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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 00:49 GMT
High praise for Whitbread winner
Matthew Kneale
Matthew Kneale's book was described as "perfect"
The literary world has been hailing Whitbread Book of the Year winner Matthew Kneale and his book English Passengers.

The judges said it was a close race and wanted to call it a tie, awarding the prize jointly to Kneale's book and the late Lorna Sage's memoir Bad Blood.

Panel chairman Sir Tim Rice said: "Whichever way we went about it we came down to a tie - we would have liked to have given a tie."

In the end Sir Tim had the casting vote that gave victory to Kneale.

Matthew and Shannon Kneale
Kneale and wife, Shannon, live in Italy

Sir Tim said: "It's a remarkable novel which is extremely funny and very tragic."

The book has 20 different narrative voices which each take up the tale at different points.

Sir Tim said: "There are several different storytellers all coming together to tell a story which is at times hilarious and at times tragic.

"We thought it was well told, brilliantly constructed and had very strong messages."

Broadcaster Ian Hislop, who favoured the book to win the prize, told the BBC: "It's really clever, neat storytelling.

It is one of the best, most perfect novels I've read in ages

Rosie Boycott
"The voice of the sermonising sentimental vicar is nothing short of brilliant."

And Daily Express editor Rosie Boycott said: "It is one of the best, most perfect novels I've read in ages.

"It's funny, beautifully plotted and historically clever".

But novelist and comedian David Baddiel had some reservations.

He told the BBC that English Passengers was: "Great big seafaring adventure but it is not a great work of literature."

Sir Tim also highly praised the runner up - Bad Blood by Lorna Sage, who died earlier this month from emphysema.

He said: "It's a very moving story which engages you from the word go."

Bad Blood
Bad Blood almost tied with English Passengers
Collecting his award Kneale expressed his admiration for Lorna Sage before going on to say: "This prize means a great deal to me - and not just for the money.

"Most of all I'd say it gives you a confidence. Confidence in an insecure line of work.

"Writers are worriers. They worry if their books are any good, they worry if anyone will ever like them. They worry if people will continue to like them."

Kneale can rest his worries on this count.

The Whitbread Book of the Year award is a near guarantee of extra sales.

Francis Cleverdon, manager of Waterstones bookstore in Hampstead, north-west London, said: "I would think there would be at least a doubling in sales for Matthew Kneale.

"An accolade like this will mark it out as an important book with a capital I."

See also:

23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread victory for Matthew Kneale
23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Portrait of a Whitbread-winning author
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