Australian author Richard Flanagan’s novel THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH won the Booker Prize Tuesday night, beating out a field that included two Americans on the shortlist for the first time. Knopf published the book, Flanagan’s sixth novel, in the US in August, with Chatto & Windus releasing the UK edition earlier this year. Knopf spokesperson Paul Bogaards announced that the publisher will go back to press for an additional 53,000 copies. (The book was already in its fifth printing, although those five printings yielded sales as recorded through Nielsen Bookscan of less than 7,000 print copies.)
The BBC live feed managed to malfunction just as the winner was announced onstage by chair AC Grayling (which also meant Flanagan’s speech was garbled) but Grayling said in a statement: “The two great themes from the origin of literature are love and war: this is a magnificent novel of love and war. Written in prose of extraordinary elegance and force, it bridges East and West, past and present, with a story of guilt and heroism. This is the book that Richard Flanagan was born to write.” Grayling added during the announcement that the judges reached a majority decision “after some three hours of debate.”
In his acceptance speech, Flanagan thanked “Nikki Christer, my publisher at Random House Australia, dear friend, and an editor of rare genius who has been my collaborator of nearly twenty years. She is the Motown publisher, who cracked me and so many other Australian writers out of the literary ghetto and took us to a mass audience.” He also noted, “I do not come out of a literary tradition. I come from a tiny mining town in the rainforest in an island at the end of the world. My grandparents were illiterate. And I never expected to stand here before you in this grand hall in London as a writer being so honored.” Separately, Flanagan indicated, “A year-and-a-half ago when I finished this book, I was contemplating going to get what work I could in the mines in far northern Australia because things had come to such a pass with my writing. I had spent so long on this book.” He added, “There’s nothing unusual about that for writers. Writing is a very hard life for so many writers.”
Flanagan’s win leaves intact the Booker rule of thumb cited often by us that the bettors’ favorite — this year, Neel Mukherjee’s THE LIVES OF OTHERS — almost never wins.