Susanna Clarke has been crowned this year’s winner of the highly-coveted Women’s Prize for Fiction, with her fantasy novel Piranesi.
The 61-year-old writer walked off with the £30,000 prize at a swanky event in central London on Wednesday night, thanking the judges for honouring her “very odd book indeed”.
It is set in an alternate reality, where a man is trapped alone (apart from one other person, called the Other) in a labyrinth-esque house, with infinite space and full of statues, as he seeks to understand the world around him.
Speaking to Sky News the day after her win, Clarke said she was still “circling a little bit” following the event.
“I haven’t really taken it in,” she said.
“It’s all been a bit of a whirl. In about two or three weeks time, I think the realisation is going to hit me.
“It is extraordinary, it is just absolutely extraordinary and it’s not a position I ever imagined I would be in, so it’s just thrilling.”
She described the win as a “huge honour”, and said that the nature of the prize is “quite unique”.
“Somebody said to me at the beginning, if you’re on the short list, you’re already a winner.
“And the first time someone said that, I thought, ‘okay’, this is just one of those lovely things people say, but then I realised it was in fact true.
“People are getting to hear the wonderful breadth and variety of women’s writing, which is just absolutely splendid.”
Clarke said she had the idea for the book when she was in her 20s and kept revisiting it, and used it as a way of writing her way out of illness.
“Piranesi helped me sort of re-enter the world in a quite extraordinary way, but it was a very personal story in the sense that it obsessed me.
“This idea about a man who lives in a huge, possibly infinite house with all these oceans and tides surging around and up staircases and flooding holes and it’s all quite dangerous – I thought this is the really fascinating world to spend some time in.”
Talking about the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, Clarke said that her isolation had been “quite wonderful”, saying as a writer, she needed “solitude”.
“All my friends have been on Zoom and all the communities that I want to be a part of are suddenly there on my computer, on my sofa.
“So my experience of lockdown I think has been a bit different from other people in that, my world opened out when other people’s worlds were sort of getting narrower.
“I also knew that Piranesi was going to be published, so I’ve had this wonderful thing to look forward to which which has been very, very special. It’s not a place that I thought I would ever be, not a situation I thought I would ever be in again – so it’s just been fantastic.”
Piranesi is available now.