Following the success of her critically-acclaimed debut Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney’s follow-up novel Normal People was always going to win big across the book awards.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the Irish author claimed the Book of the Year Award title at Monday night’s (14 May) British Book Awards, calling the win “an enormous privilege and an honour”. She also thanked librarians, booksellers and the book reading community for helping her finding her audience, adding: “I do feel astonishingly lucky.”
Alice O’Keeffe, chair of the judges and books editor of the Bookseller, explained the judging panel’s decision, saying: “It was a really difficult decision and we went back and forth for a good while, but after much discussion, we felt that Sally Rooney is such a major talent and that her ‘difficult second novel’ was just as impressive as her debut was astonishing.
“She has been described as a millennial writer with millennial concerns, but I know readers in their seventies who loved Normal People. The passion that came through on the grassroots for this book is really something.”
And Rooney wasn’t the only big winner of the night.
Michelle Obama, whose memoir Becoming is now the best-selling autobiography and audiobook of all time, picked up the award for Best Narrative Non-Fiction.
“This is an incredible honour,” she said in a video message. “It’s been such an uplifting and powerful experience to share my story with everyone across the United Kingdom these past few months. I especially loved the opportunity to connect with so many bright young women, like the incredible students at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Mulberry schools in London, whose stories reminded me so much of my own.”
French-Moroccan writer Leila Slimani also won Debut Fiction Book of the Year for her dark and disturbing novel Lullaby, which was one of Stylist’s top book picks from last year.
Author and journalist Hannah Beckerman said of Lullaby: “It’s a novel that captures the zeitgeist in its incisive portrayal of the complex dynamics between parents, nannies and children. To create a literary hit with a novel in translation is no mean feat, and the judges applauded the advance buzz created by the marketing team, the striking book jacket and clever use of tagline, and the extraordinary press coverage, which would have been a stellar campaign for a British author but was truly exceptional to have been achieved with a foreign author.”
Other British Book Awards winners included:
Author of the Year: Lee Child
Illustrator of the Year: Judith Kerr
Children’s Fiction: The Ice Monster, by David Walliams
Children’s Illustrated & Non-Fiction: You Are Awesome, by Matthew Syed
Crime & Thriller: Our House, by Louise Candlish
Non-Fiction: Bosh!, by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby
Images: Courtesy of publishers