Singaporean writer Thea Lim shortlisted for Canadian literary prize for her debut novel An Ocean Of Minutes

Thea Lim, a Toronto-based novelist, is one of five authors in the running for the Scotiabank Giller Prize with her debut novel An Ocean Of Minutes. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - 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 ($107,000) to the winner and C$10,000 to each of the finalists.

Lim, 36, said she watched the livestream of the announcement on Oct 1 and reacted to the news by screaming.

Being shortlisted, she said, was "deeply validating".

"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 the Man Booker Prize.

Lim was born in Canada to a Singaporean father and British mother and grew up in Singapore. She has also lived in Britain and Texas.

Her novel is a dystopian love story set mostly in the 1990s, when a global epidemic decimates the world's population. 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 and when she gets there, he is nowhere to be found.

Lim called the book "a strange hybrid of at least three different genres" and added: "It's my attempt to tell an old story, one of immigration and displacement, in my own way... Despite its fictional form, it's about many of my own experiences and it only hit me how vulnerable I felt after the novel went to print."

It took her many years to write it and some financial sacrifices, such as taking on low-paying part-time academic work instead of a full-time job after graduation, so she could have time to work on it.

The jury, which is chaired by writer and journalism professor Kamal Al-Solaylee and includes writers such as Philip Hensher and Heather O'Neill, 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, 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 for more information.

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