Susanna Clarke wins Women’s Prize for Fiction with Piranesi

British author wins £30,000 prize with second novel 16 years after her bestselling debut

Susanna Clarke has won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction with her second novel, Piranesi, published 16 years after her bestselling debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Chair of judges Bernardine Evaristo presented the author with the £30,000 prize, which honours outstanding, ambitious, original fiction written in English by women, at an awards ceremony in London.

Booker Prize winner Evaristo said: “We wanted to find a book that we’d press into readers’ hands, which would have a lasting impact. With her first novel in 17 years, Susanna Clarke has given us a truly original, unexpected flight of fancy which melds genres and challenges preconceptions about what books should be. She has created a world beyond our wildest imagination that also tells us something profound about what it is to be human.”

Piranesi is a philosophical fantasy, a study of isolation, exile and the human condition, inspired by the work of the 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, as well as CS Lewis's Narnia and the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. It is, according to its author, "about a man who lives in a House in which an Ocean is imprisoned". He records its wonders in his notebooks, but as messages begin to appear, he realises there is someone new in the House. But are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness?

Helen Cullen, reviewing Piranesi in The Irish Times, wrote: "the novel's scope and literary extravagance extends far beyond what its physical matter suggests could be possible... This novel is an enchanting, dark, multilayered offering that more than lives up to the power of its predecessor. However, the less you know in advance of reading it the better."

Clarke’s debut novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award and won the British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year. Neil Gaiman called it “unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years”. It has now sold more than four million copies worldwide, and in 2015 it was adapted into a mini-series by the BBC.

Piranesi was published by Bloomsbury last September. It has since been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards.

Evaristo’s fellow judges were: Elizabeth Day; Vick Hope; Nesrine Malik; and Sarah-Jane Mee. The other shortlisted titles were: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller; No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood; How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones; and Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom.