The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Women’s Prize for Fiction: Read 2021’s top novel and the winning titles from previous years

Susanna Clarke was crowned victor for her second book, ‘Piranesi’

Eva Waite-Taylor
Wednesday 08 September 2021 19:30
<p>Join us in celebrating women writers from across the globe by reading these truly remarkable books </p>

Join us in celebrating women writers from across the globe by reading these truly remarkable books

Susanna Clarke has been crowned this year’s winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, taking the award for her second novel Piranesi (£6.99, Amazon.co.uk).

Founded in 1996, the prize is one of the UK’s most prestigious book awards and showcases the remarkable originality, accessibility and excellence of novels written by women from around the world.

The judges – Bernardine Evaristo (chair), Elizabeth Day, Vick Hope, Nesrine Malik and Sarah-Jane Mee – were tasked with the near-impossible job of awarding this year’s winner from a stellar shortlist.

But Clarke triumphed to be the 26th winner of the prize, for her darkly fantastical novel that takes you on a journey to a parallel universe and offers a unique study of solitude.

Chair of the judges and Booker Prize-winning author Bernadine Evaristo said: “We wanted to find a book that we’d press into readers’ hands, which would have a lasting impact.” And that’s clearly what they’ve done. Piranesi is a story of “a world beyond our wildest imagination that also tells us something profound about what it is to be human”, she added.

Clarke beat five other remarkable finalists – Brit Bennett, Claire Fuller, Yaa Gyasi, Cherie Jones and Patricia Lockwood – whose stories draw on a broad range of themes, from race to mental health, in a variety of settings across the globe.

Read more:

The prize remains as influential today as it was upon its launch in 1996, and acts as a reminder that the industry must continue to champion women’s voices in literature. While society has progressed and publishing has become more inclusive, there’s a continued need for greater access to a diversity of voices within contemporary fiction.

In honour of this year’s winner, we’ve taken a look at the crowned novel and the top titles that preceded it, all of which showcase the heights of female creativity. Join us in supporting women writers by reading these remarkable novels.

2021 winner: 'Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke, published by Bloomsbury

Following the success of her debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (£8.99, Amazon.co.uk), Clarke has created a richly gothic atmosphere in Piranesi, which offers a unique look at a world filled with loneliness.

Blending mystery and magic, this dark novel explores the life of narrator and protagonist Piranesi, who lives in “The House”. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he sees his friend, the Other, while sometimes he takes tributes to the Dead, but often he is alone.

It’s been praised as a totally enchanting read, owing to Clarke’s ability to conjure up a world that hovers between reality and fantasy.

2020 winner: ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell, published by Headline

Written by one of the greatest living British novelists, this is the heartbreaking story behind one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It’s a fictional account of the short life of the Bard’s son, Hamnet, who died at the age of 11. Touching on love and loss, the novel speaks volumes about grief and how people find their way through it.

With raw honesty, Hamnet showcases O’Farrell’s unflinching ability as a writer who can craft impeccable and emotional prose. It was even featured in our review of the best books of 2020, with our writer praising it for being a “wonderfully evocative novel” that’s “a joy to read”.

2019 winner: 'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones, published by Oneworld

Another masterpiece in storytelling, this novel dissects what happens to a relationship when unforeseen circumstances work to sabotage it. Beautifully told with authentic characterisation, it explores the hearts and minds of three people who are separated following a wrongful conviction.

Jones’s probing of issues around race and justice is subtle yet moving, and done with a high level of emotional intelligence – as such, it’s a book that is likely to stay with you long after you’ve put it down. A perfect novel for devouring in a single weekend.

2018 winner: ‘Home Fire’ by Kamila Shamsie, published by Bloomsbury

A modern-day reimagining of Sophocles’s Antigone, this commanding novel documents the life of Isma, who has spent years caring for her two younger siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. But, while pursuing her lifelong dream in America, she begins to worry about them. Parvaiz has fled England to join Isis after discovering his jihadist father, who he never knew, died en route to Guantanamo Bay. When he reappears, halfway across the world, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

It’s a devastating study of family and identity, and how they frequently inform one another in dark and unexpected ways. It’s also a powerful comment on society and religion.

2017 winner: ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, published by Penguin

This dystopian novel is an electrifying read that reimagines our current society as a world where women are more powerful than men. Teenage girls are given the ability to electrocute other people with their hands, making them the dominant gender.

It’s a fast-paced, disturbing and urgent satire that holds our present-day society to account. It’s currently being adapted for the small screen and will be available on Amazon Prime Video soon.

2016 winner: ‘The Glorious Heresies’ by Lisa McInerney, published by John Murray Press

Exposing the depths of Cork’s underworld following the economic crash, this is a searing debut. One messy murder affects the lives of five struggling individuals; all of whom are connected by crime, addiction and abuse. One such person is young protagonist Ryan, a 15-year-old drug dealer who is a victim of exploitation.

Through prose that is laced with local vernacular and a smattering of Gaelic, McInerney creates a group of complex and vibrant characters. It’s moving and at times darkly funny, and explores the legacy of Ireland’s attitudes towards sex, family and religion in the 21st century.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on audiobooks, try the link below:

Looking for more books to add to your collection? Read our guide to the best psychological thrillers

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.