Here’s everything you need to know about the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists


Five titles have been shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The $100,000 prize is the richest Canadian literary award and annually recognizes the country’s best fiction. 

The winner will be revealed on Monday, Nov. 9.

The ceremony will air on CBC, CBC Radio One, CBC Listen, CBC Books, CBC Gem, YouTube and Facebook. It will be hosted by actor Eric McCormack and will feature musical guest Diana Krall. You can get all the broadcast details here.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 2020 finalists.

Ridgerunner is a novel by Canadian author Gil Adamson. (Jean-Luc Bertini, House of Anansi)

Ridgerunner is a novel about William Moreland, the notorious thief known as Ridgerunner, as he moves through the Rocky Mountains, determined to secure financial stability for his son. His son, Jack Boulton, is trapped in a life not of his own making. Semi-orphaned and under the care of a nun, Sister Beatrice, Jack has found himself in a secluded cabin in Alberta. Little does he know, his father is coming for him.

Adamson is a writer and poet. Her first novel, The Outlander, won the First Novel Award and was a Canada Reads finalist in 2009, when it was championed by Nicholas Campbell. She has published several volumes of poetry, including Primitive and Ashland

From the book: William Moreland kept moving south. If the moon was bright he walked all night, wading through dry prairie grass. He was alone and carried his meagre belongings on his back. It was November and snow clung to the hollows and shadows, but that snow was old, dry, delicate as meringue. He had come down the leeward side of the Rockies and had descended into the rolling grassland that runs from Alberta all the way into Montana. Having left the only real home he had ever known, he was heading for the border.

Cold as the days were, the sun was intense. Every noon he boiled in his coat and every night he lay shivering on the frigid ground and whined like a dog. After four days and nights, his feet were very bad. He suspected they were bloody by now but he couldn’t bring himself to pull off the boots and look.

Giller Prize jury citation: “The long-awaited sequel to Gil Adamson’s hit The Outlander moves the action forward a decade, returning the 13-year-old son of the original protagonists to a forested land into which prisoners of the first world war are now hewing roads. The proximity of this new type of outlaw presents an existential threat to young Jack, who takes refuge in his parents’ abandoned shack with a price on his head after escaping the toxic hypocrisies of ‘civilisation’.

Adamson evokes a mythic landscape to frame the question: how is it possible to live a good life, when obedience to man-made laws is so at odds with love, loyalty and respect for the natural world?– 2020 Giller Prize jury

“Drawing richly on both the Western and on gothic fiction, Adamson evokes a mythic landscape to frame the question: how is it possible to live a good life, when obedience to man-made laws is so at odds with love, loyalty and respect for the natural world?”

Here and Now Toronto6:49Author Gil Adamson on Ridgerunner, her follow-up book to her debut novel, The Outlander

The Amazon first novel award, a Canada Reads finalist, a Globe & Mail book of the year… that’s just a fraction of the praise heaped upon Gil Adamson’s debut novel The Outlander. Great news for fans of that backwoods adventure thriller, the long-awaited follow-up has arrived. Ridgerunner has just been published by House of Anansi press and Gil Adamson joined our Gill Deacon for Here and Now’s Tuesday afternoon book club. 6:49

Here the Dark is a novel by David Bergen. (David Bergen, Biblioasis)

In Here the DarkDavid Bergen delivers short stories that interweave across space, exploring faith, loss and complex moral ambiguities. From Danang, Vietnam, to Honduras and the Canadian Prairies, the book collects narratives about place and heart. Here the Dark includes the story that won the 1999 CBC Short Story PrizeHow Can n Men Share a Bottle of Vodka?

Bergen is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. In 2005, his novel The Time in Between won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His other books include The Matter with Morris, and Stranger in 2016. His novel The Age of Hope was defended by Ron MacLean on Canada Reads in 2013.

From the book: The deacons were most fearful of books, specifically fiction, and if they had asked Lily, she would have agreed, for novels set forth her imagination and took her to places she had never experienced, and they offered characters and descriptions of characters, but of course it was Lily who painted the final image of those characters. The possibilities were endless. Lily twisted the words and gave them new meaning and she twisted the descriptions of characters and she embellished their lives and the meaning that might be made of those lives. For example, she read that the young man who kills the old woman with the axe was “well-built with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair.” But in her mind he was small and blond and dirty and not good-looking. He was Russian, and if he was Russian he must be blond, for her own descendants were Russian and blond, and her own descendants were stocky and they had rough faces and odd physical deformities. Like Frantz Gerbrandt, Johan’s older brother, who was ugly, and who was, according to legend, wild and untamable. And so she created images that weren’t at all faithful to the intent of the author. Did that matter? Not at all.

Giller Prize jury citation: “A dying woman asks an aging rancher to become her last lover. A fishing boat sputters to a halt off the coast of Honduras, compelling its owner to decide the fate of his repellent client. A young woman in a puritanical religious community glimpses the coloured world outside, and must choose whether to close her eyes, or to run. Sexual loneliness and moral confusion pull at the delicately wrought characters in David Bergen’s latest work, a story collection of masterly skill and tension.

Sexual loneliness and moral confusion pull at the delicately wrought characters in David Bergen’s latest work, a story collection of masterly skill and tension.– 2020 Giller Prize jury

“His third appearance on the Giller shortlist – including the 2005 winner, The Time in Between – affirms Bergen among Canada’s most powerful writers. His pages light up; all around falls into darkness.”

