Your Listening Guide to the Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist

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The Scotiabank Giller Prize is one of Canada’s most esteemed literary awards, and year after year it continues to have a major impact on our country’s publishing world. A win or even a nomination can have a hugely positive impact for the authors and publishers that receive the acclaim.

The authors of Giller Prize winning titles have seen their careers skyrocket. From Ian Williams who won in 2019 for Reproduction to André Alexis who won in 2015 for Fifteen Dogs and all the way back to 1995 when Rohinton Mistry won for A Fine Balance — no author’s career is ever the same after winning.

A Fine Balance

Rohinton Mistry
Vikas Adam
Unabridged Audiobook

The world is rapidly changing and evolving in light of current events and it can be difficult finding the time to focus on literature and the writers winning awards for their artistic work. COVID-19 has redefined how we look at the world, but let’s not miss this moment to celebrate great works and the positive effect writing and writers can have on our collective psyche. After all, a great title can transport us to fantastic new places.

In fact, David Bergen, one of the finalists for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize would agree. Bergen recently suggested that while a literary prize may seem like a "sideline event" amidst the turmoil the world is currently facing, he believes it's vital to carve out space for this type of celebration — especially in trying times.

Celebrating the voices that capture and elevate our country is more important than ever and it’s always important to give award winning titles the attention they deserve.

“Nowhere is the need for reflections on the human condition more pressing than now,” says Elana Rabinovitch, the Executive Director of the prize. “This year’s shortlist is bursting with stories of belonging, relationships, dislocation, economic ruin and rites of passage. 2020 will go down in history not just as the year of COVID but the year Canadian writers hit their literary stride.”

A photograph of author Souvankham Thammavongsa performing in a recording studio

Additionally, we’re pleased to unveil the The Audlib project. In celebration of the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists, Audible is illustrating the true power of Giller collaboration. Each writer was asked to craft an original work and pass it on to their fellow finalist in an ad-lib style. The stories explore the theme of home and connectivity, and are inspired by the authors’ own nominated works.

As people are spending more time than ever at home, this theme is more appropriate than ever.

Each author wrote and recorded their own section before passing it to their fellow finalists, ultimately culminating in The Audlib Project, which will be available free to all Canadians starting on November 9th during the awards show on CBC.

In anticipation of the announcement, we’re spotlighting three of the shortlist finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and exploring what makes them such standout titles in a year of great Canadian literary achievement.

It’s no surprise that the authors below are finalists in 2020, as their works share the same urgent need to reconcile the ordinary and the astonishing, much as every Canadian must come to terms on a daily basis with the new normal and wonder just how things came to be as they are.

A photograph of author David Bergen in a recording studio

David Bergen – Here the Dark (Bibioasis)

Here the Dark

David Bergen
Michael Braun
Unabridged Audiobook

David Bergen is no stranger to awards or to the Giller Prize. He won in 2005 and was a finalist in 2010. This year’s contender, Here the Dark, is a collection of stories hailed by the Toronto Star as “a dire reality that isn’t far off from the current state of affairs … [it] feels like a caution, warning of the dangers of continued disunity and the growing rift from inequality.”

Bergen’s work is famous for the way it blends and interconnects aspects of the mundane with the unusual, tying the tough-to-pin-down psychological struggles of its characters to their day-to-day worlds. The stories contained in Here the Dark are thoughtful examinations of the everyday, but they are far from ordinary.

A Honduran fishing boat stalls off the coast and the owner must decide how much he’s willing to risk for a client he can’t stand. A woman oppressed by her religious community stumbles upon a rare opportunity to escape — and she must decide whether to stay or to run. These are just some of the characters who populate Bergen’s latest.

Loneliness, longing and moral confusion are on full display in this taut collection that chronicles the geographies of both place and heart.

A photograph of author Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel – The Glass Hotel (HarperCollins)

The Glass Hotel: A Novel

Emily St. John Mandel
Dylan Moore
Unabridged Audiobook

Many know Emily from her prior novel, the dystopian Station Eleven, which pulled her into the limelight in 2014 after it won the Arthur C. Clarke award for science fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award, so her presence on the Giller shortlist was hotly anticipated.

