“A more than worthy winner – original, passionate, inventive and uplifting. Homer would be proud of her.”
Those were the words of Joanna Trollope, chair of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction judges, last night when she announced this year’s winner – Madeline Miller.
American writer and Latin teacher Miller won the £30,000 prize for The Song of Achilles, the debut novel she spent ten years working on. A captivating, lyrical book, it takes the legendary love affair of Achilles and his best friend Patroclus and brings it alive for a 21st century audience. It’s a sparkling novel that, as Trollope remarked, will appeal to readers of all ages. And not only that, it undoubtedly fulfils the Orange Prize criteria of excellence, originality and accessibility.
When Trollope announced the six shortlisted novels for the award back in March, she referred to their “remarkable quality and variety.” I’ve read all of them now and she’s right. The judges apparently spent three hours deliberating on who should win and it was only at midnight on Monday that they finally came to their decision.
I loved Miller’s novel but if I’m honest I loved two of the other contenders more - The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I first came across Enright’s book when it was Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and her smooth, elegant prose stopped me in my tracks. The novel chronicles a love affair that wrecks two Dublin marriages and is a stunning read.
Meanwhile Patchett’s book is the compelling story of a doctor sent to the Amazonian jungle to investigate the death of a colleague. An intoxicating blend of cutting-edge science and the closely guarded secrets of the rainforest’s remotest tribes, it’s a magnificent read by a writer at the height of her powers.
It will be interesting to follow the next chapter in the award’s history. This is the final year of Orange’s sponsorship of the prize (co-founder Kate Mosse hopes to announce a new sponsor later this summer) so it will have a new name next year. But one thing’s for sure. If this year’s stellar shortlist is anything to go by, women writers are a force to be reckoned with right now.
The other three novels shortlisted for the Orange Prize were Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan and Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick.