U.S. writer A.M. Homes won the Women’s Prize for Fiction for “May We Be Forgiven” last night, beating the favorite Hilary Mantel and four other novelists.
The dark domestic satire in which two brothers navigate murder, madness and redemption in the suburbs captured the literary award formerly known as the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Homes is the fifth consecutive American to take the U.K.- based award. She received 30,000 pounds ($46,200) and a bronze statuette called “the Bessie” at a ceremony held at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
“This is the first actual book award I’ve won,” Homes said in her acceptance speech. “This is a prize that I’ve always been in awe of, so I’m beside myself.”
The winning book started seven years ago as a short story, Homes said in an interview later. The prize money will probably help repay the loan she needed to complete it. She joked that she hasn’t bought new shoes in a decade, so she may splash out on a pair. The award was important when “the larger body of literature tends to be in general a men’s prize,” she said.
“A dazzling, original, viscerally funny black comedy,” is how actress Miranda Richardson, the head of the judging panel, described Homes’s book in an e-mailed news release. “This is a book we want to read again and give to our friends,” she said. The work was “a subversion of the American dream.”
Homes’s sixth novel is published by Granta in the U.K. and Viking in the U.S. The story is narrated by Harry Silver, a professor of “Nixonology” whose life has been lived in the shadow of his taller, richer brother George, a television executive with anger management issues.
Its opening scene, the aftermath of a Thanksgiving dinner, involves an illicit kiss, blue rubber gloves, and an unforgettable image of an “heirloom” turkey carcass.
Soon, a fast-paced and bloody series of events catapults Harry from his ugly Manhattan apartment building into George’s Westchester home, where he’s put in charge of two listless kids and the family dog.
Homes lives in New York City and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
She was given up for adoption at birth and wrote about meeting her biological parents 31 years later in an essay that grew into a memoir, “The Mistress’s Daughter.” Homes also wrote and produced for the television series “The L Word.”
Homes’s voice broke in the ceremony as she thanked her father, who is no longer alive, and her grandmother, who loaned her the money to buy her first typewriter. Homes paid her back at the rate of $50 a month -- and was rewarded with a check for the full cost of the machine when the debt was settled.
First awarded in 1996, the anonymously endowed prize was founded to celebrate and promote fiction in English by women worldwide, and until last year was known as the Orange Prize for Fiction.
When its relationship ended with founding sponsor Orange, the telecommunications company, a group of companies and private individuals including Cherie Blair, Martha Lane Fox and Bloomberg News’ parent company, Bloomberg LP, rode to the rescue.
Baileys, the cream liqueur brand, has signed a three-year sponsorship deal, the organizers said on June 3. From 2014, the award will be named the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
This year’s shortlist featured two previous winners and was “stratospheric,” Richardson told the audience.
Mantel’s bestseller “Bring Up the Bodies” has already made literary history by snagging both the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book of the Year award.
The other finalists were Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” (Doubleday); “Flight Behaviour” (Faber) by Barbara Kingsolver who won the 2010 prize; Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (Weidenfeld); and “NW” (Penguin) by Zadie Smith, who also won the prize in 2006.
In a second prize awarded yesterday evening, Susan Wallman was named as the winner of the Women’s Prize/Grazia First Chapter Competition for unpublished writers.
Previous recipients of the Women’s Prize for Fiction have included Madeline Miller for “The Song of Achilles,” Tea Obreht for “The Tiger’s Wife,” and Marilynne Robinson for “Home.”
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Greg Evans on television.