles, written both by first-time authors and international bestsellers.
Perhaps the most surprising name on the shortlist belongs to Gary Barwin, the Hamilton-based author of more than 20 collections of poetry, prose and books for young readers. His novel Yiddish for Pirates, about an adventure-seeking young seafarer, and narrated by a 500-year-old polyglot parrot, received some stellar reviews when it was published in the spring – writing in The Globe and Mail, reviewer S. Bear Bergman said it contained “some of the freshest and most whimsical English ever contained between covers” – but comedic novels have enjoyed little Giller success since Mordecai Richler won for Barney’s Version in 1997.
Less of a surprise is the inclusion of Denver-based Mona Awad’s debut, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, a novel-in-stories that charts the life of a body-image-obsessed woman named Lizzie from adolescence to adulthood; the book won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award earlier this year and has already established itself as one of the Canadian literary debuts of 2016.
Another debut novelist, Montreal’s Catherine Leroux, is nominated for The Party Wall, another novel-in-stories – this one revolving around the relationships between siblings. The novel was translated by Lazer Lederhendler – a book in translation has yet to win the Giller – and was published by Biblioasis, one of two independent presses with a book on the shortlist.
The other is House of Anansi, which published Zoe Whittall’s novel The Best Kind of People, which explores the fallout in a small New England town after a beloved high school teacher is arrested for sexual assault.
Finally, London, Ont.-based Emma Donoghue, one of the bestselling Canadian authors of recent years, is nominated for her novel The Wonder, in which a nurse investigates a purported miracle in mid-19th century rural Ireland.
"There are always fewer books on the shortlist than you would like to be on the shortlist," said Harvey. "It's always going to be difficult. It's always going to be contentious. That's the process. You're trying to take 161 books down to five, or six in our case. We all had our favourites and the list represents our passions and our consensus at once."
"You go to a restaurant and there are seven great things on the menu -- you want to eat them all, but you know you've got to order one," added Warner. "It's the same – everyone wants more books on it, but that defeats the purpose of lists and prizes."
The winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced on Nov. 7 at a gala ceremony hosted by CBC personality Steve Patterson.
Last year’s prize went to André Alexis for his novel Fifteen Dogs.Report Typo/Error