Edmonton’s Lynn Coady was awarded the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize on Tuesday, November 5 for her short story collection Hellgoing, saying that the award announcement was so “shocking and overwhelming” that in order to make her acceptance speech she had to “keep it together just to read from this page so I’m going to hold on to these pages for dear life.”
The Cape Breton native then thanked her supporters and loved ones and her publisher, House of Anansi, which hasn’t won a Giller winner in 13 years. She also thanked businessman Jack Rabinovitch, who founded the prestigious prize 20 years ago in honour of his late wife, Doris Giller. Coady also said that the reception for Hell Going:
…makes me proud not just to be a Canadian writer but to be a Canadian, to live in a country where we treat our writers like movie stars.
Read an excerpt from Hell Going at: www.cbc.ca/books
This year’s jury members — CanLit legend Margaret Atwood, 2011 Giller winner Esi Edugyan and American author Jonathan Lethem — praised the collection as having a “keen and sympathetic wit.”
The book is also a finalist for this year’s $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, which will be awarded Nov. 20 in Toronto.
Coady, who is also an editor and journalist, was also a Giller finalist in 2011 for The Antagonist. Here first novel, Strange Heaven, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 1998.
Her other books include Mean Boy, Play the Monster Blind and Saints of Big Harbour. She said she’s now in a television writing program at the Canadian Film Centre.
Coady beat out titles by Toronto-based Dennis Bock, Toronto native Craig Davidson, Lisa Moore of St. John’s and German-born Canadian Dan Vyleta.
This year’s jury members read 147 titles submitted by 61 publishers.
The Giller awards $50,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English and $5,000 to each of the finalists.
CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi presided over the Giller bash, which was broadcast on CBC-TV and featured a performance from folk duo Whitehorse.
Last year’s winner was Calgary’s Will Ferguson for his novel “419,” making it two years in a row for Alberta writers. Right on!
Reviews for Hell Going
Hellgoing is an intriguing title for a book of short stories. And an appropriate one. The characters in writer Lynn Coady’s collection all go through a version of their own personal hell, even if it’s silly.
In Coady’s first story, “Wireless,” we meet Jan, a 16-year-old girl who is addicted to a kiddie’s TV show Robo-friendz. “No one in her family was allowed to talk to her when Robo-friendz was on. She probably drooled as she watched, as slackly comforted — comfortably absented — as a baby nuzzling breasts.
But Coady’s stories are not about commonalities as such. They are unique. The characters are often oddballs in uncomfortable situations, like Kim the self-abnegating musician working in a copy shop. Somehow, despite the pathos of the characters’ lives, they make us smile because they are so goofily endearing. They may feel like they are on their way to hell but we know they’ll squirm out of it and end up laughing with the rest of us.
Jennifer Hunter’s column appears in the Toronto Star‘s book section every Sunday. She focuses on Canadian fiction and non-fiction from writers across the country. You can reach her at 416-869-4249 by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For several years, Lynn Coady – whose 2011 novel, The Antagonist, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize – hosted a “group therapy” advice column for The Globe and Mail, an experience that may have influenced the stories in Hellgoing. Throughout, the Edmonton-based author presents relationships fraught with moral and emotional complexities.
Though her subject matter remains contemporary and her approach realistic, her characters always seem out of sync with their world and each other. As with the scenarios in her column, the reader is called upon to interpret and make sense of the messes these people have made.
The source of the problem usually lies in characters acting and speaking at cross purposes. This is presented most starkly in “An Otherworld,” which focuses on the S&M relationship between Sean and Erin. A caning, Erin tries to explain, should hurt, but not really hurt. Like a lot of the things Erin says, this leaves Sean puzzled. When Erin talks about her orgasms, he understands she isn’t being literal, but can’t figure out if he is being complimented or is missing the point.
This failure to communicate distinguishes the up-and-down, over-analyzed partnership of Kim and Hart in “Body Condom” (the title introduces the theme of isolation represented within the story by a wetsuit), and the spectacular mutual incomprehension that marks the conclusion of “Dogs in Clothes.” Even something as simple as the flag on a mailbox (in the title story) may be a faulty signifier: “You could never trust the flag.
In fact, there’s not much you can trust in these stories; lovers, family, even the characters’ own feelings (which often shock with a physical abruptness) have the capacity to ambush and betray. A sharp, insightful writer with a tight, jarring style that makes use of fast narrative cuts, Coady deliberately leaves the human scribble tangled. This isn’t out of a desire to play coy, but rather an admission that problems involving relationships don’t have easy resolutions that can be clearly expressed.
Misreadings, miscommunications, and disconnections lead to moments of awkwardness and revelation. To her credit, Coady makes us feel every bit of her characters’ confusion and discomfort in a collection as difficult as it is insightful and rewarding.
See more about and purchase the book at: www.houseofanansi.com/Hellgoing