Edinburgh’s Kate Atkinson wins Costa book prize

Kate Atkinson with her novel Life After Life. Picture: PA
Kate Atkinson with her novel Life After Life. Picture: PA
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EDINBURGH author Kate Atkinson has claimed one of Britain’s top literary awards - almost two decades after her debut novel shot her to fame.

Her latest book, Life After Life, about a woman who is able to live through the last century over and over again, was named Novel of the Year at the Costa Book Awards.

The honour was confirmed just weeks after the book, which was only released in April of last year, was named one of the best 50 Scottish Books of the last 50 years.

It also made the shortlist for the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year prize, losing out to John Burnside’s Something Like Happy at the ceremony in November.

Atkinson is the creator of the character Jackson Brodie, the private investigator whose exploits on Edinburgh-set TV series Case Histories were adapted from her best-selling books. She won the main Saltire prize with the first instalment in 2005.

She shot to fame in 1995 with her debut novel Behind The Scenes At The Museum, which won the overall book prize at the then Whitbread Book Awards, which were renamed seven years ago.

Aktinson, who was born in York in 1951 and moved to Scotland to study English literature at Dundee University, was awarded the MBE three years ago for services to literature.

Atkinson was one of five category winners at the Costa Book Awards who will go forward for the overall award, which will be announced at the end of this month. They were drawn from more than 600 entries.

The other contenders for the overall Costa Book of the Year prize are Nathan Filer, who won best first novel, for The Shock of The Fall, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, for her biography of controversial Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, Michael Symmons Roberts, who picked up the poetry award with his sixth collection, and political cartoonist Chris Riddell, who won the children’s book award for Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse.

Christopher Rogers, managing director of Costa, said: “Our judges have selected five superb books that readers of all tastes are going to really enjoy.

“Selecting just one of these terrific titles for the Costa Book of the Year will be a tough task but it will certainly make for an exciting awards ceremony later this month.”

David Robinson, books editor at The Scotsman, said: “I can’t say I’m surprised, and I hope she wins the main prize too.

“Kate Atkinson is a dazzlingly inventive writer, and always has been ever since she won the Whitbread – the precursor of the Costa awards – with her debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

“She’s actually quite an experimental writer, but there’s a humanity and humour about her writing that gives her a mainstream audience.

“The Jackson Brodie novels were a case in point, taking all the cliches of crime fiction, shaking them up and coming up with something that is fresh and original.

“In Life After Life, she has done that with the family saga, giving her main character Ursula – who is born in 1910 - so many different possible deaths over the course of her lifetime. Each time, though, she carries on the story with another version in which Ursula survives.

“This taps into a thought that we’ve all had – how would our lives have turned out differently if only we’d done something differently? And it works because Atkinson takes all of those different futures seriously, making even the minor characters plausible and the dialogue consistently ringing true, but all the time building up a novel that shows the randomness and accidental wonder of life.”

In his review for The Scotsman last year, critic Allan Massie said: “My admiration for Atkinson’s inventiveness and control is unbounded. It’s an utterly absorbing novel.

“Once you have adapted yourself to the novel’s daring structure and accepted its premise that life is full of unexplored possibilities, the individual passages offer a succession of delights.”

The Scottish Book Trust, which compiled the list of the best 50 Scottish books of the last 50 years, said of Life After Life at the time: “With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.”