Giller Prize Shortlist Reading

The reading event for the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlisted finalists, on Saturday, October 29th, was entirely sold out. With the Fleck Theatre filled to capacity, it was immediately clear that this was one of the most highly anticipated events of the International Festival of Authors’ schedule. Carol Off of the CBC’s As It Happens hosted, providing some needed levity to the proceedings. The event kicked off with the presentation of the Harbourfront Prize to Seth, a graphic novelist. Off contributed an anecdote about her husband, Linden MacIntyre, losing his own Giller Prize cheque by crumpling it in a ball at the bottom of his pocket, and she thus ensured that Seth maintained a firm grasp of his $10,000 prize the entire time.

David Bezmozgis, whose novel The Free World was also nominated for a Governor’s General Award, read first; he selected a different passage this time around, for which reveiwers present at both events were grateful. He again gave an excellent reading, well-paced, entertaining, and thoughtful.

Lynn Coady read from The Antagonist next. Her novel is epistolary in form, about a young man named Rank whose former friend writes a novel based on his life, which forces Rank to defend himself via letter and in so doing confront the things about his life that he had previously ignored. It’s a fascinating premise, and the tone hits that even note of both funny and weird.

Patrick deWitt, who was also nominated for a GG but had not attended that event, read from his novel The Sisters Brothers. This selection was more engaging than the previous reading, with the added comic relief of an outlaw encountering a toothbrush for the first time. DeWitt’s reading was quite deadpan, and he would not, shall we say, look out of place around Kensington Market.

Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues was, again, also nominated for a GG, and she also had been unable to attend, so it was a delight to have her present. Although having her read her own work was certainly an improvement, I had trouble following both readings; her novel seems less amenable to having bits and pieces read from it.

Zsuzsi Gartner, made instantly likable by her bright red shoes, was the only author nominated for a book of short stories. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives is a slightly futuristic and highly comic collection, set in a mostly-recognizable Vancouver. Her reading was a tad fast, but it suited the breakneck pace of the writing, and the effect clearly did not suffer: the audience was cackling with delight throughout almost the entire reading.

Finally, Michael Ondaatje read from The Cat’s Table. While the reading order appears to have been decided alphabetically, it was nonetheless convenient to have this powerhouse at the end; the five preceding authors were all significantly younger. He did not play along with Off’s humorous comments the way the other authors did, preferring to give his reading the gravitas it deserved and accomplished.

The winner of the Giller, a $50,000 prize, will be announced on November 8.