An epic, ambitious novel that straddles the Mexican revolution and the crazed communist witch-hunts of 1950s America was tonight named winner of this year's Orange prize for fiction.
Barbara Kingsolver took the £30,000 prize for The Lacuna, her eagerly awaited first novel since 2000.
The American novelist held off heavyweight competition from Hilary Mantel, for Wolf Hall, and Lorrie Moore, for A Gate at the Stairs, to take what is the biggest literary award for women writers.
Daisy Goodwin, the TV producer who chaired this year's judges, praised The Lacuna's "breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy" and said the winner was only ever between the three books. "It was a bit like trying to choose between your three beloved children," she said.
"In the end I suppose that while a couple of us felt very passionately about The Lacuna everyone was happy for it to be named winner. They were three of the finest books I've read in a long time. It wasn't like we were scraping in any sense."- Mark Brown, Guardian.co.uk
The Lacuna, made up of memoir, diaries, letters, newspaper reports and congressional transcripts, is arguably the most demanding of the six books on the shortlist. It's a doorstopping novel that needs to be read properly rather than in snatches and tackles big subjects that resonate today – not least, the media creation of, and obsession with, celebrity.
Beginning in 1929, it follows the life of Harrison Shepherd from his sensitive teenage years in Mexico to fame in 1950s America as the reclusive author of Aztec swashbucklers. In between – and central to the story – Shepherd gets work in the bohemian household of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo while they entertain house guest Leon Trotsky, for whom he becomes a scribe.
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