'The Islands' author Dionne Irving. Photo: Myriam Nicodemus
Five Authors Shortlisted for This Year’s $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Dionne Irving and Kevin Chong are among the finalists who "probe what it means to be human, to survive, and to be who we are" / BY Kisha Ferguson / October 11th, 2023
The five writers now vying for this year’s $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize are Sarah Bernstein, Eleanor Catton, Kevin Chong, Dionne Irving and CS Richardson.
The shortlist was announced Wednesday morning by jury chair (and 2019 Giller winner) Ian Williams and author Sharon Bala who, along with three other jury members, had the excruciating job of combing through 145 works of fiction; first longlisting 12 and narrowing those down to five.
According to the jury, these authors not only represent this country’s best literary talent but also “show wholeheartedly that Canadian fiction is as alive, urgent, resilient, diverse, multi-faceted, and relevant as never before.”
Among the final five are Sarah Bernstein, whose prose in the Study for Obedience the jury likened to Samuel Beckett, saying “Bernstein asks the indelible question: What does a culture of subjugation, erasure and dismissal of women produce? In this book, equal parts poisoned and sympathetic, Bernstein’s unnamed protagonist goes about exacting, in shockingly twisted ways, the price of all that the world has withheld from her.”
The Giller jury praised Canadian-born, New Zealand-based author Eleanor Catton as a writer with her finger on the zeitgeist, calling her novel, Birnam Wood, an instant classic. “Catton weaves a tale of unlikely allies: An idealistic crew of guerrilla gardeners and an inscrutable doomsteading billionaire. This is a satire about political and generational divides that pokes gentle fun at the characters’ foibles, exposing the hypocrisy on all sides.”
Vancouver-based writer Kevin Chong earned his spot on the list for The Double Life of Benson Yu, a novel set in a comic-book world about a boy, Benny, and the man he becomes. In the words of the Giller jury, “Chong sucks us into a vortical, troubling question of the past decade, a question played out politically but also in our personal lives: How can we distinguish truth from fiction?”
Exploring themes of immigration, racism and the unsettling legacy of colonialism in the Jamaican diaspora, is Dionne Irving’s The Islands, the only collection of short stories on this year’s shortlist. Describing it as a mix of heartbreak and humour, the jury wrote: “Irving presents her many disparate characters, even the unlikeable ones, in an intimate, lucid style that keeps the Jamaican experience vivid and personal. These stories touch us and stay with us.”
Last on the shortlist is Toronto author and award-winning book designer CS Richardson’s All the Colour in the World, the story of a young boy named Henry who discovers a passion for art and the journey of the soul he takes across decades and continents. The Giller judges noted that the work is “as much poetry and mosaic as it is a novel, with not a word out of place, this book is a triumph – a masterclass in how to paint an entire world.”
This year’s winner will be announced at a gala ceremony hosted by comedian and author Rick Mercer on November 13, which will be broadcast across all CBC TV, Radio and online platforms.
The shortlisted authors are also going on tour. Between the Pages: An Evening with the Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalists takes place in Vancouver (October 16), Ottawa (October 18), Halifax (November 2) and Toronto (November 7). For more information and tickets visit scotiabankgillerprize.ca/btp.