Costa Book Awards 2013

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The category shortlists were announced on 27 November and the individual category winners on 6 January: they each won £5,000. The overall winner (who will receive £30,000) was announced on 28 January.

Winner

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

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Matthew has a story to tell us. It begins in his childhood and on a particular holiday when he encountered a girl called Annabelle who was burying her doll, but the story isn't about Annabelle, it's initially about Simon, Matthew's older brother and we know what's going to happen straight away:

'I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that.' Full review...

The shortlists in full:

2013 Costa Novel Award shortlist

Winner

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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Spanning the period from just before World War One to the end of World War Two, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life tells the story of Ursula Todd. Or more accurately, it tells the potential stories of Ursula Todd. If you've seen the movie Sliding Doors then you will have some idea of the concept Atkinson explores; that of small changes in life leading to different outcomes, many of which lead to tragic endings but strangely the book manages to be a celebration of the spirit of Ursula and is often quite uplifting. It's a book that sounds like it is going to be much more confusing than it is though and the result is a very special book indeed. It's that rare thing of a book that has a strong literary style but which is also very readable. Full review...

Other books on the shortlist

Unexpected Lessons in Love by Bernardine Bishop

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Cecilia Banks and Helen Gatehouse met by chance in a doctor's waiting room and a friendship developed because they were both cancer survivors, albeit with a colostomy. It was a case of opposites attracting: Cecilia was quiet, reserved, married for the second time and the mother of Ian whom she idolised. Helen had never married, loud in the nicest sense of the word and an author. They gave each other mutual support and an outlet for their preoccupations. People with whom you can discuss the, er, intricacies of your stoma are few and far between! The relationship wasn't entirely uncritical: Helen was less than impressed when Ian dumped (sorry - there's really no other word for it) a baby on his mother. Cephas was the result of a fling he'd had with the child's mother and she'd disappeared. He - a war correspondent - was on his way abroad. Full review...

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

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In London, in July 1976 it hadn't rained for months. Gardens - if you could call them that any longer - were thick with aphids and what water there was, which was to be consumed or used for washing, came from a standpipe. Robert Riordan told his wife, Gretta, that he was going round the corner to buy a newspaper. This was what he did every morning, but this time he didn't come back. The police weren't interested as the closer they looked the more it was obvious that there was an intention to disappear. Gretta turned to her three adult children for help. But how much help would they - could they - be? Full review...

2013 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

Winner

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

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Matthew has a story to tell us. It begins in his childhood and on a particular holiday when he encountered a girl called Annabelle who was burying her doll, but the story isn't about Annabelle, it's initially about Simon, Matthew's older brother and we know what's going to happen straight away:

'I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that.' Full review...

Other books on the shortlist

Idiopathy by Sam Byers

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Katherine no longer seeks or expects to be happy. She's stuck in a place and a job she hates and her relationship with Daniel broke up over a year ago. Since then she's had sexual encounters with a few men but her motivations have been confusing and disturbing - not least to Katherine. She has a vicious wit (actually, calling it wit is perhaps stretching the point a little...) which repels the people she'd like to attract and attracts the people she'd prefer to repel. Daniel is with a new girlfriend (well, there was a slight overlap) but he's not certain that he loves Angelica. He's in a difficult situation: not telling her that he loves her becomes tantamount to telling her that he doesn't love her and as a result he has to tell her that he loves her just to keep on the level. Full review...

Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy

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Struan Robertson was just seventeen, but set to go to Aberdeen to study dentistry, when his English teacher passed him a short advertisement. A literary giant needed a carer. Why not take a gap year? Struan had never been to ‘’England’’ before and he would be living in Hampstead. On the plus side he’d been working in a care home to earn money and he could do the work. Soon - almost too soon - Struan was the main carer for Phillip Prys, rendered dumb and paralysed by a massive stroke. His family couldn’t take care of him - the young (very young) third wife was too busy with her painting. His son, Jake, had other things - anything else - to do rather than be in his father’s presence. Juliet had never been her father’s favourite but she wasn’t ‘’exactly’’ stable when it came to helping. Full review...

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera

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On the morning after his father’s funeral Arjan Banga was surprised to see his mother opening up the family shop. She was in her sixties, recovering from cancer and besides, Bains Stores wasn’t exactly thriving. You could even be forgiven for wondering if it was ‘’open’’, with the advert for a bar of chocolate discontinued in 1994 having pride of place in the window and the security shutter stuck at a quarter open. Much as he might wish otherwise Arjan has no choice but to stay in Wolverhampton to help his mother, leaving his job as a graphic designer and his girlfriend, Freya in limbo. They were supposed to be getting married in December, but that looked increasingly unlikely. Full review...

2013 Costa Biography Award shortlist

Winner

The Pike: Gabriele D'Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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Gabriele d’Annunzio was a strange and perhaps fortunately unique character, a kind of 20th century Renaissance man who almost defies posterity to pigeonhole him. At various times he was a poet, novelist, dramatist, journalist, adventurer, self-styled demagogue and philanderer. Although he lost several friends during the First World War, as well as the sight of one eye when his plane was shot down, he had a passion for war, seeing bloodshed as manly and death in battle as glorious self-sacrifice. He had the dodgiest of moral compasses, and yet was hardly the Adonis he believed himself to be. One French courtesan who firmly rebuffed his physical advances later called him ‘a frightful gnome with red-rimmed eyes and no eyelashes, no hair, greenish teeth, bad breath and the manners of a mountebank’. Had he been alive today, he would have probably been an instant celebrity and media personality with a very short shelf-life. One half Jeremy Clarkson, one half Russell Brand, one might say. Full review...

