Author Maggie O’Farrell has won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for Hamnet, a novel inspired by and named after William Shakespeare’s only son.
The Northern Irish writer beat Hilary Mantel, Bernardine Evaristo and three other authors to the £30,000 prize.
Hamnet is a fictionalised account of the life of the Bard’s son, who died in 1596 when he was just 11.Chairman of judges Martha Lane Fox praised the book for expressing “something profound about the human experience”.
She said: “The euphoria of being in the same room for the final judging meeting was eclipsed by the excitement we all feel about this exceptional winner.”
O’Farrell is the 25th recipient of the prize, which was first presented as the Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996. Previous winners include Eimear McBride, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Andrea Levy.
Hamnet is a novel about grief and loss and a portrait of life in 16th Century England.
It is also timely. Plague killed Hamnet in 1596 and there is a gripping chapter exploring how the disease reaches Stratford via a flea on a monkey in Alexandria and a glassmaker in Venice.
Evaristo was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction for Girl, Woman, Other, which shared last year’s Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments.
Mantel’s nomination came for The Mirror and the Light, the conclusion to her trilogy of novels about Thomas Cromwell. The first two - Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies - won the Booker prize. She is on the long list for this year’s Booker. The shortlist will be announced on September 15 and the winner in November.
Angie Cruz, Natalie Haynes and Jenny Offill were also nominated for Dominicana, A Thousand Ships and Weather respectively.
The virtual event saw O’Farrell named the winner in London and given her award in her home town of Edinburgh.