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Best of the James Tait Black Prize awarded to Angela Carter

7th December 2012

Nights at the Circus by the late Angela Carter has been voted the best book ever to have won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, beating off competition from some of the finest works ever published in English.

The novel scooped the coveted Best of the James Tait Black Prize; a one-off award celebrating 250 years of English literature at the University of Edinburgh, which presents the prize each year.

Every recipient of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction since its formation in 1919 was eligible for the unique award, which was judged by a distinguished panel including celebrity alumni and established writers.

The list of contenders for the Best of the James Tait Black Prize was a who's who of the writing world, with contemporary authors including Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan sitting alongside literary heavyweights D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, Graham Greene and J. B. Priestley.

However, it was Carter who found favour with a judging panel chaired by former MI5 director general Dame Stella Rimington and also including broadcaster Kirsty Wark and author Alan Warner.

They praised Nights at the Circus, which tells the story of winged circus performer Sophie Fevvers' journey through 19th century Europe, as a novel of 'fabulous exuberance', with 'wonderfully drawn characters' and writing that exhibits 'vitality, lightness, passion and fun'.

Originally published in 1984, the novel shared that year's James Tait Black Memorial Prize with J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun, but the judges deemed Carter's work to have stood the test of time better than any other book on the 97-strong list.

Laura Hassan, editorial director at Carter's publisher Vintage Classics, commented: 'Novel of the century? "Lor, love you sir!" as Fevvers might say. We're delighted to hear that the magnificent Angela Carter has been recognised by such a prestigious award. Long may Fevvermania continue.'

Professor Greg Walker, Chair of the James Tait Black Prizes at the University of Edinburgh, said the unique award was a 'wonderful opportunity' to revisit some of the best writers in the literary canon.

'It is fitting in the year of celebration of 250 years of study of English literature at the University of Edinburgh that we recognise the wonderful contribution this prize makes to honouring great literature,' he added.

The judging process for the 2013 James Tait Black Memorial Prize will begin in the new year, with the winner of the fiction award set to follow in the footsteps of American novelist Padgett Powell, who triumphed this year with You & I.

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