Edmonton Journal

Scandal hijacked big book season

Ghomeshi was year’s low point

- Ian McGillis For Postmedia News

The Giller Prize presentati­on show has entrenched itself as our country’s literary Oscar night. But this year, undeniably, it came with an added touch of drama. A certain scheduled master of ceremonies, you may recall, couldn’t make it that evening, and everyone wondered how his replacemen­t would handle a very tricky gig.

We needn’t have worried. Rick Mercer pulled it out of the fire, acknowledg­ing the elephant in the room with one little joke, so quick and so subtle that if your attention had wandered for a second, you could have missed it. That done, we could all relax and focus on a celebratio­n of the strongest field of finalists in years.

From among them emerged the nearest thing to an underdog: Montrealer Sean Michaels won for Us Conductors, a novel about the inventor of the theremin.

Winners at such times always say they’re nervous, but Michaels really was — and humble and generous and eloquent. Without naming any names, he addressed, in the only sensible way, what everyone in the room and watching on TV was thinking, saying “We must believe, women and men, and go forth and undo harm.”

If the Gillers transcendi­ng the spectre of Jian Ghomeshi was a high point, it follows that the low has to be the Ghomeshi story itself. Though primarily known as a (former) CBC radio host, Ghomeshi is also a published author — though his deal for a second book has since been cancelled. After several allegation­s, he now faces criminal charges including several counts of sexual assault.

From the minute the news broke, the arts conversati­on in this country — and pretty much every other conversati­on in every café, bar and workplace, too — was hijacked. During the one time of year when books have a chance of coming to the forefront, we were instead compelled to grapple with the sordid allegation­s and rippling implicatio­ns of one media figure’s behaviour.

Also, lest we forget: R.I.P. Mavis Gallant, Alistair MacLeod, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maya Angelou.

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