Man Booker Prize: Richard Flanagan Wins for Wartime Love Story…

Australian author Richard Flanagan has won the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for his wartime novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

“It’s a remarkable love story as well as story about human suffering and comradeship,” said AC Grayling, chair of the judges.

Flanagan’s novel is set during the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in World War Two.

It was announced as the winner on Tuesday night at London’s Guildhall.

This was the first year that the Man Booker prize had been open to all authors writing in English, regardless of nationality. Some writers had expressed fears that the change in the rules could lead to dominance by US authors.

Flanagan, 53, was presented with his prize by The Duchess of Cornwall.

“In Australia the Man Booker is sometimes seen as something of a chicken raffle,” Flanagan said. “I just didn’t expect to end up the chicken.”

The author’s father, a Japanese prisoner of war who survived the Death Railway, died aged 98 the day the novel was finished.

Grayling said the judges reached a majority decision after some three hours of debate.

“The two great themes from the origin of literature are love and war: this is a magnificent novel of love and war. Written in prose of extraordinary elegance and force, it bridges East and West, past and present, with a story of guilt and heroism.”

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is Flanagan’s sixth novel. Born in Tasmania, he is the third Australian to win the Booker. Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark won in 1982 while Peter Carey won for Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and The True History of the Kelly Gang (2001).

It took Flanagan 12 years to get his novel right. “Other novels came and went as I continued to fail to write this one,” he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. “I wrote five different versions of this book in order to find the final novel.”

The story is set in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and centres upon the experiences of surgeon Dorrigo Evans, who is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier.

Grayling said: “The best and worst of judging books is when you come across one that kicks you so hard in the stomach like this that you can’t pick up the next one in the pile for a couple of days. That’s what happened in the case of this book.”