A week ago, the Inverness-born writer was made a CBE for services to literature, and last night her latest novel, How to be both, won the Costa Novel of the Year award.
Smith’s novel is, as the New York Times reviewer pointed out – in a rave review that also ran this last week – “one of those books that is easier to read that to describe”. It tells separate but interleaving, genre-bending stories – one about a Italian Renaissance artist Francesco del Cossa and another set in 1960s England about a girl who becomes fascinated by his work.
Unusually, the novel was published in two versions – both with the same cover but with the order of the stories switched. It was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize and in November within the space of a couple of days won both the Saltire award for the year’s best Scottish novel and the Goldsmiths Prize for best original fiction.
For the Costa Novel award, How to be both beat Monique Roffey’s House of Ashes, Norah Webster by Colm Toibin and Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker.
Smith is now ranged against four other contenders – also announced last night and each receiving £5,000 – for the overall Costa Book of the Year award, which is worth £30,000.
A strong challenge will come from Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, winner of the Costa Biography Award. In November it also won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing won the Costa first novel award, and Jonathan Edwards’s My Family and Other Superheroes topped the poetry category.
The children’s category was won by journalist Kate Saunders, whose novel Five Children on the Western Front imagines the the characters in Edith Nesbit’s classic tale Five Children and It living through the First World War.
The overall winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be announced on 27 January.