Montreal-born novelist Sarah Bernstein has won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel Study for Obedience.
The announcement was made at the award’s 30th gala in Toronto on November 8, though Bernstein was not at the event in person and joined via video from her home in Scotland.
Study for Obedience, published by Knopf Canada, tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who moves to a northern country where she doesn’t speak the language to care for her brother, whose family has left.
In their citation, the jury said “the modernist experiment continues to burn incandescently in Sarah Bernstein’s slim novel, Study for Obedience. Bernstein asks the indelible question: what does a culture of subjugation, erasure, and dismissal of women produce?”
Bernstein was the only finalist who was not in attendance at the gala event in Toronto. Runners-up Eleanor Catton, Kevin Chong, Dionne Irving, and CS Richardson each receive $10,000.
Bernstein joined the ceremony from Achiltibuie, a village in the northwest Scottish Highlands, alongside her 10-day-old baby (who remained offscreen). The ceremony was briefly interrupted by protesters, and last year’s Giller winner, Suzette Mayr, had to announce Bernstein’s win twice.
“Thank you to the jury for reading my book and for their gorgeous citation,” she said. “I can’t tell you how surprised I am right now.”
Bernstein also thanked the Rabinovitch family as well as her own family, noting that the book is dedicated to her late father.
Study for Obedience is Bernstein’s second novel, and it was also shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, the winner of which will be announced on November 26 in London. Earlier this year, before either prize longlist was announced, Bernstein was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.
She is also the author of the novel The Coming Bad Days, published in 2021, and a poetry collection Now Comes the Lightning, published by Pedlar Press in 2015.
In her closing remarks, Bernstein quoted poet Aurora Levins Morales. “We cannot cross until we carry each other, all of us refugees, all of us prophets,” she said.
The longlist, shortlist, and winner of this year’s prize were chosen by a jury composed of Canadian authors Ian Williams, Sharon Bala, Brian Thomas Isaac, American author Rebecca Makkai, and British-Indian author Neel Mukherjee. A total of 145 books were submitted.