Giller winner has voice, fun and $50,000

Esi Edgyuan receives the Giller Prize from Jack Rabinovitch for her book Half-Blood Blues. (GILLERWINNER_E)

The publisher of this year’s Giller Prize winner said the book had a voice and a sense of fun in it.

On Tuesday, Esi Edugyan’s book Half-Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. With the accompanying prize of $50,000, Edugyan became the recipient of the largest annual literary prize in Canada.

To Patrick Crean, publisher and senior editor for Thomas Allen Publishers, the book was simply too good not to publish.

“You go with your gut instinct,” he said. “What I look for first and foremost is voice and how compelling that voice is coming off the page. It was clear to me that this not only had voice, but that mysterious x-factor that we look for in books. Both intellectually and emotionally, reading this book was a lot of fun.”

Half-Blood Blues tells the story of an elderly jazz musician haunted by the disappearance of his friend, a black trumpeter, during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Having received this national acclaim, the book, Crean said, will sell well into the coming year.

“Never predict the life of a book,” Crean said, “but in this situation, because we have a big winner, this guarantees at least 100,000 copies for sure with the Giller effect trickling over on to next year.”

Getting the book published wasn’t easy, according to Thomas Allen’s publicist, Katherine Whiteside. She said that Half-Blood Blues was originally in the hands of Key Porter Publishing until the company went bankrupt.

“The book was pretty much wrapped. It had a cover and everything else. It just hadn’t gone into production yet when Porter went under. She didn’t have a publisher in Canada anymore,” she said.

Linda Couldridge, at Chapters Indigo, said that Half-Blood Blues was on the “Staff’s Pick” list.

“I’m quite pleased to have stock of this book,” she said. “I liked the language that she used. She got into the lingo of the period of the jazz musicians. To me, those are two essential things, a good story and characters that I like.”

The Giller Prize dates back to 1994, when Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch created the award in memory of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. In 2005, Scotiabank became the co-sponsor of the prize.