Circus novel runs away with award

A best of the best award for Britain’s oldest literary prize has been won by Angela Carter for Nights at the Circus.

Nights at the Circus (book jacket) by Angela Carter

The one-off award of the James Tait Black Prizes honours the best novel to have won the accolade since it was first awarded in 1919.

Nights at the Circus originally won the James Tait Black Prize for fiction in 1984.

The award is being made to celebrate the 250th anniversary of English literature study at the University of Edinburgh.

Distinguished panel

The winner was selected by a distinguished judging panel including broadcaster Kirsty Wark, former MI5 Director General and University of Edinburgh alumnus Dame Stella Rimmington, and award-winning author and writer in residence at the University, Alan Warner.

Angela Carter, who died in 1992, was an English novelist and journalist.

The winning book focuses on the fabulous life and exploits of 'Fevvers', a winged circus performer who travels across Europe from London to the Siberian tundra.

Judges comments

The judges said it showed a “Fabulous exuberance” with “wonderfully drawn characters” and writing which showed “vitality, lightness, passion and fun”.

The five other books shortlisted for the accolade were: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; A disaffection by James Kelman; The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips and The Mandlebaum Gate by Muriel Spark.

The winning book was announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at a ceremony in London.

Since 1919, The James Tait Black Awards have represented the very best in fiction and biographies and it was a great honour to be able to revisit and celebrate these wonderful pieces of work.

Regius Professor Greg Walker

Chair of the James Tait Black Prizes

Novel of the century? ‘Lor, love you sir!’ as Fevvers might say. We’re delighted to hear that the magnificent Angela Carter has been recognised by such a prestigious award. Long may Fevvermania continue.

Laura Hassan

Editorial Director, Vintage Classics

The James Tait Black Awards, awarded annually by the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of good books.

The prizes are for the best work of fiction and the best biography published during the previous 12 months. They are the only major British book awards that includes scholars and students on the judging panel.

Love of good books

Each year more than 300 books are read by literary scholars and postgraduate students, who nominate books for the shortlist.

As well as the shortlisted writers past winners of the awards include literary great such as DH Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan.

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