Giller Prize Gala: A night of surprises

Brian Bethune’s quick report from a gala where an underdog triumphed and an ex-host wasn’t missed
Author Sean Michaels gives his acceptance speech after winning the 2014 Giller Prize in Toronto, Monday, Nov.10, 2014. Giller Prize founder Jack Rabinovitch is pictured at left. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fran Gunn

In what was arguably—no, definitely—the most unexpected outcome in the 21-year history of the Giller Prize, Sean Michaels took home the newly enhanced $100,000 award. It’s common for winners to say they were surprised, but the pole-axed look on Michaels’s face was genuine. And when the author of Us Conductors said he was astonished—”I tried to write the best book I could, and the notion of it falling rightly on so many people’s eyes, ears, hearts, is moving and inconceivable”—his sincerity was palpable.

The‎ surprise win was a fitting cap to a gala that itself won over the audience in a way not seen in years. Emotions in the crowded room were already positive; agent Sam Hayward thought the book world as a whole was tired of turmoil and ready for a party. But the televised portion, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi’s last-minute replacement, Rick Mercer, was fast-paced and witty, the best anyone remembered.