5 Jun 2013

AM Homes wins Women’s Prize for Fiction

The American author AM Homes beats Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith to the Women’s Prize for Fiction for her sixth novel, May We Be Forgiven.

The scope of the prize-winning novel knows no bounds, taking in murder, manslaughter and adultery within the first 50 pages. What follows is a dark, but ultimately uplifting, satire that takes a wry look at the modern American dream – and how it came to be.

The New York-based AM Homes fought off stiff competition from what was universally considered a very strong shortlist. It included two previous winners, Barbara Kingsolver and Zadie Smith, as well as Booker prize-winning Hilary Mantel, whose nomination for Bring up the Bodies made her the first contender for winning the UK’s top three literary awards.

The other shortlisted writers were the British author Kate Atkinson, for her ninth novel Life after Life, and Maria Semple, for Where’d you go Bernadette?

Read more from Culture Editor Matthew Cain: a make or break year for Women’s Prize for Fiction

Writing about men

Homes – known as Amy to her friends and family – is already critically acclaimed for her controversial 1997 novel, The End of Alice, about a paedophile and her bestselling memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter, which retells the story of her biological parents seeking her out.

Ironically, for the winner of a prize for women writers, Homes tends to write about men, and from a male perspective. “I am comfortable there so I can be uncomfortable there,” she told fellow writer Jeanette Winterson in an interview last year. “I find it harder, self-consciously so, to write a female narrator.”

Homes is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine and also has TV script-writing credits to her name. She has written and produced for the television show The L Word and is currently involved in the development of a new HBO series, The Hamptons.

And if past winners of the Women’s Prize for Fiction are anything to go by, she can look forward to a big boost in book sales. Previous winners include Small Island, by Andrea Levy, and We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, both of which went on to be big sellers after winning the Orange seal of approval.

Founded by novelist Kate Mosse as a response to the male-only Booker prize shortlist in 1991, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is in its 18th year, but was until last year known by the name of its sponsor, Orange.

Homes will take home a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze, known as a “Bessie”. This year’s prize was funded privately, but from next year, it will be known as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Video: AM Homes reads an extract from her award-winning novel, May We Be Forgiven.

The Great American novel?

May We Be Forgiven was seven years in the writing, and has been billed as one of the great American novels of its generation, resulting in comparisons with the likes of Jonathan Franzen.

It follows the narrator, Harry, a Nixon-obsessed academic, as he picks up the pieces of his broken extended family while battling an addiction to sexual encounters with women he meets online, a variety of self-prescribed drugs, and a seemingly eternal struggle to finish his life’s work: a book about Nixon.

His brother George, a larger than life TV executive, is passing through various mental health institutions after murdering his wife on discovering her in bed with Harry. But the book is ultimately an optimistic one, moving from despair to hope and it is Harry’s relationship with George’s two teenage children, as well his expanding, extended family, that paves the way for his redemption.

On the judging panel for the 2013 prize were actress Miranda Richardson, feminist writer Natasha Walter, author Jojo Moyes, editor and journalist Rachel Johnson, and BBC broadcaster Razia Iqbal.