AUTHOR Hilary Mantel was denied a literary hat-trick last night by judges who opted to give this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction to a book about sibling rivalry and adultery.
Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies had been favourite to scoop the prestigious accolade, the author having already won two major awards in the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book of the Year.
But American author AM Homes denied the British writer a historic treble by taking the prize with her latest novel, May We Be Forgiven, described as a “subversion of the American dream”.
Homes, 51, was presented with the “Bessie” statuette and a cheque for £30,000 at an award ceremony in London’s Royal Festival Hall last night.
Actress Miranda Richardson, who chaired the judging panel for the Women’s Prize, previously the Orange Prize, said the decision had been “long and passionately argued”.
She described May We Be Forgiven as “a dazzling, original, viscerally funny black comedy; a subversion of the American dream”. She added: “This is a book we want to read again and give to our friends.”
Richardson described the judging meeting as a “sort of settling process”, adding that “everything was up in the air for some time”.
She said: “Our 2013 shortlist was exceptionally strong and our judges’ meeting was long and passionately argued.
“A couple of us thought we knew the way it was going and then surprised ourselves.”
Homes’s winning work is the tale of two brothers who dislike each other, and the consequences when one commits a terrible act of violence.
The story follows historian Harold Silver, who has watched his taller, smarter and more successful younger brother George acquire a covetable wife, two children and a beautiful home in New York.
But George has a murderous temper and when he loses control the two brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they must both seek absolution.
Homes, whose first name is Amy, writes mainly from a male perspective. They are often laced with violence, sex and black humour.
Salman Rushdie has described May We Be Forgiven as “flat-out amazing” adding: “I can’t remember when I last read of novel of such narrative intensity.”
Homes’s first novel, Jack, was published when she was just 19. She has written a string of acclaimed novels, short story collections and a memoir about being adopted and contacting her birth parents.
But as well as receiving praise, some of the author’s hard- hitting work has been mired in controversy. The End of Alice, about an imprisoned paedophile writing to a 19-year-old girl, prompted children’s charity NSPCC to call for copies to be pulled from bookshop shelves.
Homes, who lives in New York, is the second American in two years to win the award, after last year Madeline Miller won for The Song of Achilles.
Waterstones spokesman Jon Howells said: “May We Be Forgiven is, I believe, the only book that could have beaten Bring Up the Bodies. AM Homes’s modern character study is the polar opposite of the classic prose of Mantel’s historical fiction.”
Last night Homes not only beat Mantel but also Barbara Kingsolver and Zadie Smith, both of whom had won before..