Montreal author Heather O'Neill is one of five finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, becoming the first writer shortlisted for Canada's most prestigious literary prize in consecutive years.
The nominees for the $100,000 prize – a welcome mix of short fiction, work-in-translation and books from the country's small-press community – were announced at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Toronto on Monday.
The jury praised O'Neill's short story collection, Daydreams of Angels, as "a work of acute charm and radically deft imagination." In addition to her novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, which was a finalist for the prize last year, she is the author of Lullabies for Little Criminals, which won CBC's Canada Reads competition in 2007.
Toronto's André Alexis, whose debut novel Childhood was a finalist for the prize in 1998, returns to the shortlist with Fifteen Dogs, in which a pack of dogs are gifted human consciousness by a pair of meddlesome Greek gods. The novel, said the jury, is "a wonderful and original piece of writing that challenges the reader to examine their own existence and recall the age-old question, what's the meaning of life?" The novel is published by Coach House Books, the historic Toronto indie press celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This marks their first-ever spot on the shortlist.
Another small press, Windsor-based Biblioasis, landed two books on the shortlist for the first time in its 11-year history: Vancouver's Anakana Schofield, who won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award for her debut, Malarky, was recognized for her "stylish and provocative" second novel, Martin John, about a mentally disturbed man living in London, while Montreal writer Samuel Archibald is nominated for his short-story collection Arvida (translated from the French by Donald Winkler), which the jury praised as "wise and funny and impeccably crafted." Arvida, which was published in Quebec in 2011, where it won several awards, is the first book in translation on the shortlist since Kim Thúy's Ru in 2012.
Finally, Rachel Cusk – a writer many people didn't realize was Canadian until the long-list was announced last month (she lives in England) – is nominated for her novel Outline, which the jury called "compulsively readable and dazzlingly intelligent" and "a novel of breathtaking skill and originality."
The shortlist was chosen by a jury composed of Canadian writers Alison Pick, Cecil Foster and Alexander MacLeod, as well as the British author Helen Oyeyemi and Ireland's John Boyne, who is serving as jury chair.
"We just loved these [books] and we thought each of these could be a potential winner," said Boyne, who along with the rest of the jury read 168 books submitted by 63 different publishers from across the country. "I came into the process wondering what Canadian contemporary literature was going to be, and thinking I was going to come out of it saying, 'Well, it's about this or it's about this.' And it's not. Canadian literature is the same as international literature. It embraces all subject matter, it embraces all themes – any of these books could be written by a Norwegian writer or an Irish writer or a Dutch writer. It's a universal language, and I just feel really pleased with the five that we have."
The announcement was scheduled to take place at the Art Gallery of Ontario, but a reported gas leak in the neighbourhood prompted the last-minute change of venue; publishers, editors, literary agents, authors and members of the media headed to a small gallery across the street to learn the finalists, leading founder Jack Rabinovitch to joke that "it's an explosive list."
The winner will be announced on Nov. 10 at a gala ceremony in Toronto hosted by Rick Mercer, who quipped "the gas leak was called in by the Man Booker Prize."