FROM [Pounds Sterling]50,000 TO A PRIZE PIG AND FIZZ; Insiders' Guide to the Pick of the Literary Winners

Article excerpt



The Man Booker Prize

THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS BY KIRAN DESAI (HAMISH HAMILTON, [pounds sterling]16.99) THE shortlist for this year's prize was defined largely by its omissions.

Nowhere to be seen were Peter Carey, Howard Jacobson or Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer.

Instead, the final six numbered a first novel and little-known talents such as M.J. Hyland, with Sarah Waters the biggest name by far and the bookies' favourite.

In the end, academic Hermione Lee and her fellow judges chose The Inheritance Of Loss as their [pounds sterling]50,000 winner. A warmly bittersweet tale of globalisation and its impact on a small Himalayan village, its cast includes a grumpy retired judge and his dog, Mutt, and two Anglophile sisters passionate about the BBC and M&S knickers.

At 35, Desai became the youngest female winner in the prize's long history, succeeding where her novelist mother, Anita Desai, has so far failed, despite having made the shortlist three times.


The Whitbread Prize

MATISSE THE MASTER BY HILARY SPURLING (PENGUIN, [pounds sterling]14.99) BACK at the start of 2006, Hilary Spurling scooped the last ever Whitbread Book Of The Year Award with Matisse The Master, the second instalment of her sparkling landmark biography.

Having already been named the Biography Of The Year, the book fought off stiff competition from four other category winners, including a colourful updating of The Iliad by 80-year- old poet Christopher Logue, and Ali Smith's The Accidental, which was the bookies' favourite.

It picks up where The Unknown Matisse left off, tracking the artist from 1909 until his death in 1954.

Spurling's unrestricted access to the artist's voluminous correspondence enabled her to show how, even during his most successful years, he was tortured by self-doubt and intermittent breakdowns.

The award is worth [pounds sterling]25,000, and though it's since been renamed the Costa Book of the Year to reflect a change in sponsorship, its quirky structure - pitting different genres against one another - will remain the same.


by WOMEN The Orange Prize

ON BEAUTY BY ZADIE SMITH (PENGUIN, [pounds sterling]7.99)

ZADIE SMITH was the winner of this year's women- only fiction prize, waltzing off with a cheque for [pounds sterling]30,000 and a limited edition bronze figurine, known as 'The Bessie' and created by David Niven's sister, Grizel.

Her novel combines a trans-Atlantic campus romp with a modern retelling of E.M. Forster's classic, Howards End, and centres on two feuding families locked together by love and ambition.

Smith's third book, it was praised by the judges' chairwoman, broadcaster Martha Kearney, for wedding 'extraordinary characterisation with skilful and seemingly effortless plotting'.

The Orange Prize is in its second decade, and this was an especially strong year, with Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black and Nicole Krauss' book-group favourite, The History Of Love, also in the running.


The Samuel Johnson Prize 1599: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE BY JAMES SHAPIRO (FABER, [pounds sterling]8.99)

BRITAIN'S most high-profile nonfiction prize was snagged by an American - for his book on the bard. James Shapiro's 1599: A Year In The Life Of William Shakespeare focuses on the 12 months during which the 35-yearold playwright dashed off Julius Caesar and As You Like It, added the finishing touches to Henry V and drafted Hamlet.

Brooklyn born and bred, Professor Shapiro was presented with a cheque for [pounds sterling]30,000, having beaten strong competition from five other finalists, including Alan Bennett's autobiographical Untold Stories.

Led by Robert Winston, the judges read 168 books in total, and praised 1599 for its originality, accessibility and skill. …