McEwan and Munch's biographer win Britain's oldest literary prize

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The Independent Culture

Britain's oldest literary honours, the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, have been awarded to Ian McEwan and Sue Prideaux. McEwan, who won the Booker Prize in 1998 for Amsterdam, was given the fiction prize yesterday for his best-selling novel Saturday. Prideaux won this year's biography prize for Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream, about the Norwegian artist.

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes were set up in 1919 and are awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh for the best work of fiction and the best biography published the previous year. This year both authors won £10,000 for their efforts and they join a distinguished list of former recipients, including D H Lawrence, E M Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch, Graham Greene, Beryl Bainbridge and Zadie Smith.

"For sheer excellence of organisation and delivery as well as reading pleasure, Ian McEwan and Sue Prideaux fully justify their selection as winners," said Professor Colin Nicholson, the manager and judge of the awards. McEwan's story is based on the massive anti-war protest in London on 15 February 2003. It describes the day of a neurosurgeon whose chance encounter with an aggressive stranger intrudes on his comfortable life.

In making the award, the judges hailed the work as a "tour de force of skilful writing".

McEwan heard about his latest honour while taking a holiday in Knoydart, western Scotland. "I received the news while spending a month writing, fishing and hiking in Knoydart, so I was especially pleased to be receiving this famous Scottish prize," the novelist said.

Prideaux, whose godmother was painted by Munch and whose family were his neighbours and supporters, said that her idea to write the book was prompted by the thought that "everyone knows the painting; nobody knows the man".

"It's an enormous honour to receive the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography. A great day for me and a great day for Munch," she said.

The awards will be presented by the crime writer Ian Rankin in Edinburgh on 29 June.