Booker Prize Goes to Banville's 'The Sea'

Britain's top literary honor, the Man Booker Prize, has been awarded to Irish author John Banville's 14th novel, The Sea. He beat high-profile competition including Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro and Zadie Smith.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

An Irish writer has won Britain's highest-profile literary award, the Man Booker Prize. John Banville wrote "The Sea." His novel beat strong competition from Julian Barnes, Zadie Smith and former winner Kazuo Ishiguro. BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones was at the awards ceremony in London yesterday when the winner was announced.

Unidentified Man: The judges elected to make this year's Man Booker Prize novel John Banville's "The Sea."

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

REBECCA JONES reporting:

It was a surprising win for John Banville. Although "The Sea" is his 14th novel, it was considered an outsider in the race for the prize. It's about an art historian who returns to the Irish seaside town where he spent a traumatic childhood holiday after his wife dies. John Banville looked genuinely astonished when his victory was announced.

Mr. JOHN BANVILLE (Author): I didn't expect it. I am surprised. These are the cliches that one always says on occasions like this, but I think it's nice to see a little book like this winning against larger books.

JONES: But it was a close-run thing. The Man Booker judges were divided between "The Sea" and Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "Never Let Me Go." It meant their chairman, Professor John Sutherland, had to make the final decision. He opted for "The Sea," which he described as `beautifully written and a masterly study of grief, memory and love recollected.' But, he said, its melancholy story wouldn't be popular with everyone.

Professor JOHN SUTHERLAND (Chairman, Man Booker Prize): To some extent, it's a kind of slit-your-throat novel, and that, oddly enough, is one of the things that makes it difficult. If you can't tune into it, the novel doesn't work for you, and that was one of the problems on the committee, that not everyone got on his wavelength.

JONES: Nonetheless, John Banville is likely to enjoy increased sales. He also takes home a check for about $80,000.

MONTAGNE: That's BBC's Rebecca Jones reporting from London on the Man Booker Prize going to "The Sea," a novel about a man who looks back on his life.

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