Singaporean writer on the shortlist for Canadian literary award

Toronto-based Singapore novelist Thea Lim is on the shortlist of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her debut novel, An Ocean Of Minutes.
Toronto-based Singapore novelist Thea Lim is on the shortlist of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her debut novel, An Ocean Of Minutes.PHOTO: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE CANADA

A Singaporean writer has made the shortlist for a prestigious Canadian literary award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Thea Lim, a Toronto-based novelist, is one of five authors in the running with her debut novel, An Ocean Of Minutes. She is the first Singaporean to make the list.

The 25-year-old annual prize, which is sponsored by Canadian bank Scotiabank, presents C$100,000 (S$107,000) to the winner and C$10,000 to each finalist.

Lim, 36, said she watched the livestream of the announcement on Monday and reacted to the news by screaming. Being shortlisted for her "strange hybrid" novel was "deeply validating", she said.

"This novel was a risk for me in so many ways and I'd be lying if I said that since its publication, I haven't wondered if I should have played it safer... To have it honoured in such a way, side by side with some of Canada's top writers, means everything."

She is up against acclaimed authors such as Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan, both previous Giller finalists. Edugyan won the Giller in 2011 for her second novel, Half-Blood Blues, and is back on the list with her third, Washington Black, which has also been shortlisted for Britain's Man Booker Prize.

Lim was born in Canada to a Singaporean father and British mother and grew up in Singapore.

Her novel is a dystopian love story set during a global epidemic. A young woman volunteers to travel forward in time as a bonded worker to save her infected boyfriend.

They arrange to meet 12 years into the future, but she is re-routed mid-flight. When she gets there, he is nowhere to be found.

The jury, chaired by writer and journalism professor Kamal Al-Solaylee, said of her book: "Thea Lim asks the reader to confront contemporary issues - social class, immigration, citizenship, corporate power, poverty and the all-too-familiar (themes of) love and loss. The novel is beautifully written and guides us through a plot that moves backwards and forward - yet, never lets us go."

The Giller Prize, named for the late literary journalist Doris Giller, was founded in her honour by her husband Jack Rabinovitch and first awarded in 1994.

It is awarded annually to the best novel or collection of short stories published in English in Canada, including translation, by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.

It has been won by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Madeleine Thien. This year's winner will be announced on Nov 19.

Lim will be one of the writers at the Singapore Writers Festival, speaking at panels on Nov 2 and 4. Go to www.singaporewritersfestival.com for more information.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2018, with the headline 'Singaporean writer on the shortlist for Canadian literary award'. Print Edition | Subscribe