Saskatchewan-born Ross King wins $25K RBC Taylor Prize for ‘Mad Enchantment’

Author Ross King is shown in this undated handout photo. King has won the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize for his book "Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies." . The Canadian Press / HO

Four-time RBC Taylor Prize nominee Ross King secured his first win on Monday, taking home the $25,000 non-fiction award for his biography on French impressionist painter Claude Monet.

The bestselling Estevan, Sask.-born writer, who is based in the U.K., was named the winner from among five finalists for Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies (Bond Street Books/Doubleday Canada). He was previously shortlisted for the prize in 2007, 2011 and 2013.

In its citation, the jury described Mad Enchantment as an “elegantly written and superbly researched book,” calling it “essential reading for all who want to understand the intersection of politics, nationalism, and culture in France during the First World War.”

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Mad Enchantment has received plenty of accolades in recent months. It was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, and longlisted for the British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

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King said the origins of Mad Enchantment stretch back several years to when the art historian read a letter written by Monet dated Sept. 1, 1914. With the First World War underway and his compatriots fleeing, the determined artist indicated his plan was to remain at home in Giverny, France,

While many associate Monet’s famed collection of Water Lilies paintings with peace and tranquility, they were created during a time of “great storm and stress,” King noted.

“I was really struck by this sort of anomaly of a painter — who at this point was 73 years old — who was going to stay put,” King said in an interview following his win.

“The marauding German army could overrun Giverny — as it may well have done — and Monet could have been killed by the German soldiers in front of his works of art.

“That didn’t happen, of course. But it was really the genesis of this … true story I had for telling the complete story of the Water Lilies against the backdrop of (the First World War), because that’s when Monet did the bulk of his painting.”

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The Taylor Prize jury included novelist Colin McAdam, historian and writer John English, and retired broadcaster Ann MacMillan. The trio read 101 books written by Canadian authors, which were submitted by 29 Canadian and international publishers.

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Joining King on the RBC Taylor Prize short list were: Kingston, Ont., author Diane Schoemperlen for This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications (HarperCollins Canada); Toronto-based Max Eisen for By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz (HarperCollins Canada); McGill University Prof. Marc Raboy for Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World (Oxford University Press); and Toronto-born, Jerusalem-based writer Matti Friedman for “umpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story (Signal/McClelland & Stewart).

The four other finalists received $2,000 apiece.

Named in honour of the late Canadian historian and writer Charles Taylor, the award recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing and emphasizes the development of the careers of the authors it celebrates.

In addition to the cash prize, King also received a crystal trophy and will select another author to receive the $10,000 RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer’s Award later this month.

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