Orange is not her only prize as Levy doubles up with Whitbread

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The £30,000 Whitbread Book of the Year was won last night by the hot favourite Andrea Levy with her touching tale of post-war immigration, Small Island.

The £30,000 Whitbread Book of the Year was won last night by the hot favourite Andrea Levy with her touching tale of post-war immigration, Small Island.

Levy, who had already won the Orange Prize for women's fiction with her story, emerged the "clear winner" after nearly two hours of discussions by the judges, who were chaired by the newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald and included the politician Michael Portillo and the actor Hugh Grant.

Small Island tells the story of a Jamaican airman, Gilbert, who fights for Britain during the Second World War but later encounters racism and hostility when he moves to London with his wife, Hortense.

Sir Trevor said: "It's a brilliantly observed novel of a period of English history that many people seem not to know very much about.

"It's a book about a slice of life of the West Indian diaspora. What distinguishes this book is it's wonderfully observed. It has great light touches. It's a great, great, great story."

The Whitbread Book of the Year is fought between the winners of five separate prizes for novel - which was won by Levy - first novel, biography, poetry and children's literature.

Levy's rivals at last night's ceremony in London were Susan Fletcher with her first novel, Eve Green; the academic John Guy with My Heart is My Own, a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots; Michael Symmons Roberts, a BBC producer and the librettist to the composer James MacMillan, with his volume of poetry, Corpus, and Geraldine McCaughrean who secured her third Whitbread Children's Book Award win with Not The End of the World.

Scott Pack, buyer for Waterstone's bookstores, said: "This is the first time an author has won both the Orange Prize and the Whitbread Book of the Year and clearly demonstrates the magnitude of Small Island.

"It really is one of the 'must reads' of the year. Small Island is an absolute joy to read which is ultimately what reading should be about. We are delighted with the result."

Last year's winner, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, went on to sell more than one million copies. Several hot contenders fell in the early rounds this year. Susanna Clark's much-hyped Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was beaten in the first novel category by the little-known Eve Green by Susan Fletcher, which was said to have sold only around a thousand copies before her win.

After his Booker Prize win, Alan Hollinghurst was favourite to win the best novel prize with his story of gay love in Thatcher's Britain, The Line of Beauty. Last night's victory is likely to boost sales considerably and Small Island is widely being spoken of as a breakthrough novel for the 47-year-old writer, whose parents were West Indians who came to Britain. Her work in the past decade had been critically acclaimed but had not enjoyed widespread success.

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