A debut novel has won the Orange Prize for Fiction for the second year running, with US author Madeline Miller scooping the £30,000 award for The Song of Achilles (Bloomsbury).
At the prize ceremony at London's Royal Festival Hall last night (30th May), chair of the judges Joanna Trollope called the novel—telling the love story of Patroclus and Achilles amid the Trojan war—"a more than worthy winner—original, passionate, inventive and uplifting".
Miller said she was "absolutely shaken" by the win, calling herself "overwhelmed, humbled and so grateful".
Her victory followed the 2011 win by Serbian-American debut novelist Téa Obrecht with The Tiger's Wife.
The Song of Achilles was the popular choice with the public, too, with Nielsen BookScan data revealing it was comfortably the bestselling book on the shortlist since it was announced on 17th April. According to BookScan, 13,543 copies of the book have been snapped up at UK booksellers since the shortlist was revealed—some 5,065 copies more than the next most popular title, State of Wonder. Last year’s winner, The Tiger’s Wife (Phoenix), has sold 164,000 copies to date. Sales of the novel rocketed 2,100% within a fortnight of winning the prize.
This year's award, the 17th Women's Prize for Fiction, is the last to be made under current sponsor Orange. Kate Mosse, the co-founder and honorary director of the prize, said at yesterday's ceremony that it was "the end of the first chapter" for the prize, but that the board had been "overwhelmed" by interest from others keen to take up the sponsorship and was looking forward to working with a new partner "to extend our reach and invest in reading all over the world". Orange communications director Stuart Jackson said the sponsor was leaving the prize "in great shape".
The identity of a likely new sponsor was the hot topic of discussion among guests at the event, with many naming Apple as a possible contender.
Miller beat shortlisted titles State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury); Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury); Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent's Tail); Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (Atlantic Books); and The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape).
Also on the 2012 judging panel were Lisa Appignanesi, Victoria Derbyshire, Natalie Haynes and Natasha Kaplinsky.