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US author George Saunders honoured with Man Booker Prize

The 58-year-old was favourite to scoop the prize.

American author George Saunders has been handed this year’s Man Booker Prize for his first full-length novel.

Lincoln In The Bardo, which focuses on the night Abraham Lincoln laid his 11-year-old son to rest in 1862, was hailed as “utterly original” and praised by judges for its “witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative”.

The 58-year-old writer, who had been favourite to win, was presented with the prestigious literary award and £50,000 prize during a ceremony at the Guildhall in central London, attended by the Duchess of Cornwall.

Saunders becomes the second American author to take home the Man Booker Prize in its 49-year history, after Paul Beatty came top last year with satirical novel The Sellout.

George Saunders
Saunders is the second US author to win the Man Booker Prize (Man Booker Prize/PA)

The judging panel deliberated for five hours on Tuesday – including spells of “fierce debate” – before unanimously naming Saunders as the winner.

Baroness Lola Young, chair of the judges, said: “The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative.

“This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world.

“Lincoln In The Bardo is both rooted in and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.”

Baroness Young said it stood out for its “innovation” and “very different styling”, adding: “It’s an extraordinary piece of work. It was unique.”

Lincoln In The Bardo is the first full-length novel from acclaimed short story writer Saunders, who was born in Texas and lives in New York.

All six shortlisted authors in the running for the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
All six shortlisted authors for the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction (AP)

The book details the evening of February 22 1862 – when a grief-fuelled Lincoln visited his son’s crypt – exploring themes of death, grief and the possibilities of life, as well as the contrast between Lincoln’s personal tragedy and public role.

Saunders told Time magazine that he had not set out to write about the US statesman but was “captivated” after hearing about Lincoln’s visit.

“I thought of the book as a way of trying to instil the same reaction I’d had all those years ago,” he said.

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as one of the most prestigious in the literary world, with previous winners including Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan.

It is the fourth year the awards have been open to any writer regardless of nationality, provided the book was written originally in English and was published in the UK.

Commenting on the second consecutive American winner, Baroness Young said: “For us we don’t look at the nationality of the writer, honestly I can say that hand on heart.”

She added: “We are solely concerned with the book, with what that book is telling us.”

Saunders beat two other US authors named on this year’s shortlist.

Paul Auster was nominated for 4321, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and civil rights movement, while Emily Fridlund was recognised for History Of Wolves, which explores the effects of “neglectful” parenting.

British writer Fiona Mozley was shortlisted for her debut novel Elmet, along with Scottish author Ali Smith, who made the the shortlist for the fourth time with Autumn, a book “in part about Brexit”.

British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid completed the shortlist with Exit West, which explores the movement of people across the globe in search of freedom and those “caught up literally and metaphorically in crossfire”.

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