The winner of the prestigious Costa Book of the Year Award has been named as Days Without End by Irish author Sebastian Barry.
The awards were given out at a ceremony in London on Tuesday evening. Barry’s win means that he is the first novelist to ever win Book of the Year twice: he first scooped the award in 2008, for his novel The Secret Scripture.
Historical novel Days Without End tells the story of a man fleeing Ireland during the Great Famine and making his way to America as part of the US Cavalry.
“We all loved this magnificent, searing, thrilling book – brutal, terrifying yet with moments of light and beauty,” said Professor Kate Williams, chair of the final judges.
“Brilliant writing that takes you to the depths and the heights of humanity, and a voice you simply can’t forget.”
Debut novelist Jess Kidd, meanwhile, won the publicly-voted Costa Short Story Award for her story Dirty Little Fishes. You can download her winning short story, Dirty Little Fishes, here.
The shortlist for the Costa Book of the Year Award was announced in early January, with five books named as winners in individual categories before going head-to-head for the £30,000 overall prize.
Barry was up against four other writers, including nonfiction writer Keggie Carew (who secured the Costa Biography Award last month) and poet Alice Oswald, who won the Poetry Award.
The longlist for the awards, meanwhile, was dominated by women, with nominees including south London rapper Kate Tempest and Stylist contributor Maggie O’Farrell.
We suggest that you don’t just flick through Days Without End, as the other shortlisted books make for a stellar reading list to get stuck into this February.
From a captivating historical epic set in 18th century New York to the moving real-life account of a woman’s attempt to unravel her father’s past, there are some meaty reads here to see you through a cold winter’s night.
Scroll through to see the Stylist.co.uk summary of each of the shortlisted works.
Images: iStock, Rex Features
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Winner: Novel Award
Irish novelist and playwright Barry has won the Costa Novel Award previously: in 2008, he bagged the prize for his bestseller The Secret Scripture, which also went on to win the overall Book of the Year award. This time around the honour goes to his seventh novel, Days Without End, which tells the story of Thomas McNulty, who emigrates to the United States to escape the famine in Ireland.
Life in 1850s America turns out to be just as hard and brutal as life in County Sligo: in Missouri, McNulty gets caught up in the Civil War and the American Indian Wars, where fear, death and destruction lie around every corner. But there are also moments of startling beauty and tenderness here, notably in McNulty’s relationship with another man and their parental care for a young Sioux girl. Not an easy read, but a worthwhile one.
RRP £17.99, Waterstone’s.
The Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Winner: First Novel Award
“First novel” might conjure up images of a wet-behind-the-ears debut novelist, but the 50-something Spufford is far from a literary newcomer. A lecturer in Creative and Life Writing and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has spent most of his long career writing non-fiction. His first ‘proper’ novel, The Golden Hill transports us to New York in the winter of 1746, as a young man named Mr Smith arrives off the boat from London.
Smith has a mysterious task to achieve, and we don’t really get to the bottom of what he’s doing in Manhattan until the novel’s final pages. But in the meantime, he sets about making himself known to his new city’s social elites, flirting with ladies and hanging out in coffee shops. It’s an engrossing, deliberately old-fashioned tale with a comic lightness of touch.
RRP £8.99, Foyles.
Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew
Winner: Biography Award
Carew’s tragicomic memoir about her relationship with her eccentric father will make you laugh and cry in one sitting. A former WW2 spy, Tom Carew was part of an operation in Nazi-occupied France with the motto “Surprise, Kill, Vanish”, and as a child Keggie worshipped her mischievous war hero father. But in his old age, Tom develops dementia – and suddenly, the adult Keggie finds herself scrabbling to unravel the mysteries of her father’s past before they disappear from view forever.
Carew’s informed re-imaginings of her father’s life during the war is compelling, but it’s her exploration of their relationship that makes this biography. An uplifting and devastating account of family breakdown, mental health and war and peace – as well as the fierce power of daughterly love.
RRP £16.99, Blackwells.
Falling Awake by Alice Oswald
Winner: Poetry Award
Devon-based Oswald is much-lauded in literary circles: one recent review of her work asked, rather breathlessly, ‘Is Alice Oswald our greatest living poet?’ (Yes, the reviewer seemed to conclude.) She worked as a gardener after studying Classics at Oxford, and a fixation with the natural world – specifically, the British countryside – seeps through much of her work.
Falling Awake, Oswald’s latest collection, explores “life’s losing struggle with the gravity of nature”. The poems here are occupied by foxes, water nymphs and midsummer dawns; they’re clean and precise, and will make you long to get out into the green of the countryside.
RRP £10, bookdepository.com.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan
Winner: Best Children’s Book
If you’re a writer struggling to get where you want to go, let Conaghan be your inspiration: he originally received 217 rejections before finding a publisher and an agent for his work. Semi-dystopian YA novel The Bombs tells the story of 14-year-old Charlie Law, who lives in the fictional Little Town, on the border of Old Country. Little Town is a strict, fearful place: no drinking, no going out after dark, no litter.
But Charlie’s life is shaken up when he meets a refugee from Old Country – and when bombs start to fall on Little Town, everything changes. It might be aimed at young teenagers, but this is a sharp, clever exploration of timely themes including immigration, war, the refugee crisis and nationalism. Buy it for your 12-year-old cousin (but read it yourself first).
RRP £12.99, Bloomsbury.