In a surprise move, the Booker Prize judging panel has decided to award the joint prize for 2019 to two exceptional female writers: Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo.
Atwood's hugely-hyped The Testaments, the Canadian writer's follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale, was recognised alongside Londoner Evaristo's novel Girl, Woman, Other.
The pair will split the literary award's £50,000 prize money equally.
Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood together winners of @TheBookerPrizes. Two amazing novels, intergenerational, intersectional feminist writing. Perfect for now. Thanks Booker. pic.twitter.com/AHegES2wwZ
— Maria Balshaw (@mbalshaw) October 14, 2019
Evaristo’s win makes her the first black woman to win the Booker since it began in 1969 and the first black British author. At 79, Atwood becomes the prize’s oldest winner.
The judges, led by Peter Florence, director of the Hay Literary Festival, have broken the Booker Prize’s rules to split the award. At a ceremony in The Guildhall, London, Florence described the winners as:
“Two novels we cannot compromise on. They are both phenomenal books that will delight readers and will resonate for ages to come.”
“We were told quite firmly that the rules state we can only have one winner,” Florence said. “Our consensus was that it was our decision to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners. These are two books we started not wanting to give up and the more we talked about them the more we treasured both of them and wanted them both as winners … We couldn’t separate them.”
There's no way you could have missed the publicity campaign that came with the esteemed author's The Testaments. This time, the story ventured out of Gilead with multiple narrators and places in time and told us what can happen when even the most terrifying of regimes meets its end. Atwood is, as ever, a masterful storyteller; it was a book of brilliance and one more than worth the wait. It's no surprise that it was a favourite of the judges.
Related: IMAGE review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
In Evaristo's enthralling novel, with its 12 narrators giving perspectives on what it has meant to be a woman, and in particular a black woman, in Britain over the past hundred years, it's easy to see why it was hard to choose between it and Atwood – it's one of the strongest of the nominated titles thanks to its innovative and provocative written prose.
“Nobody was taking this lightly but equally, there was a sense of perspective – we are judging a book prize, and this is a celebration of great literature,” Florence added. “There are opportunities to be joyful here.”
Main photograph: @MargaretAtwood