A Giller Prize Reading List

The Scotiabank Giller Prize was established in 1994 by Toronto businessman and philanthropist Jack Rabinovitch (who died this August), in memory of his late wife, literary columnist Doris Giller. In just two decades it has become one of the top literary awards in Canada, with the winner every November hauling in a cool C$100,000 and all kinds of warm feelies. With this year’s winner being announced on Monday, we thought it a good time to make a totally subjective shortlist of our own.

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry (1995)

This highly regarded novel by Indian-born Mistry was the second book to win the Giller. Set in an unnamed Indian city, the story follows four characters from different backgrounds as they try to adjust to the changes sweeping the country in the 1970s and 80s. Besides the Giller win, this novel was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is one of just two (!) books by Canadians to make Oprah’s Book Club. (The other is Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, a Giller nominee the following year. And while we’re on the subject: C’mon, Oprah.)

Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood (1996)

Margaret Atwood, who never really went away, has been back with a bloody vengeance lately. The Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale was a huge success, and now the TV miniseries adaptation of this novel is getting rave reviews. The book is a fictionalized account of an 1843 double murder in Upper Canada, for which one servant was hanged and another controversially sentenced to life imprisonment.

Runaway, Alice Munro (2004)

This collection of short stories was Munro’s second Giller win, following The Love of a Good Woman in 1998, and also won the 2004 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Who says you can’t make money writing books? Runaway deals with the usual Munro stuff, though perhaps with a little more darkness than usual. The book also features a mini-cycle of three stories—”Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence”—which were adapted by Pedro Almodóvar into his 2011 film Julieta.

419, Will Ferguson (2012)

Alberta writer Ferguson may be best known for his humour and travel writing, but he won big for this dark novel about a Calgary schoolteacher who falls victim to an advance-fee scam (aka 419 scams). Following the teacher’s suspicious death, his daughter travels to Nigeria to find those responsible.

Fifteen Dogs, André Alexis (2015)

This strange fable starts with Hermes and Apollo in a Toronto tavern, wondering what would happen if animals had human intelligence. Would advanced thought make the animals as unhappy as people are? After betting on the matter, the two gods grant human consciousness and language to a bunch of dogs staying in a nearby vet clinic. Then things get fun.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien (2016)

The most recent Giller winner also picked up last year’s Governor General’s Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Initially set in Vancouver in the years following the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests, the book reflects on forty years of Chinese history under the Communist party.

 

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