Andrea Levy's 'Small Island' judged best book to win the Orange Prize

All the chairwomen from the first 10 years of judging panels, including the broadcasters Rosie Boycott and Sue MacGregor and the novelist Ahdaf Souief, came together to re-read all the first decade's winning novels.

And last night, at a ceremony in London, Andrea Levy, last year's winner with Small Island, a story of post-war immigration, was awarded the Orange Prize for fiction's best of the best.

Levy emerged victorious in a field which boasted writers such as Carol Shields, Helen Dunmore and Anne Michaels - whose novel Fugitive Pieces became a massive international success on the back of its Orange Prize win in 1997, having sold very few copies before being nominated.

The writer Kate Mosse, a co-founder of the prize and chair of the judges, said all of the books continued to have resonance with readers. But Small Island had proved particularly successful as it was a book that meant different things to different people.

"On the one hand, it's the most wonderful explanation of the country that we are now in terms of race and gender and class and how we all fit together," she said. "On the other hand, it's a wonderful comic novel and a lot of people enormously enjoy the humour and the voices and the dialogue. It's unusual to have at the heart of a novel four key characters - two men, two women, two black two white - and yet it's done so effortlessly."

Mosse admitted the prize seemed quite young to be celebrating in such a fashion. But she said the idea for marking the anniversary had come from libraries and booksellers. Many have been doing promotions or special book club sessions featuring the 10 winning books.

Radio 4's Woman's Hour held its own poll of listeners who also voted for Levy as best of the best. This year's victor, Lionel Shriver, came second in the radio vote with We Need to Talk about Kevin and Michaels' Fugitive Pieces was third.

Mosse said: "The booksellers said that as the Orange Prize has grown in reputation and profile, there would be people who have read some of the more recent ones, but might not have read the earlier ones. They thought they could sell all 10.

"Best of the best is a great opportunity to introduce a new generation of readers to some of the outstanding novels they may have missed first time round."

When the Orange Prize was first announced, it was not universally welcomed. Auberon Waugh called it the "Lemon Prize" and A S Byatt registered her opposition to "anything which ghettoises women". But the prize has largely overcome the initial opposition.

Andrea Levy, the British-born daughter of Jamaican parents, takes the experience of the Windrush generation of immigrants as the centre point of Small Island, her fourth novel. It tells the story of Gilbert Joseph, a young Jamaican who fights for the Allies with the RAF but finds he is less welcome in England after the war as a civilian. Married to Hortense, who is shocked at how the English live, the novel weaves together their lives with those of Queenie Bligh, their white English landlady whose husband, Bernard, was also with the RAF during the war.

Previous winners

1996 Helen Dunmore for A Spell of Winter

1997 Anne Michaels for Fugitive Pieces

1998 Carol Shields for Larry's Party

1999 Suzanne Berne for A Crime in the Neighbourhood

2000 Linda Grant for When I Lived in Modern Times

2001 Kate Grenville for The Idea of Perfection

2002 Ann Patchett for Bel Canto

2003 Valerie Martin for Property

2004 Andrea Levy for Small Island

2005 Lionel Shriver for We Need to Talk About Kevin

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world