Costa Book Awards

It’s a strange feeling when a book that’s unfamiliar wins an award over one that’s beloved, because, on the one hand, for all I know, the winner was the most deserving book on the shortlist; but, on the other, it’s always nice when a book I like wins.

On that note, here are the category winners of the Costa Book Awards 2010, as announced earlier this evening:

Novel: Maggie O’Farrell, The Hand That First Held Mine

I read O’Farrell’s previous novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, a couple of years ago, and liked it very much. I have no reason to believe that her latest work isn’t brilliant, and I’d certainly like to read it at some point; but it was up against Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies, one of my absolute favourite reads of 2010. The Hand That First Held Mine would have to be exceptional to beat Murray’s book in my eyes; perhaps this win is an indication that I should investigate.

First Novel: Kishwar Desai, Witness the Night

Another of my favourite books from last year, Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited, was on this shortlist; again, the category winner would have to go some way to beat it. Desai’s novel does sound interesting, though: a book that uses the form of a classic subgenre (the country-house detection) to examine contemporary issues.

Biography: Edmund de Waal, The Hare With Amber Eyes

I haven’t read this, but I’ve certainly heard about it, as it seemed one of the most talked-about books of last year. De Waal traces the story of his great-uncle’s collection of ivory carvings, but (so I hear) ranges rather more widely than that might sound.

Poetry: Jo Shapcott, Of Mutability

I’m not well-versed (pardon the pun) in poetry, so I can’t really comment on this.

Children’s Book: Jason Wallace, Out of Shadows

Again, I don’t have much to say as this isn’t my usual area of interest. But it certainly seems that there’s a strong set of candidates here to compete for the overall Costa Book of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced on the 25th of this month.


  1. The de Waal is a most unusual book; it certainly ranges far wider than the initial premise might suggest, though I have begun to wonder whether there ought not to be a degree of ‘caveat emptor’ in that it’s rather less about the netsuke themselves than one might suppose. However, it is an interesting book, and it must have something going for it when 6 out of 65 end of year roundups in the TLS mention it. (Even Seamus Heaney only got a couple of mentions.)

  2. David Hebblethwaite

    7th January 2011 at 10:59 am

    Interesting. Do you think the book’s popularity might have something to do with that relative lack of focus on the netsuke?

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