Lee Henderson’s novel The Man Game (Penguin Canada, $18) has won the 2009 Vancouver Book Award. The City’s cultural-services department bestows the honour annually on a work that contributes “to the appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s history, unique character or the achievements of its residents”. Henderson’s sprawling tale is certainly as distinctive and enigmatic as the city itself. Flicking back and forth between present-day Vancouver and the town as it was in its earliest, muddiest days, the faintly surreal and often funny story revolves around improvised, highly theatrical wrestling competitions between lumberjacks—a kind of 19th-century forerunner of WWE.
Having already collected the B.C. Book Prize for fiction in April, The Man Game was declared the winner of the municipal award on November 3, at a City Hall ceremony. A jury made up of librarian Janice Douglas, poet Fred Wah, and Fernanda Viveiros, producer of the B.C. Book Prizes and Word on the Street Vancouver, selected the novel over two other finalists. One of these was Meredith Quartermain’s Nightmarker (NeWest, $14.95), a poetry collection focusing on both the history and the mundane details of our town. The other was Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Vintage Canada, $22), a sweeping and deeply empathetic analysis of the lives and neurobiology of addicts. (Like The Man Game, Maté’s book was also picked as one of the Georgia Straight’s books of the year in 2008.)
The Vancouver Book Award was established in 1989, and has been presented most often to works of nonfiction. The last time fiction took top honours was in 2001, with Madeleine Thien’s short-story collection Simple Recipes. The only works of fiction to win before that were Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony (1996) and SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe (1990).