Vivid tale of life in pre-revolutionary Paris beats Matthew Hollis’s biography of Edward Thomas to £30,000 prize cheque writes Mark Brown in The Guardian
A vividly told story of life in pre-revolutionary Paris on Tuesday won the 2011 Costa book award in what turned out to be a bitterly fought two-way tussle between fact and fiction.
Andrew Miller was given one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes – and a £30,000 cheque – at a ceremony in London for his sixth novel, Pure.
The chairman of the judges, Geordie Greig, said “there really was a fierce debate” during the 90-minute judging discussion. “There was quite bitter dissent and argument to find the winner. The debate was prolonged with passionate views over two books.” The books were Pure and Now All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis’s gripping and moving biography of the war poet Edward Thomas.
Greig, editor of the London Evening Standard, said the prize, which chooses the best overall book from five categories – novel, biography, poetry, children’s novel and first novel – was one which came “with a sense of impossibility about it. You’re not just comparing apples and oranges, it feels like you’re comparing bananas and chicken curry. It makes the task difficult and interesting.” He said Pure emerged as the majority winner after 45 minutes of quite bitter “toing and froing, dinging and donging” – not unpleasant, he said, but “forthright”. Read full article…
The author of the prize-winning, hugely acclaimed INGENIOUS PAIN returns to the 18th century with an enthralling tale set in pre-revolutionary Paris.
A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests.
A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love…
A year unlike any other he has lived.
Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.
At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.
About the Author : Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. He has lived in Spain, Japan, Ireland and France, and currently lives in Somerset. His first novel, INGENIOUS PAIN, was published by Sceptre in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. He has since written four novels: CASANOVA, OXYGEN, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Booker Prize in 2001, THE OPTIMISTS, and ONE MORNING LIKE A BIRD.
Runner up and Winner 2011 Costa Biography Award
Now All Roads Lead to France : The Last Years of Edward Thomas
by Matthew Hollis
A fascinating exploration of one of Britain’s most influential First World War poets.
Edward Thomas was perhaps the most beguiling and influential of First World War poets. Now All Roads Lead to France is an account of his final five years, centred on his extraordinary friendship with Robert Frost and Thomas’s fatal decision to fight in the war. The book also evokes an astonishingly creative moment in English literature, when London was a battleground for new, ambitious kinds of writing. A generation that included W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost and Rupert Brooke were ‘making it new’ – vehemently and pugnaciously.
These larger-than-life characters surround a central figure, tormented by his work and his marriage. But as his friendship with Frost blossomed, Thomas wrote poem after poem, and his emotional affliction began to lift. In 1914 the two friends formed the ideas that would produce some of the most remarkable verse of the twentieth century. But the War put an ocean between them: Frost returned to the safety of New England while Thomas stayed to fight for the Old.
It is these roads taken – and those not taken – that are at the heart of this remarkable book, which culminates in Thomas’s tragic death on Easter Monday 1917.
Matthew Hollis is the author of Ground Water, short listed for the Whitbread Prize for Poetry, the Guardian First Book Award and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Now All Roads Lead to France is his first prose book.