Historical novel The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry has beaten the likes of J K Rowling and Beatrix Potter to be crowned the Waterstones Book of the Year for 2016.
Described as “a novel of rare intelligence”, it was voted “overwhelmingly” as the title which booksellers were most proud to recommend to customers and picked as the winner by a Waterstones panel headed by m.d James Daunt.
The book, published by Profile Books’ imprint Serpent’s Tail in May, is now likely to benefit from a huge sales boost, with the exclusive edition receiving the “full and committed backing” of Waterstones’ 280-store estate and website.
Last year’s winner, The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin) saw an increase in sales of over 5,000% across its stores, the company said.
Perry’s book, described as “a master-class in historical fiction and an object lesson in how to inform and entertain” is set in the Victorian London and Essex of the 1890s. It beat off competition from shortlisted titles Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and J K Rowling, (Little, Brown), The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake (Warne), Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air (Vintage), Meeting with Remarkable Manuscripts (Allen Lane) and The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby, also published Allen Lane, to claim the award.
Daunt said: “The Essex Serpent blazed as the overwhelming choice by our booksellers to be their Book of the Year. A novel of rare intelligence and utterly compelling to read, it takes complete possession of the reader. It is a treasure and we recommend this wonderful book to everyone.”
Sarah Perry. Picture: © Jamie Drew
Perry thanked Waterstones’ booksellers for their support for her work. “From the moment The Essex Serpent was released, Waterstones’ booksellers were true friends of the book, and week after week I was moved and astonished by the creativity that went into windows, displays and murals all over the country. No author could hope for better champions of their work, or a more heartfelt introduction to readers, and I could not be more grateful.”
Rebecca Gray, acting publisher Serpent’s Tail, added: “Hannah Westland, who’s currently on maternity leave, had such vision and passion for this book from the start that it seems unfair that I have the pleasure of saying how thrilled we are to see The Essex Serpent named Waterstones Book of the Year. It’s been a joy for all of us to see Waterstones champion it as only they can, and watching Sarah, Hannah and all the people here at Serpent’s Tail publish the book so beautifully has been the highlight of my year. Hurrays and thank yous all round.”
The title was also been shortlisted in the Costa Book Awards in the Novel category, but Waterstones said it was also ‘surprised” it hadn’t been nominated by another literary prize.
“A master-class in historical fiction and an object lesson in how to inform and entertain, The Essex Serpent quickly became a favourite amongst Waterstones booksellers and their customers to become the word of mouth bestseller of the summer,” the company said. “Thus far, to the surprise of booksellers at Waterstones, it has not won any other literary prizes, although it is one of the four novels on the shortlist for the Costa Novel Award.”
The chain will now sell a “beautiful” exclusive edition of the book in it stores, featuring a blue cover with gold foil and embossed finishes, top and tail binding and bespoke endpapers, making it “a book whose exterior beauty matches the majesty of its writing”.
The title has so far sold 25,769 copies total for £332,880 through Nielsen BookScan.
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