Other books on the shortlist

Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis

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I know two books don't make a genre, but twice in recent years I have read autobiographical travelogues of men who felt too much was going on in their lives and their surroundings, and took themselves off to remote, isolated, extremely cold and inhospitable places. One went to the shores of Lake Baikal, and shared his days hunting, fishing, drinking and reading with only a few very distant neighbours. Gavin Francis took himself south, to the edge of the Antarctic ice, to spend a year as a scientific doctor. He wasn't able to be completely as alone as some have been in the past – even if he hid himself away in isolation before the week-long annual changeover of staff was through. Francis ends up with a baker's dozen of companions, in a place where – apart from the ice, sealing things up – only two lockable doors exist. You might think this was a large group of people for someone wanting to be alone, but the very tenuous and isolated feel of the place in the huge emptiness of the landscape is the main point of this book – that, and communing with emperor penguins… Full review...

Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding

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This dual biography concerns, as the title makes clear, two men. One was from an inherently German, rich Jewish family – they had a powerboat so he could waterski on the lake at their country cottage – who fled the rise of the Nazis early in the 1930s, and got away moderately lightly, only losing properties and a large and successful medical career. The other was from an inherently German family, who signed up for First World War service before his age, but only really wanted to be a farmer and family man, yet who ended up running probably history's worst slaughterhouse. Both had a connection and a shared destiny that was largely unknown before this book was researched, there's a chance that both of them had the blood of one man and only one man directly on their hands from WWII service, and both of them – again, as the title makes clear – are given the dignity of the familiar, first name throughout this incredible book. Full review...

The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing

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Coming from a family with an alcoholic background, Olivia Laing became fascinated by the idea of why and how some of the greatest works of twentieth-century literature were written by those with a drink problem. The list soon became a long one – Dylan Thomas, Raymond Chandler, Jack London, Jean Rhys, to name but a few, instantly came to mind. In the spring of 2011 she crossed the Atlantic to take a trip across the USA, from New York City and New Orleans to Chicago and Seattle by hired car and train, in the course of which she took a close look at the link between creativity and alcohol which inspired the work of six authors, namely F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver. Taking her title from a character in Williams’s play ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ who says he is taking a trip to echo spring, an euphemism for the liquor cabinet, she travels to the places which were pivotal in their often overlapping lives and work. Full review...

2013 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

Winner

Michael Symmons Roberts for Drysalter (Jonathan Cape)

Other books on the shortlist

Clive James for Dante, The Divine Comedy (Picador)

Helen Mort for Division Street (Chatto & Windus)

Robin Robertson for Hill of Doors (Picador)


2013 Costa Children’s Book Award shortlist

Winner

Goth Girl: and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

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It all starts with sigh, soft and sad and ending in a little squeak. But while some mice can end up roaring, so this book soon escalates from just meeting the ghost of a dead mouse to something much bigger. Through exploring the country pile Goth Girl Ada lives in with her father, alongside the ghost mouse, she finds an albatross, a Polar Explorer who might be a monster, and then a compact club of young people her age she had no idea existed. There's even more to be found after that, as Ada discovers how malevolent the party season's plans are going to get, with a nasty indoor hunt having some remarkable prey… Full review...

Other books on the shortlist

Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery

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If there's a young reader in your life who loves mystery and adventure stories with a large dollop of the eccentric stirred into the mix, then you could do worse than point them in the direction of this silly (in a good way!) book. What happened to Alex's dad that makes him constantly run away, even when he's promised not to? Why does he think he's not human any more? Why does he keep shouting squiggles? And what really lies at the centre of the mysterious forest on the edge of town? Full review...

The Hanged Man Rises by Sarah Naughton

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The Wigman is at large, murdering children. You'd think this would be the first concern for Titus Adams, as he's only fifteen, his parents are incorrigible drunks and he has a young sister, Hannah, to look out for. But in London in the late 1800s, there are more pressing concerns than serial killers on the loose. Like how to pay the rent. Like where the next meal is coming from. Like staying out of the workhouse. Like keeping your sister on the right side of the law. Thankfully, Titus has a friend in Inspector Pilsbury. He doesn't arrest Hannah when she's caught with pickpockets. He feeds her and keeps her safe at the station until Titus comes to collect her. Full review...

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

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There's a list of names on the title page of this extraordinary and moving book. Note it well: these seventy-four women are real. As a group they were known as the Ravenbrück Rabbits, and they were the victims of medical experiments carried out to help improve surgery for German soldiers wounded in the field. Little or no anaesthetic, poor aftercare: these things, while horrible, fit in with what we know of the concentration camps. What many will not know is the truly gut-wrenching fact that sometimes the doctors did not even bother to follow up on the experiments they carried out. All that pain, infection and disability (for those lucky enough to survive the procedures), and all for nothing. They didn't even help the enemy soldiers recover from their injuries. Full review...

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