As a Canadian living and working in New York, her work has been recognized on both sides of the border.

The New Yorker raved that “Mandel’s gift is to weave realism out of extremity. She plants her flag where the ordinary and the astonishing meet, where everyday people pause to wonder how, exactly, it came to this. She is our bard of waking up in the wrong timeline.”

A photograph of a writer composing on note paper with a pen

In her new novel, The Glass Hotel, she offers up an entirely new take on tragedy. Weaving a tapestry of guilt, greed, fantasy and the ghosts of our past, this title follows two siblings and a billionaire investor who must negotiate ambition, failure and reconciliation amid the ruins of the 2008 financial collapse and a Madoff-inspired ponzi scheme.

It’s a ghost story that asks its characters — and by extension its audience — to question what it means to really see someone, to appreciate the existence of others and how they fit into our often-selfish worlds.

The Giller jury said that her novel “commands a broad array of characters and a plot of kaleidoscopic intricacy… Mandel turns her gifted attention to the mirages of now, and to the truth that we are haunted, always, by the lives of others.”

A photograph of author Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa – How to Pronounce Knife (McClelland & Stewart)

How to Pronounce Knife: Stories

Souvankham Thammavongsa
James Tang, Kulap Vilaysack
Unabridged Audiobook

Another short story collection on the list, Souvankham Thammavongsa’s latest work establishes the author as an essential voice not only in Canada but also on the stage of world literature.

Featured on “Best Books” lists such as The New York Times, Salon, The Millions and Vogue, and featuring works that previously appeared in Harper's, The Paris Review, Granta and The Atlantic, Thammavongsa offers a unique perspective on the immigrant experience in prose that is equal parts poignant and experimental.

How to Pronounce Knife features a broad cast of characters in pursuit of a place to belong. Meet a boxer who finds a chance at redemption working at a nail salon, a daughter who accidentally becomes an accomplice in her mother’s infatuation with a country singer and many others living restless, emotionally-charged lives.

Her ever-shifting writing style pays homage to influences such as Alice Munro and Flannery O’Connor, while also proving that hers is a unique voice cutting new trails.

The jury cites her stories as “stunning” and “achingly beautiful,” as “vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land.”

A photograph of author Gil Adamson

Gil Adamson — Ridgerunner (House of Anansi)

The Outlander

Gil Adamson
Sabryn Rock
Unabridged Audiobook

Equal parts Western and historical mystery, Ridgerunner is Gil Adamson’s follow-up to her critically acclaimed novel The Outlander, which Quill & Quire called a “graceful” and “stylish” road story.

Her second novel tells the tale of an early twentieth century widower, drifter and thief known as the Ridgerunner who stalks the Rocky Mountains, determined to steal enough of a fortune to change his son’s future.

In our time of shared isolation, a story about a lone outlaw who chooses a life of solitude in the harsh, yet achingly beautiful landscape of Banff, Alberta is a much-needed exploration on being alone and the intense need we all have for love and connection.

A photograph of author Shani Mootoo

Shani Mootoo — Polar Vortex (Book* Hug)

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab

Shani Mootoo
Graham Rowat, Kevin R. Free
Unabridged Audiobook

Born in Ireland, raised in Trinidad, and now residing in Canada, Shani Mootoo is the author of Moving Forward Sideways like a Crab, which was celebrated by the National Post as a “a stunning meditation on how our lives are shaped by both the stories we're told and the stories we tell.”

Her Giller Prize shortlisted novel Polar Vortex, is making similar waves and continues to impress critics and audiences alike. The novel takes place over a single day in the lives of two lesbian lovers, Priya and Alex. It explores acts of betrayal and acts of love with groundedness and tenderness, and treats audiences to vividly-drawn characters those whose outsider status offers them unique perspectives on the world.

Whether you are an avid literary consumer or an occasional grazer, an avid Canadian obsessed with the best selection of audiobooks in Canada or a listener from abroad, we hope this list has served as a satisfying introduction to the Scotiabank Giller Prize and its exciting authors.

Share your thoughts on the prize and its finalists with us on Facebook, and come back to the blog often for more news and literary takes.

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