Sebastian Barry wins Costa Book of the Year award


Irish author Sebastian Barry won the Costa Book of the Year Award tonight for his novel The Secret Scripture,despite most judges not liking the ending.

The novel, which was also shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize, was one of a five-strong list for the award which is chosen from the winners of the other Costa categories.

The other successful authors who competed for the £25,000 prize were Sadie Jones, whose bestselling debut novel, The Outcast, scooped the Costa First Novel Award, Diana Athill, who won the Costa Biography Award for her memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, Michelle Magorian, who won the Children’s Book Award for Just Henryand Adam Foulds who edged out Irish poet Ciaran Carson to win the Poetry award with The Broken Word.

Earlier this month, Barry’s book won the Novel Award category, fighting off strong challenges from Traumaby Patrick McGrath and A Partisan's Daughterby Louis de Bernières.

Chairman of the judges Matthew Parris revealed that tonight's decision was close run with Adam Foulds for The Broken Word, with judges split five to four at one point.

The Secret Scripturecentres on Rosanne McNulty, perhaps nearing her 100th birthday, who faces an uncertain future as the hospital where she has spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure.

Over the weeks leading up to the upheaval, she often talks to her psychiatrist Dr Grene.

Parris described it as an “extraordinarily close finish” among the judges.

He said: “The Broken Wordjolly nearly pipped The Secret Scriptureto the post, but not quite.”

He said there was a huge amount of support for both books.

He continued: “The feeling of many of the judges with The Secret Scripturewas 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.

“Most people thought that Dr Grene’s voice, the psychiatrist’s voice, didn’t work nearly as well as Rosanne’s.

“But most people thought that in Rosanne a narrator had been created of such a transcendence that that redeemed all the other structural weaknesses in the book.”

Judges deliberated for an hour and a quarter and Parris said it was “very convivial” although some judges simply could not understand the decision to which others had come.

The final judging panel included comedian Alexander Armstrong, journalist Michael Buerk actress Rosamund Pike and Irish author and actress Pauline McLynn.

Parris said the decision was “absolutely not” a compromise in the end though.

He said of the nine judges there were five for The Secret Scriptureand four for The Broken Wordand one of the five for The Secret Scripture wavered: “So it really was a knife edge right up tot he end.”

Parris said he thought seven or eight of the nine thought the winning book was one of great brilliance: “It’s not a matter of people not caring for it or notappreciating it, he said.

The winner of the £25,000 Costa Book of the Year award was announced at a ceremony in London.

Originally established in 1971 by Whitbread, Costa took over the sponsorship of the prize in 2006.

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won nine times by a novel, four times by a first novel, five times by a biography, five times by a collection of poetry and once by a children’s book.

Additional reporting: PA