Maggie O’Farrell won the Women’s Prize for Fiction for Hamnet, a novel that explores the lives of famous playwright William Shakespeare’s wife and lost son. O’Farrell’s novel beat Hilary Mantel’s  The Mirror and the Light and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.  She will get a 30,000-pound ($39,000) award. 

Hamnet is a story of the bond between twins, and of marriage pushed to the brink by grief. This O’Farrell’s eighth novel.

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Chair of judges Martha Lane Fox said O’Farrell’s novel was a “truly great” work of fiction and an “exceptional winner”. She added “It expresses something profound about the human experience that seems both extraordinarily current and at the same time, enduring.” 

“I keep thinking it must be some kind of elaborate prank. There wasn’t really any particle of me that thought it would happen. Being on the shortlist was kind of enough and it never occurred to me they would choose my book,” said O’Farrell, The Guardian reported. Adding, “You’ve got these huge literary goddesses Mantel and Evaristo on the shortlist, they’re all such fantastic works telling such diverse stories, from different times and divergent places and perspective.” The author was presented with the prize in a digital ceremony on Wednesday night. She lives in Edinburgh.

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About the award

O’Farrell is the 25th recipient of the prize. It was first presented in 1996 as the Orange Prize for Fiction. Previous winners include Eimear McBride, Zadie Smith, Ali Smith and Andrea Levy, the BBC reported. The year 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

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