Toronto doctor Vincent Lam wins $40,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Canadian Press, Andrea Baillie, CBC
November 7, 2006

V incent Lam, a local emergency room doctor who helped battle the city's SARS crisis of three years ago, won the lucrative Scotiabank Giller Prize on Tuesday night for his book of short stories, "Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures."

"I am astounded and in many ways overcome," Lam, 32, told a packed ballroom as he accepted the $40,000 award. "Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures" (Doubleday Canada) is comprised of 12 interconnected stories about a group of up-and-coming physicians.

Lam said he would be back to work at the hospital Wednesday afternoon, insisting he has no plans to give up his medical career in favour of writing.

"I thoroughly enjoy writing and I thoroughly enjoy being a physician and I'm proud to do both, and my intention is to continue to do both," said the boyish-looking author.

Lam's career received a significant boost about three years ago when he met acclaimed author Margaret Atwood while working as a doctor on a ship. He worked up the courage to ask her to read his manuscript and she agreed.

"Since then she has continued to be very supportive and is a great friend," he said.

While past Giller winners have included literary stars like Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Alice Munro, this year's short list was made up of lesser-known writers.

Competing against Lam were Montreal resident Rawi Hage for "De Niro's Game" (House of Anansi Press), Montreal-born Pascale Quiviger for "The Perfect Circle" (Cormorant Books), Montreal's Gaetan Soucy for "The Immaculate Conception" (House of Anansi Press), and Carol Windley of Nanaimo, B.C., for "Home Schooling" (Cormorant Books).

Some 500 guests gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel for the black-tie gala. Political stars in attendance included Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae, and former Ontario premiers Ernie Eves and David Peterson. Also on hand were Margaret Trudeau, musician Murray McLauchlan, and opera diva Measha Brueggergosman.

"It's the absolute opposite end of the universe from what a writer does," Windley said as she surveyed the glitzy scene.

The show, broadcast by CTV, was hosted by Justin Trudeau with presentations by Atwood, actors Wendy Crewson and Albert Schultz, and "Corner Gas" stars Eric Peterson and Janet Wright.

Trudeau, the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, wasn't the only political offspring featured on the broadcast.

The assembled crowd tittered as Trudeau introduced a report by Ben Mulroney - son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney - from the Giller Light fundraising event at a downtown brewery.

The Giller was created in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in memory of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. It honours the best in Canadian fiction.

Last year, Scotiabank got on board and the purse was increased from $25,000 to $50,000 (runners-up get $2,500 each) - a veritable king's ransom for most writers.

Even a mention on the prize's short list can have a big impact on book sales, a phenomenon that some have dubbed "the Giller effect."

BookNet Canada, which tracks book sales across the country, says that trend has continued this year, with "De Niro's Game" - Hage's debut novel about two friends dealing with the civil war in Lebanon - showing the biggest jump in sales.

It has also been nominated for a Governor General's Award.

That said, at least one bookseller says this year's short list - which includes two short story collections and two novels translated from French - has not been terribly popular with customers.

"We're just not selling the books," said Heidi Hallett, owner of Frog Hollow Books in Halifax. "Within our loyal clientele, short stories are always problematic, as are translations. They're just not the first things people go for."

She speculates that Hage's book has sold well partly because of the title, a reference to the game of Russian roulette played by Robert De Niro's character in the film "The Deer Hunter."

The task of choosing this year's Giller winner fell to a jury made up of Munro, Newfoundland writer Michael Winter and former governor general Adrienne Clarkson.