The Long Song takes £25,000 award for historical fiction
Andrea Levy’s story of the end of slavery, The Long Song, has won the £25,000 Walter Scott prize for historical fiction.
Told as the memoir of an old Jamaican woman who was once a slave on a sugar-cane plantation in early 19th-century Jamaica, The Long Song beat titles including David Mitchell’s tale of 18th-century Japan, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and Tom McCarthy’s experimental take on the life of a first world war radio operator, C, to win the award.
Levy said she was “very honoured” to have been chosen by judges as this year’s winner. “This is a generous literary prize which focuses attention on an important aspect of the role of fiction. Fiction can – and must – step in where historians cannot go because of the rigour of their discipline. Fiction can breathe life into our lost or forgotten histories,” said the author, who won the Orange prize for her evocation of a Jamaican immigrant couple in postwar London, Small Island.
“My subject matter has always been key to what and why I write – the shared history of Britain and those Caribbean islands of my heritage,” she added. “So lastly I would like to remember all those once-enslaved people of the Caribbean who helped to make us all what we are today.”
The judging panel, which included children’s author Elizabeth Laird and journalist and historical novelist Allan Massie, said The Long Song was “quite simply a celebration of the triumphant human spirit in times of great adversity”.
“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,” they said in a statement. “There are no clichés or stereotypes here.”
The Walter Scott prize is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, whose ancestors were closely linked to Scott, and uses Scott’s famous novel Waverley to pin down what constitutes historical fiction: events must have taken place at least 60 years before publication, making them outside the author’s own “mature personal experience”. Last year’s inaugural award was won by Hilary Mantel, for her story of the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall.
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