Veteran investigative reporter Linden MacIntyre scored a surprise upset last night by winning the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize for excellence in Canadian literature.
Mr. MacIntyre's novel about corruption in the Catholic church, The Bishop's Man, beat four highly regarded literary titles to take the main prize.
Attributing his success to "an accident of consensus," Mr. MacIntyre paid tribute to his fellow finalists and urged a glamorous crowd at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel to "buy their books."
He also acknowledged his colleagues at the CBC and other struggling media outlets. "I just want to involve them in this," he said. Mr. MacIntyre also paid tribute to the people of Cape Breton, among whom the novel is set, "and last but not least, the priests and nuns who are struggling to do their jobs in spite of the failures of their leadership."
Mr. MacIntyre's The Bishop's Man chronicles the emerging crisis of conscience in a worldly priest who has been assigned to keep a lid on church-related sex scandals that are destroying the lives of the faithful in rural Cape Breton. Super topical but not even slightly sensational, it is "a brave novel, conceived and written with impressive delicacy and understanding," according to the Giller jury.
Perhaps the best known of all the finalists, Mr. MacIntyre, 66, is a veteran journalist who first came to national prominence for his work with The Journal, CBC's groundbreaking newsmagazine, and currently co-hosts The Fifth Estate, the network's investigative journalism program. He is the winner of nine Gemini Awards for broadcast journalism and two national non-fiction prizes for his most recent book, a boyhood memoir called Causeway: A Passage from Innocence. The Bishop's Man is his second novel.
Mr. MacIntyre said last night he is planning to write a third novel to complete the trilogy. "I'm hoping these characters will grow older. I'm hoping they will deal with some of the problems of age, which I know something about."
As for the prize money, he said he hopes to share it "with some of the people who are important to me."
The lucky 500 guests invited to attend the ceremony feasted on tuna carpaccio with a fresh herb salad followed by slow-roasted beef tenderloin with heirloom squash, Brussels sprouts and pancetta.
Among them were former Ontario premiers Ernie Eves, Bob Rae and David Peterson, former Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, publisher Anna Porter, architect Jack Diamond, impresario David Mirvish, singer Murray McLaughlin, actor Graham Greene, former Toronto mayor David Crombie, Royal Ontario Museum director William Thorsell, judge Harriet Sachs and her husband, lawyer Clayton Ruby. Leading the literary brigade, author Margaret Atwood, who made the long list but not the short list, arrived with her husband, author Graeme Gibson.
Founded by retired property developer Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife Doris Giller, a literary editor, the slickly produced and heavily promoted event has become almost notorious for its ability to make and break fortunes in the Canadian publishing industry. Nomination to the short list signals good sales, while winners are virtually guaranteed to become best-sellers in crucial pre-Christmas season.
This year's jury was the most international in the 16-year history of Canada's premier literary prize, which is worth $50,000 to the winner and $5,000 to each of the runners-up. In addition to Canadian novelist Alistair MacLeod, it includes U.S. novelist Russell Banks and British biographer Victoria Glendinning.
Together each of them read 96 books submitted for consideration by 39 publishing houses from every region of the country - a cornucopia that inspired Ms. Glendinning earlier this year to advise all novelists seeking publication to "be Canadian."
The decision-making process was cordial but not easy, according to Ms. Glendinning, former chair of the British Man Booker Prize jury. "We had a good serious conversation about each book in turn," she said. "It was serious and calm. Nobody threw a wobbly, and the final decision was totally consensual. There was no compromise."
This year's Giller season got off to what many considered to be a sad start when multiple winner Alice Munro withdrew her latest collection of short stories from contention to make way for younger writers. But the young set lost no time in filling the gap, with Annabel Lyon leading the way. After three nominations from three major juries for The Golden Mean, her first novel began challenging Dan Brown on Canadian best-seller lists even before any of the awards were presented.
The other short-listed nominees were Fall by Colin McAdam; The Disappeared by Kim Echlin; and The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels.
Another frisson swept the Canadian literary world when this year's Giller jury excluded Ms. Atwood's controversial new novel, The Year of the Flood, from the list of five finalists.