Author Sally Rooney. Photo by Jonny Davies.

Sally Rooney’s Normal People wins Book of the Year

Posted in Connect on May 14, 2019.


Normal People, the critically acclaimed, prize-winning second novel by 28-year-old Irish writer Sally Rooney, has been crowned Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, or Nibbies, on Monday evening.

The book, published by Faber & Faber, triumphed over formidable competition including Michelle Obama’s Becoming (Viking), which won two awards, Non-Fiction: Narrative Book of the Year and Audiobook of the Year, and was considered by many to be the standout publishing sensation of the year. Its publisher, Penguin General, was named Publisher of the Year.

The Book of the Year judges – chaired by Alice O’Keeffe, books editor of The Bookseller – praised Obama’s Becoming, and in particular her reading for the audiobook version, but decided that Rooney’s novel, which charts the on-off relationship between two Irish students, was the most deserving winner of the top accolade in the “Baftas of the book trade”.

Rooney said: “It’s an enormous privilege and an honour for me to receive the overall Book of the Year Award at the British Book Awards. I want to say thank you, specifically, because I feel I had an extraordinary lucky experience with this book. I’ve received such enormous support and generosity from my own publisher, Faber & Faber, of course, and also from the bookselling community generally, from libraries and librarians, and the community of people who love books. It has been a really privileged experience for me, and I do feel astonishingly lucky.”

O’Keeffe said: “Beautifully observed and profoundly moving, Sally Rooney’s Normal People was unanimously praised by our Book of the Year judges. It really is an exceptional novel from one of the most exciting young writers we have. Beloved of reviewers, booksellers and readers, I’m thrilled that it is our Book of the Year.”

Fellow judge Stig Abell, editor of the TLS, said: “Sally Rooney may well be on her way to becoming the major literary figure of our time, a generational talent. This is a book that, five years from now and 50 years from now, we will still be reading. It is fantastically important.”

Bea Carvalho, fiction buyer at Waterstones, who judged the Fiction Book of the Year award also won by Rooney, said: “Normal People is fiction at its brightest and most relatable: clever yet unpretentious, literary yet highly approachable – it is that rare gift of a novel which can be enjoyed by readers of all tastes. Sally Rooney’s debut was a huge hit, but with Normal People Faber have cemented her reputation as the voice of her generation and one of the most exciting novelists around today.”

Anne Enright, reviewing Normal People for The Irish Times, wrote: “It is time to take a sharp inhale, people. After the success of Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney has produced a second novel, Normal People which will be just as successful as it deserves to be: it is superb.”

Born in 1991 in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Rooney studied English at Trinity College, in Dublin, where she still lives. Her debut novel, Conversations with Friends (2017, Faber & Faber) was written in just three months. It won the 2017 Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the 2019 International Dublin Literary Award. Normal People has won the 2018 Costa Novel Award, the Novel of the Year Award at the Irish Book Awards, and was Waterstones Fiction Book of the Year 2018. The New York Times has called Rooney the “first great millennial author”.

The British Book Awards’ Books of the Year, which uniquely celebrate books that have been both well-written and brilliantly published, were awarded across eight shortlists, with each winner in the running for the overall Book of the Year trophy that was awarded to Rooney.

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