Irish author Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Galley Beggar/Faber & Faber) has won the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, in a choice hailed as "bold and exciting" by booksellers.
McBride was announced as the winner of the £30,000 award at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London yesterday (4th June).
Chair of judges Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, told The Bookseller that the book, chosen as the winner unanimously by the judging panel, “leapt out of the pack” and was “so original and incredibly emotionally involving”.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is the first-person story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, who had a childhood brain tumour, told in a style described by The Guardian as "truth-spilling, uncompromising and brilliant prose that can be, on occasion, quite hard to read”. Its stream-of-consciousness style will not put readers off, Fraser said. "The book has extraordinary lyricism,” she said. “We thought this was an amazing new voice. You’re in her [the character’s] head quickly. You almost lose sight of the stylistic strangeness because what happens is so powerful and compelling.”
Chris White, fiction buyer at Waterstones, said he was "thrilled" by the win. "It's a bold and exciting choice of a truly original novel," he said. "The Women's Prize always has a significant impact on the winner's commercial fortunes and I'm delighted that McBride's novel will now find the audience it deserves."
Jonathan Ruppin, web editor for Foyles, called the novel "bold, brilliant and beautiful, a book that will delight every reader concerned that the novel had nowhere new to go and reinforce every prejudice of those who dismiss literary fiction as pretentious.”
But while Simon Key, co-owner of North London independent The Big Green Bookshop, thought the win was "really exciting", he added: "I thought the judges were really brave in picking it as the winner because it is not exactly commercial. Some people just aren't going to get it. The style is the kind where you have to read a lot of it to really get into it – it is not exactly a beach read." He went on: "But having said that, I think it is fantastic it has been chosen because I think it is a work of literary genius. I really hope people will give it a chance."
McBride’s novel took nine years to find a publisher, and was published by the independent Galley Beggar Press last year. It is now co-published by Faber & Faber. Accepting the prize last night, McBride referred to her "years of rejection" and urged publishers "to take a look at difficult books again" and not underestimate readers. "All writers are readers and to be a reader is a fearless thing," she said.
Fraser, a former m.d. of Penguin Books UK, said of the winning novel: “It’s a book that is different and it may well have found it hard to find its first publishing home. Now there is no stopping this book. I would have liked to think Penguin would have published it, but it is quite possible we were one of those publishers who turned it down. Publishers make mistakes but in fairytale fashion this book has found the right home at the right time.”
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in November 2013 and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. It is also currently on the shortlist for the Desmond Elliot Prize.
This is the first year the prize has been sponsored by Baileys.
Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Baileys’ parent company Diageo, said: “Congratulations to Eimear McBride whose winning book, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, embodies the excellence, originality and outstanding talent that the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction serves to celebrate. We are very proud to partner with the Prize, and together we will continue to bring the best of women's writing to ever-wider audiences”.
The judging panel also included Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge; writer Denise Mina; columnist and author Caitlin Moran; and Sophie Raworth, BBC broadcaster and journalist.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has sold 6,494 copies through Nielsen Bookscan across two editions.
The other books on the shortlist for this year’s prize were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown); The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury); Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Picador); Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate); and The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (Atlantic Books).
In addition to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner announcement, aspiring novelist Maia Jenkins was tonight named as the winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize/Grazia First Chapter Competition for unpublished writers.
Galley Beggar Press was formed by Henry Layte, owner of The Book Hive bookshop in Norwich, together with Guardian books journalist Sam Jordison and his wife, writer Eloise Millar.