Debut author Winnie M Li has been voted the winner of the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize for her novel Dark Chapter (Legend Press), based on the true story of her sexual assault.
Dark Chapter won the public vote as well as the endorsement of one of the Guardian's three reader judges, giving it the edge over four other shortlisted novels: Man With A Seagull On His Head by Harriet Paige (Bluemoose Books), The Threat Level Remains Severe by Rowena Macdonald (Aardvark Bureau), Not Thomas by Sara Gethin (Honno Welsh Women's Press), and Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Viking).
Judge Hannah Bruce Macdonald made the case that Dark Chapter was the novel that stayed with her the longest and argued it wasn't just an important and brave novel, but also a story well told.
Journalist Sam Jordison, who looks after the Guardian's reading group, called it "an impressive debut novel" and "a tense dramatic reading experience...conveyed with skill and emotion".
"The only pity is that we could only choose one book," he said. "This was an excellent year and the other four books on the shortlist were excellent contenders. Commiserations are due to them all. Our winner, meanwhile, deserves hearty congratulations."
Li told The Bookseller she was heartened see readers embrace her story and praised the prize for the profile-raising opportunity it represented to authors and the independent presses who publish them.
"I certainly never expected to win the Not The Booker Prize, so it’s incredibly gratifying to have Dark Chapter recognised in this way," Li commented. "In such a competitive industry, the huge fear is that your book — something you’ve worked on for years of your life — will go unnoticed. So Not The Booker represents a unique opportunity for authors (especially those published by independent presses) to gain more attention.
"In my case, winning the public vote affirmed to me that yes, my book is connecting with readers out there — and that especially, in this current cultural climate, readers are willing to embrace a story of sexual assault and its aftermath — and all the societal questions it raises."
Published in 2017 in the UK with Legend Press, and in the US with Polis Books, a host of translation rights deals done through Li's agents at Pontas will also see it publish in Czech, Dutch, German, Iceandic, Italian, Korean and Swedish later in 2017 and 2018.