2014 Man Booker Prize goes to Richard Flanagan

This year’s Man Booker Prize has been awarded to Richard Flanagan for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  The Australian author’s sixth book took the £50,000 award over work from three time nominee Ali Smith, past winner Howard Jacobson, Neel Mukherjee, and the prize’s first ever American nominees, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler.

Flanagan’s novel is a romance set against the backdrop of a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War and the five decades afterwards. It reputedly took Flanagan 12 years to write, with five other books begun and discarded during the process. On the day he finished writing it, his 98 year old father – himself a surviving PoW who had been made to work on the notorious Burma Death Railway depicted in the novel – died; the book is dedicated to him. It takes its title from Matsuo Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi, a major poetic work of 17th century Japanese literature.

Flanagan’s most celebrated novel prior to The Narrow Road to the Deep North is his third, Gould’s Book of Fish, published in 2001. The book – a fictionalised take on the life of the Van Diemonian (Tasmanian) artist and convict William Buelow Gould – won the Commonwealth Writers Prize twice in 2002 (once for South-East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book, and once for Overall Best Book), the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal. It was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Booksellers Choice Award. His other novels are Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting.

In a historic first for the Booker, Flanagan is also the co-writer of a Baz Luhrmann film, namely 2008’s Australia. Make of that what you will.

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