2011 Walter Scott Prize: Shortlist announced

The shortlist for the 2011 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was announced some time ago, but life has been so busy that I’m only now posting it online.

The Judges have chosen, from works of historical fiction published in 2010, a shortlist of six novels. Their diversity, historical range and character could scarcely be more extended – from imperial Japan, Tudor England, Tsarist Russia, and 19th century Jamaica to turn-of-the-century Ireland and interwar London.   The winner will be announced in June and will receive £25,000, making the Walter Scott Prize the biggest annual UK literary prize to be judged outside London.

The shortlist is:

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

C by Tom McCarthy

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

Heartstone by C J Sansom

To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams

Judges’ criteria in choosing the books include originality and innovation, quality of writing, and potential durability.  Chairman of Judges, Alistair Moffat, said:

“The Walter Scott Prize has become, in its second year, one of the most sought-after English language book prizes.  However it is uniquely awarded for historical fiction, a genre which allows as wide and fascinating a range of writing as fiction itself.  In judging the year’s output, our principle is that the books must inhabit the past and enrich our historical understanding, at the same time as changing our perspective on the present.”

The Prize, which was won in its inaugural year by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, honours Sir Walter Scott’s achievements and his place as one of the world’s most influential novelists, and is made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch.

The Judges are Elizabeth Buccleuch, Elizabeth Laird, Allan Massie, David Robinson, and Gavin Wallace.  These are their short comments on the shortlisted books:

The Long Song by Andrea Levy:

“Andrea Levy brings to this story such personal understanding and imaginative depth that her characters leap from the page, with all the resilience, humour and complexity of real people. There are no clichés or stereotypes here. The Long Song is quite simply a celebration of the triumphant human spirit in times of great adversity.”

C by Tom McCarthy

“C  is a novel of great narrative intensity and daring centred on the birth of telecommunications and modernism, with a challenging philosophical take on the relationship between language and identity.  As well as a novel of ideas it is a powerful and eerie historical fantasy written with luminous and disturbing brilliance, whether in the intense depictions of the silk farm in which the enigmatic anti-hero, Carrefax, is brought up, or the later overpowering evocations of the carnage of the First World War trenches.  This is a work of unashamedly challenging literary ambition.”

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

“David Mitchell creates a wonderfully pungent and atmospheric world in this remarkable novel. Set on Dejima, a tiny man-made island in the Bay of Nagasaki and the commercial gateway to late 18th century Japan, it tells the story of a young Dutch clerk and how he tries to make his fortune but loses his heart. It is spellbinding, a superb piece of storytelling.”

Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

 “The story of J M Synge’s leading lady Molly Allgood and their doomed love affair, as seen through Molly’s eyes, is deeply moving and also very funny in parts.  Phrases that stay with you for long afterwards dot its pages, while ambiguity about its historical precision adds a further intrigue.  Joseph O’Connor has certainly inhabited his leading character and the times she describes – both in her youth and as an elderly, poverty-stricken figure.”

Heartstone by C J Sansom

 For some reason, historians have shied away from Henry VIII’s third war against the French, even though their 1545 invasion force was bigger than the Spanish Armada and the English had raised the biggest military army the country had ever seen. The fifth novel in C J Samson’s Matthew Shardlake series begins with what seems to be a relatively minor case but soon opens up into a compelling drama with an epic sweep.”

To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams

To Kill a Tsar is a very accomplished novel which can be enjoyed as a gripping and moving historical thriller. It is more than that, however, for it invites us to reflect on questions of morality and to ask whether violent means may justifiably be employed to achieve worthy ends, whether indeed such ends must be corrupted if the means themselves are inescapably criminal.”

The prize will be presented as part of the Borders Book Festival, in the wonderful setting of Abbotsford House, on Saturday 18 June. This year those present will also be treated to actor Robert Powell reading excerpts from each of the shortlisted novels!

About Lucy Byatt

I'm a translator, from Italian into English. I also teach Italian Renaissance history and write.
This entry was posted in book reviews, historical fiction, reading. Bookmark the permalink.

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