2014 Winner announced
13th June, 2014
ROBERT HARRIS WINS 2014 WALTER SCOTT PRIZE
Robert Harris has won the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for his novel about the Dreyfus affair, An Officer and a Spy. Originally shortlisted for the Prize in its inaugural year, the author returned to Melrose, Scotland four years later to receive his award from the Duke of Buccleuch at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival on Friday 13th June.
An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice, in which a young Jewish officer was convicted of treason in Paris in 1895. It is Robert Harris’ ninth novel; his seventh, Lustrum, was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize in 2010.
The Judges said:
“An Officer and A Spy is a masterwork, a novel written by a story-teller at the pinnacle of his powers. In making compelling literary drama out of the Dreyfus affair, an episode familiar to many, Robert Harris has done something Walter Scott would have been proud of. Exactly 200 years ago, Scott pulled off the same transformation with Waverley and another familiar episode, the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.
“The book is set at the end of the 19th century but its themes have resonated ever since. Cover-ups, anti-semitism and a suspicion of the other, codes and leaks, and the mission of a single individual to force a government to right an injustice – all of these have modern parallels.
“The Prize is now in its fifth year – a golden year for historical fiction. From a shortlist of extraordinary quality a clear winner emerged and the Judges were unanimous in their choice. Nevertheless we congratulate all the shortlisted authors on their books and thank them for transporting us to such an enthralling diversity of times and places.”
The award ceremony in Melrose was presented by chair of judges Alistair Moffat. Extracts from each book were read by actor John Sessions – master of the historical role. Four of the shortlisted authors were present to hear the announcement, including Ann Weisgarber who had travelled from Texas to attend. Robert Harris was awarded with his cheque and a striking glass trophy by the Duke of Buccleuch, sponsor of the Prize and distant kinsman of Sir Walter Scott, and was interviewed on stage by Alistair Moffat.
The Walter Scott Prize is one of the UK’s richest literary prizes, and honours Scott’s achievements and his place as one of the world’s most influential novelists. To qualify, novels must be set at least sixty years ago, be written in English, and have been published in the preceding year. The Sixty Year Rule comes from the subtitle of Scott’s masterwork Waverley: ‘tis Sixty Years Since, a book which celebrates the bicentenary of its publication this year. The winner and the shortlisted authors are all offered the opportunity to stay at the beautiful writer’s retreat on the Scottish island of Jura, courtesy of Prize sponsor Jura Single Malt Whisky.
An Officer and a Spy was chosen from a shortlist of six novels, with settings ranging from New Zealand in the gold rush, Texas at the turn of the twentieth century, and the Scottish Borders in late medieval times. The shortlist included two other major literary prize winners; the Man Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, and Kate Atkinson’s Costa Prize-winning Life After Life.
The judging panel for the 2014 Walter Scott Prize comprises Kirsty Wark, Louise Richardson, Jonathan Tweedie, Elizabeth Laird and Elizabeth Buccleuch, and chair Alistair Moffat. The judges’ criteria include originality and innovation, quality of writing, a strong narrative, and the ability of a book to shed light on the present as well as the past.