British writer Susanna Clarke won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction on Wednesday for her mind-tweaking fantasy novel Piranesi.
Clarke was awarded the £30,000 ($41,000) award for her second novel, which was published 16 years after her first, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, became a global bestseller.
Set in a magical alternate reality, Piranesi is narrated by a man living in a labyrinthine, statue-filled house – alone except for a visitor known as the Other – which comprises his whole universe.
As he explores his domain, the character’s understanding of his world gradually shifts, and so does the reader’s.
Clarke’s first novel, an epic magical saga, was published to acclaim in 2004, sold more than 4 million copies and was adapted for television by the BBC.
She has said that work on the follow-up was slowed by illness, as she struggled with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Piranesi was published in 2020, as much of the world was experiencing lockdown, isolation and dislocation because of the coronavirus pandemic, and struck a chord with many readers and critics.
Novelist Bernardine Evaristo, who chaired the Women’s Prize judging panel, said Clarke had “created a world beyond our wildest imagination that also tells us something profound about what it is to be human".
Clarke was one of two British authors among six finalists for the prize, founded in 1996 and open to female English-language writers from around the world.
Previous winners include Zadie Smith, Tayari Jones and Maggie O’Farrell.
This year’s other finalists were: American author Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half; US writer Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking about this; Transcendent Kingdom, by Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi; Barbadian writer Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House; and UK author Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground.