Costa Prize 2011

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WINNER

Pure by Andrew Miller

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I've read Miller's Oxygen and The Optimists so I was looking forward to reading this novel. The story opens in the opulence of the Palace of Versailles. We are given vivid descriptions of both the scale of the palace and its grandeur. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, the young engineer, seems completely over-awed by the whole occasion. Even although he's not entirely sure what is expected of him in Paris, he accepts. He needs to eat, after all. Full review...

The Shortlists

Costa First Novel Award

Winner

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson

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Tiny Sunbirds Far Away starts in Lagos but soon moves to the rural, oil producing Niger Delta. This allows Christie Watson's young narrator, 12 year old Blessing, to view the traditional ways afresh. It's a clever device and young Blessing is shocked by the rural conditions after a relatively luxurious life in Lagos with a good school and a modern apartment. But when her mother discovers her father on top of another woman, she takes Blessing and her older brother, the asthmatic Ezikiel, back to her family home. Full review...

The rest of the shortlist

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

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Hugely cinematic in style, this gangland take set 50 years in the future in a parallel Ireland is breathtakingly original and distinctive. Told in a vernacular style it is a lust and drug fuelled romp of a story that you won't easily forget. Full review...

The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness

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'The Last Hundred Days' in question here are the final days of Ceausescu's Romania in late 1989. Narrated by an unnamed young British expat who has a job offer from the English department of Bucharest University, despite never having interviewed for the job, we get an insight into the life under communist rule as Eastern bloc countries all around start to open up after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are told that McGuinness lived in Romania in the years leading up to the revolution, and this is no surprise as there is an authenticity here that could only have come from some level of inside knowledge. Full review...

Pao by Kerry Young

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In her Costa Prize short-listed first novel, Kerry Young brings together a huge number of elements that make up a good story. Set in Jamaica, the time period covers 1938 to almost present day, it is the political backdrop of independence and control over Jamaica's assets that informs much of the story. But while the politics of Jamaica resound throughout the book, it's also a very personal story about the life of the eponymous Yang Pao. Issues of race, class, love, family, ambition and business philosophy - Pao's guiding light is Sun Tzu's The Art of War - are skilfully woven into the mix to make this a great book to curl up with on a cold winter's night. Full review...

Costa Novel Award

Winner

Pure by Andrew Miller

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I've read Miller's Oxygen and The Optimists so I was looking forward to reading this novel. The story opens in the opulence of the Palace of Versailles. We are given vivid descriptions of both the scale of the palace and its grandeur. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, the young engineer, seems completely over-awed by the whole occasion. Even although he's not entirely sure what is expected of him in Paris, he accepts. He needs to eat, after all. Full review...

The rest of the shortlist

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

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'The Sense of an Ending' is almost more of a novella - it's a slim volume but exquisitely written, as you might expect from Julian Barnes. It starts off describing the relationships between four friends at school, narrated by one of the friends, Tony Webster, but quickly it becomes clear that this is written many years later. Barnes has long been a terrific observer of the English middle classes and his style invariably contains satire and dry humour. And this being Barnes, this school clique is intellectual in interest, as the narrator recalls English and History teachers and student philosophising. Full review...

A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside

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A Summer of Drowning is a book in which for much of the time not a lot happens - but always spookily. Set on the Norwegian island of Kvaløya in the Arctic Circle, the story is narrated by Liv who is now 28 but who recalls events of a summer when she was 18. Liv resides with her artist mother in, if not isolation, then certainly seclusion. The book makes much of the midsummer madness that 24 hour daylight induces and in that respect it is wholly successful. It aims for a dream-like and timeless quality which it largely achieves. Full review...

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

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It takes a while for the full power of Louisa Young's remarkable My Dear I Wanted To Tell You to become apparent, but when it does, it can hardly fail to move you. Set just before and during World War One, it's a story of love and human spirit against the odds. The impact of the book is in what happens to the characters, so I don't want to give too much away, but it's worth pointing out that it's not for the overly squeamish reader particularly in some of the descriptions of surgical procedures, which have clearly been meticulously researched by Young. The title itself it taken from the opening words of the standard letters that the wounded were given to send to loved ones back home. The wounded were required to fill in the blanks. Full review...

Costa Poetry Award

We don't review poetry, but here's a list of the runners and riders:

Winner

'The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

The rest of the shortlist

Night by David Harsent

Fiere by Jackie Kay

November by Sean O'Brien

Costa Biography Award

Winner

Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis

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A biography of Edward Thomas, a prolific writer and literary critic who only turned to poetry in 1914 yet became one of the most renowned poets of his generation despite being killed in action less than three years later. Full review...

The rest of the shortlist

Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn

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Julia Blackburn had known Herman for many years, but they had drifted apart. She put the postcard which she received from him in an album: it mentioned a cottage he had discovered in Liguria and which he was renovating. Some time later there was another postcard and an invitation to visit. Over time the cottage would become her home and Herman her husband. 'Thin Paths' is the stories of the people who inhabit this harsh, wild landscape and of the way in which the landscape has formed the people. The thin paths join the people and the places together in a way of life which is rare. Full review...

Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia. a Father and Son's Story by Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn

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A poignant, moving account of one family's living with a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Patrick tells most of the story, though his elder son Henry, the sufferer, has written some chapters from his point of view. Full review...

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

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A very full account of the life of one of the best-known Victorian writers, from one of the most acclaimed of contemporary biographers, highlighting his virtues and less agreeable side in equal measure. Full review...

Costa Children's Book Award

Winner

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

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Fabulous quest novel set in a future dystopian society and in the current vogue style of a revenge Western. It's beautifully done in spare prose and has a marvellous central character. Bookbag loved it. Full review...

The rest of the shortlist

Flip by Martyn Bedford

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An awesome psychological thriller with a fascinating premise, a plot that is paced spectacularly well, and a protagonist you will come to really empathise with. Enjoyed it immensely, and comes thoroughly recommended. Full review...

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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Gorgeous and slightly surreal story about friendship, difference and enrichment. And a more-than-welcome antidote to anti-immigration rhetoric. Just don't buy it on Kindle! Full review...

Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

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A wonderful story full of interesting, quirky characters...perfect for lovers of magic, or those who just enjoy a good action, adventure and mystery story! Full review...

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