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Literature

Women’s prize for fiction goes to Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi

Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Susanna Clarke has been crowned the winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. 17 years ago she debuted with her novel “Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” but was struck down with a chronic illness. 17 Years she won the prize for her second novel, Piranesi.

Narrated by its eponymous hero as he explores the endless halls of a house that imprisons an ocean, Piranesi is “a truly original, unexpected flight of fancy which melds genres and challenges preconceptions about what books should be,” according to the Women’s prize chair of judges, Booker-winning novelist Bernardine Evaristo.

Clarke was visibly emotional during her acceptance speech. She was awarded 30,000 euros with her prize. She told the audience: “As some of you will know, Piranesi was nurtured, written and publicized during a long illness. It is the book that I never thought I would get to write – I never thought I’d be well enough. So this feels doubly extraordinary; I’m doubly honored to be here. And my hope is that my standing here tonight will encourage other women who are incapacitated by long illness.”

Piranesi “pretty much sums up what the Women’s fiction prize is all about … And that’s that women can write about whatever they want. So much of the time, when you talk about women’s fiction, female authors will tell you that they’re told to write about their experiences, that women’s stories need to be heard. And that’s all very important, but it sort of constrains women,” said Mee, who was joined on the panel by the author and podcaster Elizabeth Day, presenter and writer Vick Hope and the columnist Nesrine Malik, along with Evaristo.

“Men can write about whatever they want. Why can’t women? Women can be just as successful writing about whatever story in whatever world pops into their head. And I think that’s a wonderful message to send to girls and women who are reading or writing: You can write about whatever you want. Piranesi is ultimate escapism, a mind-bending trip – it’s something I’ll be thinking about for a long time.”

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