Edmonton author Lynn Coady won the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for the year's best book of Canadian fiction, besting a varied shortlist made up of familiar names, a past nominee, and an exciting newcomer. Her winning short story collection, Hellgoing, is the follow up to her novel The Antagonist, which was a Giller finalist in 2011.
Accepting the award, Ms. Coady was visibly moved. "I don't like to cry in public," she said. "So this is very odd for me."
Thanking her publisher, the Canadian independent stalwart House of Anansi Press, Ms. Coady said that she was proud to be a part of the "wonderful, historic publishing family that is Anansi."
Anansi president and publisher Sarah MacLachlan was thrilled at the win. The publisher had two nominated titles, including Lisa Moore's Caught. It was the house's 13th time as a finalist for the prize, yet their first win.
Ms. MacLachlan said the company would order a 50,000-copy reprint immediately.
In her victory speech, Ms. Coady also celebrated the Giller Prize and its popularizing effect, noting that it made her "proud not just to be a Canadian writer, but to be a Canadian – to live in a country where we treat our writers like movie stars."
Ms. Coady, the author of five previous books, is one of the most respected younger writers in Canada, and the Giller Prize win will serve only to further establish her reputation. In his Globe review of Hellgoing, critic Jeet Heer praised Ms. Coady's stories, and located within them a connection to a particular spiritual background: "One of the hallmarks of Lynn Coady's work is her shrewd examination of the underexplored byways of human psychology, including the twisty road that connects a religious upbringing with outré erotic experimentation."
Ms. Coady, he added, "is a writer who increasingly commands attention and respect."
Revisiting the Giller shortlist in The Globe last week, Sandra Martin admired Ms. Coady's skill: "A deceptively quiet writer, Coady's power comes from her screen-shifting narrative style and her propensity to turn into a literary dominatrix, pummelling and pressuring her characters in stories that evoke the horrors of high school, the self-loathing of anorexia, alcoholism and obesity, and the shame and despair of teenage pregnancy – all with spine-grabbing honesty."
Hellgoing was the only story collection featured on the shortlist. Ms. Coady prevailed over four strong contenders, including three-time nominee Ms. Moore, the gritty yet revered Craig Davidson, relative (though very talented) newcomer Dan Vyleta and the well-established Dennis Bock. Within the industry, Ms. Moore had widely been seen as most likely to take the prize. Each of the runners up receives $5,000.
The prize ceremony, which was broadcast on CBC-TV, arrives at the height of a fascinating season for literature in Canada, one that has seen the release of major novels by prominent figures in CanLit, including Margaret Atwood and Joseph Boyden, spark wide public interest. Ms. Atwood, along with American novelist Jonathan Lethem and past Giller winner Esi Edugyan, served as a juror for this year's Giller, so her novel MaddAddam was not eligible for the prize.
This year's celebration was especially significant as it marked the prize's 20th anniversary. Founded by Jack Rabinovitch in 1994 in honour of his late wife, Doris Giller, a literary journalist, the Giller Prize has become the most influential force in Canadian fiction.
Winning the prize ensures bestseller status, though not necessarily lasting influence. While the list of chosen books contains many contemporary classics – Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version, Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, two collections by Alice Munro – it also has its share of titles that have slipped from memory since their moment in the spotlight. Only time will tell to which group Ms. Coady's collection belongs.