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Costa Book of the Year Award 2009: Sebastian Barry triumphs

The Secret Scripture

Story by Jack Foley

AUTHOR Sebastian Barry has won the coveted Costa Book of the Year award for his novel, The Secret Scripture.

The book focuses on an elderly woman who faces an uncertain future as the hospital where she has spent the best part of her adult life prepares to close. In the weeks leading up the closure, she talks to her psychiatrist about her life and concerns.

Barry claimed the £25,000 prize even though some of the judging panel – including comedian Alexander Armstrong, journalist Michael Buerk and actresses Rosamund Pike and Pauline McLynn – were unhappy with the ending.

Chairman of judges Matthew Parris explained: “The feeling of many of the judges with The Secret Scripture was that there was a lot wrong with it and it was flawed in many ways… Almost nobody liked the ending [and] for some that was fatal to their support for the book.”

But he added: ““Most people thought that in [central character] Roseanne a narrator had been created of such a transcendence that that redeemed all the other structural weaknesses in the book.”

Parris therefore concluded that The Secret Scripture had just edged out poet Adam Foulds’ The Broken Word in what proved an “extraordinarily close finish”.

Accepting his prize at a ceremony in central London, Irish-born Barry – who ironically missed out on the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in October last year – thanked the judges for making it such “an amazing night”.

He later told the BBC that he hadn’t expected to win and was “happy and deeply contented” with the accolade.

The other nominees for this year’s Costa Book of the Year award – formely the Whitbread prize – were Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End (a biography), Sadie Jones’ The Outcast (her debut novel), and Michelle Magorian’s Just Henry (a children’s book).

They each received their £5,000 prizes at Tuesday’s ceremony, which took place at The Intercontinental Hotel, in London’s Park Lane, on Tuesday, January 27 (2009).

  1. Looks as though some judges disliked Barry’s ending, but his book won the 2009 Costa novel award.

    Fran    Feb 25    #