Six books have been revealed as being on the shortlist for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The Walter Scott Prize, which celebrates its tenth anniversary next year, was founded by patrons the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch to honour the legacy and achievements of Sir Walter Scott, inventor of the historical novel.
As well as being one of the top five richest fiction prizes in the UK, the Prize has grown in regard over the last decade and is now followed and respected by readers, writers and publishers alike.
The winner receives £25,000, and shortlisted authors each receive £1000. Shortlisted authors are invited to attend the award ceremony and Prize events at the Borders Book Festival on 16 June.
The six-book shortlist is: Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan (Corsair); Sugar Money, by Jane Harris (Faber); Grace, by Paul Lynch (Oneworld); The Wardrobe Mistress, by Patrick McGrath (Hutchinson); Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves, by Rachel Malik (Fig Tree); and The Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books).
The eight-strong judging panel comprises Alistair Moffat (chair), Elizabeth Buccleuch, Kate Figes, Katharine Grant, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark. They will meet to decide the winner just ahead of its announcement at the Borders Book Festival on Saturday, 16 June.
In a statement, the judges said: ‘Every year the Walter Scott Prize attracts more entries, and again this year we have had some terrific books on the table. It has been a real treat to explore quite dazzlingly different periods in history, and to discover new talent in first-time authors.
‘This year’s shortlist encompasses the rural and the urban, the exotic and the everyday, the epic and the intimate. The narrative drive in each of our shortlisted books is compelling, and on the pages are universal truths with which we can identify. The judges are relishing the challenge of alighting on a winner!’
To qualify, books must have been published in the previous year in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth, and be mostly set in the past – for the purposes of the Prize, at least 60 years ago. This definition comes from the subtitle of Walter Scott’s novel Waverley; Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since.
About the six shortlisted books –
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. The judges said: ‘This is a novel from a writer at the top of her form. Jennifer Egan handles her glittering cast of characters with subtlety and ease, leading them with confidence into the dark underbelly of wartime New York. A city of mobsters and con-men, gamblers and jazz men springs to life with such energy that you can hear the streets, and in the cacophony she weaves a rich story that is part thriller and part family drama. Her feeling for time and place is pitch-perfect, and Egan demonstrates that she is solidly established in the first rank of contemporary authors.’
Sugar Money by Jane Harris. The judges said: ‘Sugar Money by Jane Harris is a thrilling adventure story with a warm, human heart. Set in the world of slavery in eighteenth century Martinique and Grenada, there is no turning away from cruelty and horror, but the voice of the narrator Lucien, still little more than a child, is so spirited and innocent that the reader is swept along on the tide of his enthusiasm, even though the venture he and his brother must undertake is fraught with hideous danger. Jane Harris has created an unforgettable character in Lucien, and the lilt of his English, French and Creole speech gives a marvellous vibrancy to this superb novel.’
Grace by Paul Lynch. The judges said: ‘Paul Lynch’s novel Grace is a work of great lyricism. Its beautiful prose is put to devastating effect in his vivid story of the Irish potato famine which killed at least a million people. From the opening page we travel with fourteen year old Grace as she is sent out from Donegal, seemingly banished by her mother, but actually in a desperate attempt to save her life. We never leave her side as starving Grace navigates her way south, encountering myriad dangers on the desolate roads. Lynch’s narrative gripped us from the start and never let us go. It haunted the judges long after the final line.’
The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath. The judges said: ‘The Wardrobe Mistress is, above all, a novel of voices: the echo of the actor ‘Gricey’ whose funeral we attend; the snipsnap of his wife Joan, hair pulled back ‘the better … to come at the world like a scythe’; and the chatty omniscience of ‘we ladies of the Chorus’. McGrath’s stage is London’s theatreland where 1947’s bitter winter is compounded by the revelation that for some, the war continues in unpleasant form. With fictional characters playing fictional characters, McGrath slyly plays with his reader in a novel which, whilst superbly evoking post-war theatrical life, pulses with contemporary disquiet.’
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik. The judges said: ‘Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a quietly beautiful and brilliant novel that captures the heart and essence of a love story in the years during and after the Second World War. Astonishingly, it is Rachel Malik’s debut, and her handling of the richness and simplicity of this story of farming life suggests that she is on the brink of a distinguished literary career. And this is no bucolic idyll but an unfolding of a plot that constantly twists and turns and surprises. A truly wonderful, memorable novel.’
The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers. The judges said: ‘Imagine the wild moors of Calderdale in Yorkshire in the 18th century where stealing a loaf of bread could result in hanging. The only profit to be made was in the manufacture of fake money from melted down clippings of fake coins. Under the “protection” of King David Hartley, the tough folk of that harsh valley had at least some hope of sustenance. As Hartley said, “we live as clans ….protection was our purpose especially from any incomers”. But historical progress was one incomer that could not be halted. The writing is brutal but lyrical and deeply affecting. This is an important book.’