The Next Chapter4:16David Bergen takes The Next Chapter’s version of the Proust Questionnaire

Winnipeg author David Bergen is on the shortlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his short story collection Here the Dark. This segment originally aired in 2014. 4:16

Polar Vortex is a novel by Shani Mootoo. (Ramesh Pooran, Book*hug Press)

Abandoning the city for the picturesque countryside, Priya and Alexandra attempt to give themselves a new lease on life in the novel Polar Vortex. That is, until Priya reveals that she is running from a fraught relationship with a friend who kept pursuing her: Prakash. After Priya feels safe enough to once again establish an online presence, Prakash communicates with her. Inexplicably, Priya asks Prakash to visit them.

Mootoo is a writer and visual artist who has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her debut novel was 1997’s Cereus Blooms at Night.

From the book: When finally we heard the front door open, he swivelled to face Priya as she entered the house but remained planted where he was, and from him erupted ebullient laughter. He outstretched his arms and, addressing both of us, exclaimed, “Look at her. Just look at you. Long time no see.” Still he stayed where he was. I gathered he wanted to share the reunion with me, so I leaned against the stove on my side of the counter and watched. Priya didn’t take off her jacket and boots, but came through the house directly to him. The warmth of his greeting was touching — he clearly wanted to hold on to her longer than she wanted. Priya was less effusive. She seemed less delighted than I’d imagined she’d be. I hoped this was not for my benefit.

Giller Prize jury citation: “A keen meditation on the complexities of identity and desire, Polar Vortex is the unsettling examination of a failing marriage. In a small, southern Ontario town, Priya impulsively invites an old suitor, Prakesh, to spend the night and his arrival triggers the fault lines in her relationship with Alexandra. 

A keen meditation on the complexities of identity and desire, Polar Vortex is the unsettling examination of a failing marriage.– 2020 Giller Prize jury

“Conflicting wants and untold truths drag the past into the present. Memories cascade and clash as Mootoo masterfully dismantles the stories the narrators tell themselves in language as unsparing as winter.”

The Next Chapter18:02Shani Mootoo on Polar Vortex

Shani Mootoo on her new novel Polar Vortex, about the secrets, lies and half-truths at the heart of a love triangle. 18:02

The Glass Hotel is a novel by Emily St. John Mandel. (HarperCollins, Sarah Shatz)

The Glass Hotel interweaves several narratives together as it tells a story of financial corruption, greed and a massive Ponzi scheme. Vincent is a bartender in a prestigious hotel on Vancouver Island. When the owner — Jonathan Alkaitis — passes Vincent his card, it becomes the beginning of their story together. Meanwhile, a hooded figure scrawls a cryptic note on a wall in the hotel, and a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis — Leon Prevant — sees the note and is shaken. Thirteen years later, Vincent disappears from a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Inspired by the Bernie Madoff financial fraud scandal, the novel is a character study of people who profit and the lives that are compromised as a result. 

Mandel is a New York-based Canadian writer. Her fourth novel, Station Eleven, was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the 2015 Toronto Book Award. 

From the book: We had crossed a line, that much was obvious, but it was difficult to say later exactly where that line had been. Or perhaps we’d all had different lines, or crossed the same line at different times. Simone, the new receptionist, didn’t even know the line was there until the day before Alkaitis was arrested, which is to say the day of the 2008 holiday party, when Enrico came around to our desks in the late morning and told us that Alkaitis wanted us assembled on the 17th floor conference room at one o’clock. This had never happened before. The Arrangement was something we did, not something we talked about.

Giller Prize jury citation: “A boldly lyrical tale echoing the deceit and ruin of the 2008 financial crisis, The Glass Hotel brings together two restless siblings and a multi-billion-dollar investor as they each negotiate ambition, secrets, and loss within the kingdom of money. Bridging the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the shops and towers of Manhattan, and the netherworld of open waters, the novel commands a broad array of characters and a plot of kaleidoscopic intricacy. 

Emily St. John Mandel turns her gifted attention to the mirages of now, and to the truth that we are haunted, always, by the lives of others.– 2020 Giller Prize jury

“Here, in her eagerly anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel turns her gifted attention to the mirages of now, and to the truth that we are haunted, always, by the lives of others.”

The Next Chapter16:03Emily St John Mandel on The Glass Hotel

Emily St John Mandel on The Glass Hotel, her follow-up to her breakout novel Station Eleven. 16:03

How to Pronounce Knife is a novel by Souvankham Thammavongsa. (Sarah Bodri, McClelland & Stewart)

How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of idiosyncratic and diverse stories, from a young man painting nails in a salon, to a housewife learning English from soap-operas. Capturing the daily lives of immigrants, Souvankham Thammavongsa captures their hopes, disappointments, trauma and acts of defiance.

Thammavongsa is a writer and poet. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper’s, Granta, The Paris Review and NOON. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019’s ClusterCBC Books named Thammavongsa a writer to watch in 2020. 

From the book: I remember that morning because I woke up to such dark. It was my mother who woke me. She came into my room and said I could help earn a little extra money now. She’d gotten me a job with her out at the hog farm.

She was dressed in dark-blue jogging clothes. She threw a matching pair at me and told me to get dressed. Then, when I was standing on the front steps, waiting for her to lock up, she handed me two soup cans with the labels peeled off. They were filled with uncooked rice. I never thought to ask what this all was for, I just went along with it, still groggy from sleep.

My mother drove us — it was just me and her — out to the hog farm. Driving was something she liked to do. She got her licence not long ago. She had failed the test four times, but she kept going back until she passed.

Giller Prize jury citation: “How to Pronounce Knife is a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose. The emotional expanse chronicled in this collection is truly remarkable. These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land.

These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land.– 2020 Giller Prize jury

“Thammavongsa’s fiction cuts to the core of the immigrant reality like a knife – however you pronounce it.”



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