Naomi Alderman has won the £30,000 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her feminist science fiction novel The Power (Viking).
She was presented with the prize this evening (7th June) at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
The Power, Alderman's fourth novel, is set in a world in which women gain the power to electrocute at will, and questions whether women would abuse power any differently to men, given the chance. Chair of the judges Tessa Ross said that while her judging panel debated the shortlist "for many hours", they "kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination."
"I'm a bit shaky," said Alderman while accepting the prize. "I wanted to say that the women's movement has made my life possible. Women's writing has changed my life. Writers in the feminist tradition have shown me wider ambition and purpose and possibility for my life, and what I wanted to do with this book was to be part of that amazing conversation about what women can do and achieve and be. And I think we are only just beginning."
She added in conversation with The Bookseller she was "a bit shell shocked" by the win and "looking forward to a few days of it slowly dripping into my consciousness". Reflecting on how she came up with the novel's concept, Alderman said: "I really wanted to write about something that has puzzled me for a long time. When people talk about the differences between men and women, they talk about all sorts of things - maybe men are better at maths, maybe women are better at looking at faces and finding berries... They never seem to say, 'maybe there are a lot of things in society that are this way because on average men are more capable of giving a swift backhander to a woman and knocking her over than women on average are capable of doing to men'. This seems to be a very fundamental fact of the world that nobody ever really talks about or talks about as the root of anything. It was interesting to me to reverse that and see what I thought would happen."
The Power triumphed on a shortlist of strong contenders, including Madeleine Thien’s Man Booker-shortlisted novel about China’s revolutionary history, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta), and The Dark Circle (Virago), authored by one of the prize’s first winners, Linda Grant. It also was also chosen over Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ’s debut Stay With Me and Gwendoline Riley’s First Love, both about marriages in turmoil, and the only American novel on the shortlist, C E Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (4th Estate).
Alderman's win comes a decade after her debut novel Disobedience won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers.
Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Baileys owner Diageo, said that the winning novel was "a wonderful example of the exceptional writing the Prize champions", adding: "Baileys is enormously proud to partner with the prize, who have created an open platform for the sharpest, smartest, most compelling writing in the English language."
Baileys will cease to be headline sponsor of the prize after this year's event. Sponsorship of the Women's Prize for Fiction for 2018 and beyond has yet to be confirmed, but the prize has said it is to adopt a new, collective model rather than looking for another headline sponsor.
The Power was optioned for television at the end of last year by Sister Pictures, co-producers of ITV’s “Broadchurch”, after an 11-way auction, when it was branded “a story of our times”.
Also judging this year's award were novelist Aminatta Forna, The Pool co-founder Sam Baker, presenter Katie Derham, and comic and author Sara Pascoe.
Reacting to Alderman's win, Frances Gertler, web editor of Foyles, commented: “I’m delighted that this bold and powerful novel has won the Baileys. It’s a timely look at themes of power, violence, religion and revenge. Naomi is a brave and thoughtful writer who puts her unique spin on whatever subjects she tackles.”
Chris White, fiction buyer for Waterstones, said: "This is the last ‘Baileys’ winner but I've a feeling that it's the one which will endure. The Handmaid's Tale is such an obvious comparison but it's also the right one. Like Atwood's great novel this is dystopian fiction which speaks to our times with a ferocity and a generosity which only the finest writers achieve. The Power is a novel to enjoy and absorb. Essential reading for our strange and troubled times."