What do sex, death, and Pierre Trudeau have in common? Find out this week on The Next Chapter, when Governor General Award-winner Nino Ricco takes a look at good and evil in the Darwinian world of his novel, The Origin of the Species.
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Ricci was one of 14 winners of the $25,000 award announced Tuesday in Montreal.
It is the second win for Ricci, who earned the award in 1990 for Lives of the Saints, his debut novel.
"The young searching protagonist of Nino Ricci's The Origin of Species takes us into the now distant world of the post-Trudeau 1980s," the jury said in its citation. "Set mostly in Montreal, with an illuminating voyage to the Galapagos at its centre, this exquisite novel is both tough and tender and, in the end, confirms our belief in the resilience of the human heart."
"It's a thrill and it's certainly a boost for my morale," Ricci said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News.
Lives of the Saints was an auspicious debut and ensured the attention and generosity of critics and readers as Ricci wrote more difficult books, including Testament, a controversial take on the life of Jesus, he said.
Lives "was a more likeable book — and it had broader appeal — and some of my other books were not as likeable. They were darker in tone or more dangerous in content," Ricci said.
With The Origin of Species, Ricci is dealing with both the evolutionary view of the world, the subject of a floundering dissertation by the protagonist Alex Fratarcangeli, and the less clearly defined world of human relationships.
"I always wanted to explore that world view and how we can understand people differently if we look at them in more evolutionary terms. I know people are doing that through the sciences, but I haven't seen it done in fiction," Ricci said.
The storyline involving a relationship with a woman who has MS is based on a real woman Ricci once knew, whose vitality in the face of disease forced him to confront questions of how to live. The character Esther is an homage to her.
"That was taken from own experience and it was something I knew I would have to at some point deal with in my writing — it's such a strong element in my own life," he said.
Ricci has three more novels on the go, including one young adult work, and just completed a 40,000-word exploration of Pierre Trudeau for the Extraordinary Lives series.
Ricci won over a field that included veteran writers Fred Stenson for The Great Karoo and David Adams Richards for The Lost Highway, as well as the debut novel Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen and Cockroach, the second book by Rawi Hage.
Montreal's Hage had been a favourite to win after being nominated for the Giller, the Writers Trust Award and the Governor General's Award, but ended up winning none of them. Earlier this year, he won the IMPAC prize for his first book, De Niro's Game.
Two Globe and Mail writers won Governor-General's Literary Awards on Tuesday — Christie Blatchford of Toronto took the non-fiction award for Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army and John Ibbitson, now based in Washington, won the children's literature prize for The Landing.
Fifteen Days collects the stories of Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan, while The Landing is a coming-of-age story set in the Muskoka of the 1930s…more. ( CBC )