Caoilinn Hughes has won the £10,000 RSL Encore Award for her "grand feat of comic ingenuity” The Wild Laughter (Oneworld).
The prize is given annually to the best second novel of the year and was judged this time around by Sian Cain, Nikita Lalwani and Paul Muldoon.
The book follows a farming family in Roscommon, Ireland, during the fallout from the 2008 global economic crash.
Accepting her prize, Hughes said: “The trail between the first and second novel is rough terrain. We all have bruises or IOUs to point at! But the readership a writer finds through her second novel is the more enduring readership. The Encore Award is a crucial recognition of its stakes. This award helped to bring Irish writer heroes like Dermot Healy, Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín to the fore, not to mention Sally Rooney and Lisa McInerney more recently. Other UK writers I so admire like Ali Smith and A L Kennedy were also championed early on by this award. To be following this lineage is strange and glorious."
Hughes' first novel, Orchid & the Wasp, won the Collyer Bristow Prize in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Hearst Big Book Awards. The Wild Laughter was longlisted for the 2021 Dylan Thomas Prize. She holds a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington and is currently the Oscar Wilde Centre Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.
She saw off competition from a shortlist featuring Susanna Clarke's Piranesi (Bloomsbury), Sharon Duggal's Should We Fall Behind (Bluemoose Books), Stuart Evers' The Blind Light (Picador) and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's The First Woman (Oneworld).
The judges said The Wild Laughter was “a grand feat of comic ingenuity, mischievous and insightful, and full of resonance for the way we live now”, adding: “The voice of Caoilinn's doomed narrator, Doharty 'Hart' Black, is so original and vibrant, with a very particular poetic vernacular. This is a story of modern Ireland, set in the crash post Celtic Tiger, but it also feels timeless in many ways, with Biblical myth simmering under the surface. The Wild Laughter is a real page-turner, in spite of its literary heart, and a joy to read. We all look forward to reading more from Caoilinn Hughes in the years to come.”