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
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
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.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering