Novels, biographies and poems: The five winners in the Whitbread Awards

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The Independent Online

The Moor's Last Sigh

by Salman Rushdie

Author's biography: Celebrated prize-winner. Still living under an Iranian fatwa issued in 1989

Plot: The fall from grace of a high-born crossbreed, Moraes Zogoiby, heir to a rich spice dynasty

Critics' view: "All that the reader might hope for is there: the beat and bounce of the writing, the pouring accumulation of the prose..." - Malcolm Bradbury

Judges' view: "An outstanding book in an excellent field"

Readability: Almost zero

First novel

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

by Kate Atkinson

Author's biography: Born in York in 1951; lives in Edinburgh with two daughters; former chambermaid and home help

Plot: Tale of Ruby Lennox, grudgingly conceived by Bunty, who really wants to be Vivien Leigh

Critics' view: "Without doubt one of the finest novels I have read for years" - Mary Loudon, The Times

Judges' view: "A wonderfully accessible, hugely readable and absorbing book"

Readability: Excellent

Children's novel

The Wreck of the Zanzibar

by Michael Morpurgo

Author's biography: Has written over 40 children's books; lives in Devon with his wife; runs the charity Farms For City Children, which allows 2,000 children a year to spend a week living and working on a farm

Plot: A storm brings an unexpected harvest ashore for Laura, who lives in the Scilly Isles in 1907

Critics' view: "Evocative, tender and truthful" - Susan Hill, Daily Telegraph

Judges' view: "Deeply moving and believable"

Readability: High, especially if adult



by Roy Jenkins

Author's biography: Former Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and President of the EC. Now Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords and Chancellor of Oxford University

Plot: Gladstone's life, including his self-flagellation and "rescue" of prostitutes

Critics' view: "Elegant and exuberant" - Sir Robin Day

Judges' view: "A great book about a great man"

Readability: Surprisingly good - pretty racy, too



by Bernard O'Donoghue

Author's biography: Born in Cullen, Co Cork, in 1945. Has published books on medieval literature, which he teaches at Oxford University

Plot: Episodes from the poet's upbringing

Critics' view: "It manifests not only a generous maturity but also an original style" - Elizabeth Jennings, Daily Telegraph

Judges' view: "Has a great sense of place and time and writes about complex themes in a very simple way"

Readability: High in places