Women’s Prize for Fiction: Everything you need to know about winner Susanna Clarke

Women’s Prize for Fiction: Everything you need to know about winner Susanna Clarke
The author takes home the top prize for her novel Piranesi.

Susanna Clarke has been named the winner of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel Piranesi.

The English author beat off stiff competition from this year’s shortlist, including Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.

Chair of judges Bernardine Evaristo – whose book Girl, 女士, Other was shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize – said of Piranesi: “We wanted to find a book that we’d press into readers’ hands, which would have a lasting impact. With her first novel in seventeen years, Susanna Clarke has given us a truly original, unexpected flight of fancy, which melds genres and challenges preconceptions about what books should be. She has created a world beyond our wildest imagination that also tells us something profound about what it is to be human.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the author and her award-winning book…

What’s Clarke’s background?

Piranesi is Clarke’s second novel, and readers have been waiting a long time for it. Her debut, Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell, 发表于 2004. It’s a fantastical reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars, and won widespread critical acclaim – it was longlisted for the Booker Prize won the Hugo Award for best novel and was adapted into a 英国广播公司 miniseries in 2015.

在 2006 Bloomsbury published a book of short stories by Clarke called The Ladies of Grace Adieu, with some of the tales set in the Jonathan Strange universe.

Born in 诺丁汉 Clarke is now in her early 60s living in Derbyshire The big gap between her debut and sophomore novels is down to her diagnosis with chronic fatigue syndrome. Clarke told the Guardian: “I think it may be a feature with chronic fatigue that you become incapable of making decisions. I found it impossible to decide between one version of a sentence and another version, but also between having the plot go in this direction and having it go in that direction. Everything became like uncontained bushes, shooting out in all directions. That’s the state that the sequel to Jonathan Strange is in. It’s almost like a forest now.”

What is Piranesi about?

It’s hard to fully describe Piranesi without giving too much away – you really will have to read it to discover the magic yourself. Made up of a series of journal entries, you’re immersed in the titular character’s lonely existence in a marble labyrinth of a home. It’s an eerie picture of solitude, as Piranesi tracks the goings-on of the ‘house’, including his biweekly visits from the ‘Other’.

Clarke cleverly drip feeds information – particularly as messages start appearing and Piranesi realises someone else is in the house – making for a tense and atmospheric read.

Piranesi has garnered rave reviews – from The Times calling it “a second novel that is close to perfect” to the Guardian writing: “Far from seeming burdened by her legacy, the Susanna Clarke we encounter here might be an unusually gifted newcomer unacquainted with her namesake’s work.”

What’s her style like?

While both Jonathan Strange and Piranesi could be described as fantasy novels, they feel like two very different approaches to the genre.

Clocking in at over 1,000 pages, Jonathan Strange is an epic read – full of magic and supernatural details, Clarke’s writing is a pastiche of authors such as Jane Austen.

另一方面, the effect of Piranesi is more like a prison. It’s fantastical in a different way: more rooted in the interior life of the titular character, and what happens when that gets disturbed. At under 300 pages, you’ll race through the prize-winning book.


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