The £30,000 prize is awarded to the best book overall, from all the other Whitbread categories. I don't envy the judges, having to make comparisons across genre, and apparently last night the voting was the closest in the prize's two-decade history.
In the end, the winner was not odds on favourite Ali Smith for The Accidental, or Tash (whom previously won the first novel award, if you remember), or Kate Thompson's children's book The New Policeman, or poet Christopher Logue's Iliad epic ... but the second volume of Hilary Spurling's biography of the artist Matisse.
Matisse The Master has been described as monumental and ground-breaking and took the author 15 years to write. (An earlier volume about Matisse's early work, The Unknown Matisse, covered his evolution into a painter.) The work has been widely praised and Michael Morpurgo, who chaired the judges, said of it:
So many people felt it was a massive work, but yet it didn't read like it. It read like a story. ... We were reading about this man and his pictures and the life that he had, his family and his travels. Somehow she managed to paint a picture of a painter that was accessible to people not necessarily familiar with art. It was an extraordinary achievement to write a book that length and you get to the end and you're sorry it's finished.Check out this review of the book from the Sunday Times.
The painting below comes without the usual (for Malaysia) censor's black pen bikini, lest our eyes fall out of our heads for looking at such forbidden fruit! If you want to know more about Matisse's work and see some of his art, go here.
And if you want to read the book ... it's going on my must-buy list for the British Council Library.