Susanna Clarke’s “Piranesi” wins the Female Fiction Award

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British writer Susanna Clarke won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction on Wednesday for her fantasy novel “Piranesi” – a book chronic illness made her fear she would never be able to write.

Clarke, 61, received the 30,000-pound ($ 41,000) prize for her second novel, which was published 16 years after her first, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”, became a worldwide bestseller. .

Set in a magical alternate reality, “Piranesi” is told by a man living in a labyrinthine house filled with statues – alone except for a visitor known as the Other – who understands his entire universe. As he explores his field, the character’s understanding of his world gradually changes, as does that of the reader.

Clarke thanked the award judges for honoring “a very strange book indeed”.

“It’s a different world. It’s a strange world. It’s not this world, ”she said of the novel’s setting. She said her enthusiastic reception showed that stories “don’t have to be about this world and modern life to resonate strongly”.

Clarke’s first novel, an epic magical saga, was successfully published in 2004, has sold over 4 million copies and has been adapted for television by the BBC. Clarke said follow-up work was slowed down by the illness as she battles chronic fatigue syndrome.

She said “Piranesi” was “the book I never thought I’d write. I never thought I would be doing well enough.

“For a long time I had brain fog and you can’t write a novel if you can’t get consistency of work and you can’t rely on the work you did yesterday or a few days ago. “Clarke told The Associated Press. “But when I improved enough to be able to work in a fairly consistent way, my state of mind, my imagination didn’t change. The things that fascinated me and the landscapes in which I wanted to stroll, it remained the same. It was perhaps one of the few things that stayed the same about me.

She said she hoped her victory would encourage other women incapacitated by a long illness.

“Piranesi” was released in 2020 as much of the world was in the throes of lockdown, isolation and dislocation due to the coronavirus pandemic, and struck a chord with many readers and critics.

“I think a lot of people who have been through the lockdown have found echoes in the situation Piranesi finds himself in – more or less alone, in a house that is the whole world,” Clarke said.

Novelist Bernardine Evaristo, who chaired the Women’s Prize jury, said Clarke had “created a world beyond our wildest imaginations that also tells us something deep about what it’s like to be. human”.

Clarke was one of two British authors among the six finalists for the award, founded in 1996 and open to English-language writers from around the world. Previous winners include Zadie Smith, Tayari Jones, and Maggie O’Farrell.

Other finalists this year were “The Vanishing Half” by American writer Brit Bennett, “No One is Talking About This” by American writer Patricia Lockwood, “Transcendent Kingdom” by Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi, Barbadian writer Cherie Jones “How the One -Armed Sister Sweeps Her House” and “Unsettled Ground” by British author Claire Fuller.

Clarke’s illness meant she had to put aside a highly anticipated sequel to “Jonathan Strange,” a rich and sprawling novel steeped in historical research. She said she hasn’t given up on hoping to finish it.

“Long years without being able to write, I have all kinds of documents on my laptop that unfortunately have turned into unruly shrubs in a garden,” she said. “They’re kind of pushing in all kinds of directions. But I hope I can now go into this garden and take some pruning shears there and shape them.

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Kehoe Young

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