‘Fiercely original' novel The Rabbit Hutch wins Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize

The inaugural winner was chosen by a panel of booksellers from the company's stores.

Tess Gunty has been awarded the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize for her “fiercely original and innovative” debut novel The Rabbit Hutch.

The shortlist for the inaugural award was announced last month, with Gunty triumphing over five other debut novelists to take home the award.

The Rabbit Hutch, which was voted for by Waterstones shop floor employees known as booksellers, follows the lives of residents of The Rabbit Hutch, an affordable housing complex in the decaying town of Vacca Vale in the Rust Belt – the American Midwest that experienced industrial decline in the 1980s.

The novel explores social issues such as the care system, urbanisation, poverty and gentrification, all while following the coming-of-age story of the beautiful and intelligent Blandine, who is growing up in the rundown housing complex.

With the odds stacked against her, Blandine ultimately finds family and community in the most unlikely of places.

Gunty, who also grew up in a Rust Belt town in Indiana, will be awarded a prize of £5,000 and the promise of ongoing commitment to her writing career from Waterstones.

She revealed that she was inspired to write the Rabbit Hutch after realising that she rarely sees cities like hers represented in fiction.

“As I grew up, this seemed like a good reason to set my writing – unapologetically, ecstatically – in the post-industrial Midwest,” Gunty said.

“Enraged by the structural mistreatment that generated so much needless violence and desperation, I began to realise that the story of my town was the story of countless towns across the Midwest, across America, across the world.

“This novel is my effort to reclaim a place derided as ‘flyover country’, a place dismissed as unsophisticated and luckless, small-minded and pitiable, boring and ugly and irrelevant.

“A city that is, in fact, infinite cities. I want to insist that these homes and their people are worthy of attention. It is an ode to the forgotten, the lonely and the dispossessed.

“Above all, The Rabbit Hutch is a secular prayer for the souls trapped in earthly purgatories, an attempt to liberate myself and others from the waiting room.

“I hope it offers an occasion to laugh, to think, and to feel less alone. I hope it delivers you, as it delivered me, into a more compassionate and luminous place.”

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty has been awarded the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize (Waterstones/PA)

Gunty began writing The Rabbit Hutch at the age of 23 and continued working on the novel for five years

Speaking about Gunty’s win, Waterstones’ head of fiction Bea Carvalho said: “We are delighted to announce Tess Gunty as the inaugural winner of the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize.

“The Rabbit Hutch truly has the feel of the next great American novel: it is an exquisite, triumphant book which at once recalls the very best of the contemporary canon while remaining fiercely original and innovative.

“Gunty has written an astonishingly moving, important dissection of gentrification, urbanisation and the care system, tackling serious topics with warmth and wit.”

A panel of Waterstones booksellers from stores across the UK were responsible for selecting The Rabbit Hutch as the recipient of the award.

Gunty received the award at a ceremony at the Waterstones flagship bookshop in Piccadilly, London on Thursday.