Fresh from being named one of Britain’s best young novelists, and from making the final cut for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Zadie Smith today received her third literary garlanding in just three days after she was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize.
For a book in any genre which best evokes “the spirit of a place”, Smith was picked for her latest novel NW – also shortlisted yesterday for the Women’s Prize. The shortlist’s “places” range from South Africa to the Antarctic, but NW is set in Smith’s childhood home of north-west London. Judges Julia Blackburn, Margaret Drabble and Ian Jack described the novel as “tender and witty”, and said it “shows London as chaotic and unfair, by turn happy and unhappy”.
“As a picture of the personal crises produced in (and by) a modern city it is completely persuasive,” they added.
Smith is shortlisted for the Ondaatje alongside Patrick Flanery’s South Africa-set novel Absolution, Liam Carson’s memoir of growing up in Northern Ireland Call Mother a Lonely Field, Gavin Francis’s account of the Antarctic, Empire Antarctica, Philip Hensher’s Bangladesh-set Scenes from Early Life and Sarah Moss’s account of a year in Reykjavik Names for the Sea.
On Monday, she was chosen as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists alongside authors Sarah Hall, Kamila Shamsie and Adam Thirlwell, and on Tuesday, it was announced that she will be competing for the Women’s Fiction Prize with two-time Booker winner Hilary Mantel and former winner Barbara Kingsolver, among others.
The Ondaatje winner will be announced on 13 May. The judges said that “a place, whether it is a small room, a forest floor, or an entire continent, is defined by the limitations and freedoms it offers and by the layers of emotion and history it contains”, and that they were trying to see which of the six shortlisted titles had best captured “this elusive spirit.”