Author Eden Robinson is pictured in Toronto as she promotes her new book “Son of a Trickster,” on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Robinson is among the authors in contention for this year’s Giller prize. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Rachel Cusk, Edin Robinson among finalists for Scotiabank Giller Prize

TORONTO — The five finalists for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize all take literary chances, says the jury responsible for selecting the year’s best new fiction.

Rachel Cusk’s oral history-infused novel “Transit” (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd), Michael Redhill’s doppleganger thriller “Bellevue Square” (Doubleday Canada) and the magical coming-of-age story “Son of a Trickster” by Eden Robinson (Alfred A. Knopf Canada) are among the finalists for the 2017 prize.

The short list also includes first-time finalists Ed O’Loughlin for “Minds of Winter” (House of Anansi Press) and Michelle Winters for “I Am a Truck” (Invisible Publishing).

Robinson said Monday she felt “stunned disbelief” when she learned the news. This is the second time the B.C.-based writer made the Giller short list, after becoming a finalist in 2000 for her first novel, “Monkey Beach.”

“It does push you and your book into the stratosphere. So, it’s hugely important for your career,” Robinson said from her northern B.C. town of Kitimat.

“It’s hugely important for the number of people that (become) aware of what you’re writing. Just being on the short list is amazing.”

Cusk and Redhill are also repeat finalists. Cusk was shortlisted in 2015 for “Outline,” while Redhill was shortlisted for “Martin Sloane” in 2001.

According to Robinson’s biography, “Son of a Trickster” was written “under the influence of pan-fried tofu and nutritional yeast,” but Robinson said she plans to step up the celebrations now that she’s a two-time Giller finalist.

“We’re moving up to gluten-free cake,” she quipped.

The Giller Prize awards $100,000 to the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English, and $10,000 to each of the finalists.

It was established by Jack Rabinovitch in 1994, the year after the death of his wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

Rabinovitch died in August at age 87. His absence from Monday’s announcement was noted by nearly every speaker, including his daughter Elana Rabinovitch, the Giller’s executive director.

She said she was excited for this year’s prize, but felt “a great deal of sadness that my father couldn’t be here to see it.” This fall’s awards gala will include a commemoration to her father.

“He would have loved to be there. He loved everything about that night,” she said. “But he also would have insisted that the night be about the writers.”

The winner will be announced Nov. 20 at a Toronto gala broadcast on CBC-TV.

This year’s selection were all “really original books,” said selection jury chair Anita Rau Badami, who headed a five-member jury that surveyed 112 books submitted by 73 publisher imprints from across Canada.

“Literature which takes chances. I think that’s what we really found about this year’s batch.”

The submission pool was smaller than in previous years because of a recent change in eligibility guidelines. For the first time this year, publishers who hadn’t previously made the long list were limited to submitting one book for consideration.

The move frustrated many independent publishers, but Giller officials say it was necessary to prevent overwhelming jury members, who have about six months to read all of the submissions.

Badami said she was sorry the number was cut, but didn’t know if she would have been able to give additional books the attention they deserve.

“I’m a fairly fast reader, but even I found this really challenging,” Badami said of the reduced pool, adding that some books required a second reading before she could decide.

“I felt that I had to read every one of these books with a good deal of attention.”

The jury decided early on to keep detailed notes on each book, which Badami said she consulted often. She still has handwritten notebooks for each book she read.

Fellow jury member Andre Alexis, whose novel “Fifteen Dogs” (Coach House Books) won the Giller in 2015, admitted that he did not complete every book. But he said he’d return to an unfinished book if another juror championed it.

“If there’s something that you can’t read because it bothers you, you may miss something,” said Alexis. “But there are … other people there who have a different view.”

This year’s jury also includes Canadian writer Lynn Coady, who won the Giller for her short story collection “Hellgoing” (House of Anansi Press) in 2013, along with British writer Richard Beard and U.S. writer Nathan Englander.

Last year’s winner was Vancouver-born, Montreal-based Madeleine Thien for her novel “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” (Alfred A. Knopf Canada).

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