Richard Flanagan has won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Richard Flanagan’s affecting and harrowing story of the Burma “Death Railway” and the Australian prisoners of war who were forced to build it has trumped over 150 of the English-speaking world’s best novels to carry off the prize.
The Tasmanian-born author is the fourth Australian to win the coveted prize joining fellow Australians Thomas Kenneally (Schindler’s Ark, 1982), Peter Carey (Oscar & Lucinda, 1988 and The True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001) and D.B.C. Pierre (Vernon God Little, 2003). Flanagan was presented with the £50,000 (A$91,233) award at London’s Guildhall.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is Flanagan’s sixth novel, and explores the experiences of an Australian surgeon in a POW camp on the Thai-Burma railway. It has already won numerous awards, including the Indie Book of the Year Award and the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
The novel tells the story of Dorrigo Evans, a doctor who falls in love with his uncle’s wife before the war and who survives the ordeal of the railway and Japanese mistreatment to return and be adopted by his country as a hero when he feels anything but. Flanagan’s victory has an added poignancy in that his father, who died on the day the book was finished, was himself a survivor of the railway.
The judges deliberated for some three hours before agreeing on the winner. The judging process, said AC Grayling, Chair of judges, exposes quality because the best books bear re-reading. It was, he said, “a privilege to be on the Man Booker panel in a year with such extraordinary books”.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North bears a dedication to prisoner san byaku san ju go, Flanagan’s father’s Japanese prison number, 335. The author himself now has a number of his own – number one.