Sixteen years after releasing her debut Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards for her second novel, the highly anticipated Piranesi.
The Costas recognize the “nicest” books in five categories, with 708 books submitted this year. Piranesi, the fantastic tale of a man who lives in a house in which an ocean is trapped, was described by the judges for the £ 5,000 Costa Best Novel Award as ‘beautifully imagined’. Clarke, who was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome after the release of the hit fantasy Jonathan Strange, said she was “so happy” to be part of the Costa line.
“It’s a book I really didn’t know if I could write or not. There was, I guess, a lot against that, against the likelihood that it would ever get written – after such a long illness, I really didn’t know if I could do that, ”she says. “And when I wrote it, it felt like such a strange and personal book to me that I wasn’t quite sure what I had written. So to be recognized is particularly special, particularly wonderful.
In the Best Novel category, Piranesi takes on Denise Mina’s thriller The Less Dead, which the judges call “a richly drawn, beautifully paced book … set in the guise of a thriller, but it’s actually ‘humanity”. Also shortlisted are Peace Talks by Tim Finch, “a deep, delicate and witty book” about a diplomat sent to a hotel in Tyrol, and The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, in which a fisherman draws the attention of ‘an ancient mermaid, who, according to the judges, “combines an alluring fable with the visceral realism of a Caribbean island”.
Among the authors of the first category of novels is Michelle Gallen, for Big Girl, Small Town, a dark comedic novel about a young woman from Northern Ireland whose father disappeared during the Troubles. The judges called it “simply exceptional”.
Gallen, who was born in Tyrone and raised during the Troubles, said her screening “doesn’t feel real” because “it’s been such a long and strange journey to get here.”
The author, who is autistic, fell ill with a form of encephalitis at the age of 23, in 1998. “I returned to my parents in a wheelchair. At one point, I didn’t know my second name. My mother fed me. It was a very difficult space to live in and the return to writing was therefore not quick, ”she said.
Gallen started writing a daily journal to remember what she had done each day, then moved on to the news. She was working for the BBC in Belfast when she came up with the idea for Big Girl, Small Town. It took a long time for her to find a publisher, she says, because “we didn’t have Derry Girls, we didn’t have Milkman, we had nothing but the traditional bombshell tales and bullets ”.
“I think it’s so beautiful that a protagonist from the neurodiverse has been welcomed onto the shelves,” Gallen said. “To see a character who is generally not lovable and not neurotypical, who has not had a typical lifestyle, who is quite uncompromising – seeing her being accepted and seeing people spending time getting to know that person,” it’s extraordinary. “
Gallen faces three other debuts: The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain, who follows a widowed father as he raises his two small children; Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud, about an unconventional home in Trinidad; and All Water in the World by Karen Raney, in which a family is diagnosed with terminal cancer in a teenage girl.
The late Irish poet Eavan Boland is posthumously nominated in the Poetry category of the Historians, alongside novice poets Rachel Long and Martha Sprackland, for My Darling from the Lions and Citadel respectively; and Caroline Bird, winner of this year’s Forward Award for the Year of the Air.
Meg Rosoff is shortlisted for Best Children’s Book with The Great Godden, a teenage novel about first love and sibling rivalry, alongside Wranglestone by Darren Charlton, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant and The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson.
And in the biography category, Lee Lawrence is nominated for The Louder I Will Sing, about how his mother Cherry Groce was wrongly shot by police during a raid on her home in 1985. Novelist Julian Barnes is in the running. with The Man in the Red Coat, on a gynecologist in the heart of Paris Belle Époque; Palliative Care Specialist Dr Rachel Clarke is nominated for Dear Life; and Jeff Young is nominated for his ode to his childhood home, Ghost Town: A Liverpool Shadow Play.
The category winners, who each receive £ 5,000, will be announced on January 4th. The overall winner of the £ 30,000 Costa Book of the Year will be revealed on January 26.
Costa 2020 book awards selection
Big Girl, Small Town par Michelle Gallen (Éditeurs John Murray)
Family tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ)
Love after love by Ingrid Persaud (Faber)
All the Water in the World by Karen Raney (Two Roads)
Piranesi par Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Peace Talks par Tim Finch (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The less dead of Denise Mina (Harvill Secker)
The Mermaid of the Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree)
The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
Dear Life de Rachel Clarke (Little, Brown)
The Loudest I’ll Sing by Lee Lawrence (Sphere)
Ghost Town: A Liverpool Shadow Play par Jeff Young (Little Toller Books)
Caroline Bird’s Year of the Air (Carcanet)
Historians by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
My Darling Lions by Rachel Long (Picador)
Citadel of Martha Sprackland (Pavilion Poetry)
Wranglestone par Darren Charlton (Little Tiger)
Voyage of the Hawk by Natasha Farrant (Faber)
The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
Le Grand Godden de Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury Publishing)