Prodigal son parable wins Orange Prize

American's work is unanimous choice of panel judging £30,000 book prize

In her 28 years of writing, Marilynne Robinson has been far from prolific. But the American author's track record for producing quality rather than quantity in fiction was confirmed last night when her third (and latest) novel won the prestigious Orange Prize.

The 66-year-old writer was the "unanimous" choice of the panel judging the women-only fiction award, presented at a ceremony in London's Royal Festival Hall.

Her novel, Home, is a profound examination of family life told through the eyes of a prodigal son returning home to confront his past and his alcoholism.

Robinson was probably the best-known writer on the shortlist for the £30,000 award, now in its 14th year. Her first novel, Housekeeping, was published in 1981 and her following work, Gilead, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The Iowa-based novelist beat nominees including Samantha Harvey, the sole Briton on the shortlist and a debut author who splits her time between writing, completing her PhD and managing an astronomy museum; and Ellen Feldman, another American writer whose novel, Scottsboro, was judged by bookmakers to have been the favourite for the prize.

Fi Glover, the BBC Radio 4 broadcaster and chairwoman of the judges, said Home had been a straightforward choice for the five-strong panel, which included the writer and novelist Bidisha, the journalist and academic Sarah Churchwell, the journalist Kira Cochrane and entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox.

Glover said: "It was a unanimous verdict. It was quite an easy victory for Mary. All of us brought Home to the table. Some of us had other books but everyone had it in their final bundle of two or three titles. I loved the story for the quality of the writing, there was a luminous quality to her words. It is a very wise book in that she takes a familiar theme but she imparts great wisdom with it. It is a profound work of art."

The novel, which also wins its author a bronze figurine called the Bessie, has strong echoes of Robinson's previous book by being set in the town of Gilead. It focuses on Jack, the prodigal son of the Broughton family whose godfather – John Ames – is the clergyman narrator of Gilead.

Robinson chronicles Jack's return home to Gilead as the childhood bad boy who has wrecked his life with alcoholism and sets about an awkward and incomplete reconciliation with his father and sister, Glory.

The judges said they had decided that the overlapping nature of the two books did not detract from the success of Home as a standalone novel.

Reviewing the novel for The Independent, the author Salley Vickers wrote: "Home is not a novel in which plot matters. Like Jane Austen, but in a different key, Robinson's intent focus is the super-subtleties of human exchange. The heart of this utterly absorbing, precisely observed, marvellous novel is the fumbling inadequacy of love."

The award, which rubs shoulders with the Booker and Costa as one of the most lucrative and respected English-language literary prizes, is likely to produce a sales fillip for Robinson, who joins an illustrious list of winners including Zadie Smith, Lionel Shriver and Andrea Levy.

Organisers were last year forced to defend the award against criticism that its "women-only" status had become unnecessary in an era when female authors regularly win unisex literary awards. AS Byatt suggested that the Orange Prize was a sexist award and said she forbids her publisher from submitting her novels for consideration. "Such a prize was never needed," she said.

Kirsty Lang, the chairwoman of the judging panel for the 2008 award, said it was time for a debate on whether men should be included among the judges for the award to ensure it catered for a broader mix of reading tastes.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?