The Discomfort of Evening (Faber) by 29-year-old Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated by Michele Hutchison, has won the £50,000 International Booker Prize, making Rijneveld the first debut novelist, and the youngest author, to take the award.
Chair of judges Ted Hodgkinson announced the winning novel at a digital event livestreamed via Facebook and YouTube on 26th August. Rijneveld, who also works as a dairy farmer, declared themselves "as proud as a cow with seven udders" to win the prize.
Rijneveld's book tells the story of Jas and her devout farming family in a strict Christian community in rural Netherlands. Resentful at being left alone by her brother, she attempts to bargain with God, pitting the life of her pet rabbit against her sibling's. When he never returns from an ice-skating trip, grief overwhelms the farm and Jas succumbs to a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies.
Judges said Rijneveld’s language “renders the world anew, revealing the shocks and violence of early youth through the prism of a Dutch dairy farm”.
The Dutch edition, first released in 2018, has been a bestseller in the Netherlands, where it picked up the ANV Debut Prize. In the UK it was acquired by Faber last year in a three-way auction , and published in March 2020.
Hodgkinson, head of literature and spoken word at Southbank Centre, said the book was a "work of spellbinding beauty" that astounded the judging panel, which took five hours to decide on a winner.
He said: “We set ourselves an immense task in selecting a winner from our superb shortlist, filled with fiction bold enough to upend mythic foundations and burst the banks of the novel itself. From this exceptional field, and against an extraordinary backdrop, we were looking for a book that goes beyond echoing our dystopian present and possesses a timeless charge. Combining a disarming new sensibility with a translation of singular sensitivity, The Discomfort of Evening is a tender and visceral evocation of a childhood caught between shame and salvation, and a deeply deserving winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize."
Born in 1991, Rijneveld grew up in a Reformed farming family before moving to Utrecht and still works on a dairy farm. The writer, whose preferred pronouns are them/they, also penned the acclaimed 2015 poetry collection Calfskin, which was awarded the C Buddingh' Prize for best Dutch-language poetry debut, and has been heralded as one of the most exciting young voices in Dutch literature.
Rijneveld said, during the writing of the novel, they had written the words “be relentless” above their desk, adding: “Today, when the world has been turned upside down and is showing its dark side, I often remember those words. So, write, read, win, lose, love each other, but be relentless in this."
Following a stint as an editor, Michele Hutchison (pictured, right) became a Dutch literary translator, working on An American Princess by Annejet van der Zijl (Amazon Crossing) and Mona in Three Acts by Griet op de Beeck (Amazon Crossing), among other titles. The prize money is split between author and translator, giving both equal recognition.
Hutchison said: “Translations open up windows onto other world, allowing us to see into other places and other people's minds. Now, when it is no longer possible to travel like we used to, we should travel by reading books.”
This year's judges considered 124 books, translated from 30 languages. The winner was picked from a shortlist featuring Hurricane Season by Mexican author Fernanda Melchor, translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo); The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated from Spanish by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh (Charco); The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, originally written in Farsi and with an anonymous translator (Europa); The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker); and Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll, translated by Ross Benjamin (Quercus).
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