Immigrant story wins women’s literary prize
LONDON — A novel praised for its powerfully imagined story about an Eastern European immigrant to London has won the U.K.’s annual literary award for women.
Author Rose Tremain won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, worth about $60,000 Cdn, during a ceremony last night at London’s Royal Festival Hall for her 10th novel, The Road Home (Chatto & Windus), the story of an Eastern European worker named Lev who travels to London to seek his fortune — or at least enough money to support his ailing mother and daughter.
The judges praised the novel as “a powerfully imagined story and a wonderful feat of emotional empathy,” according to the head of the panel, BBC journalist Kirsty Lang.
“It’s also humorous, bringing in an almost Dickensian array of characters,” Lang said in a phone interview. “It’s a big canvas drawn with warmth and humour.”
This is the first time that Tremain, a winner of the Whitbread Novel Award, has made it past the final round to win the Orange Prize, worth 30,000 pounds.
Dedicating the award to her editor, Penny Hoare, who has published all her books, Tremain said if she’d known she was going to win, “I would have spent more time perfecting my speech rather than my loser’s smile!”
Half of the novels that made this year’s Orange short list were debuts, as the judges passed over more prominent books on their long list, including Anne Enright’s The Gathering, the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
The six finalists grappled with subjects ranging from drug addiction and immigration to the trials of a lady rabbi.
Nancy Huston was nominated for her 11th novel, Fault Lines (Atlantic), an epic tale of family secrets that centers on a disturbingly precocious six-year-old.
Troubled children and hushed-up familial discord lie at the heart of two other contenders, both debuts. Sadie Jones’s The Outcast (Chatto & Windus) recounts the fate of Lewis, a boy coming of age in the suffocating milieu of middle-class England during the 1940s and ’50s. The story carries an Oedipal charge.
Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals (Quercus) describes a 12-year-old girl raised in Montreal’s red-light district and betrayed by her father, a heroin addict. A gift for storytelling proves her salvation.
The family at the centre of Charlotte Mendelson’s third novel, When We Were Bad (Picador), leads an apparently charmed life. Claudia is a wife, mother and glamorous North London rabbi. When her son jilts his bride at the chuppah, the family’s happiness begins to unravel.
Patricia Wood’s Lottery (Heinemann), another debut, is a funny riff on the nature of intelligence. It tracks the fate of Perry, a man with an IQ of just 76 who wins $12 million in a lottery.
Previous Orange Prize recipients have included Zadie Smith, Lionel Shriver and Ann Patchett.
Hitting back at critics of the prize, including A.S. Byatt, who has called it sexist, Tremain said, “In this year when A.L. Kennedy has won the Costa award and Anne Enright won the Man Booker and Doris Lessing the Nobel, I think there’s a lot to celebrate.”