Costa Book of the Year Awarded to Monique Roffey

2020s Costa Book of the Year was awarded to Monique Roffey. Claire Maggie Dowens reports.

Claire Maggie Dowens
10th February 2021
Monique Roffey has won the Costa Book of the Year Award for her sixth novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch: a dark love story set in a Caribbean village in the 1970s which unfolds between a beautiful woman named Aycayia who is cursed to live as a mermaid and a fisherman, David. Inspired by a legend passed down by the indigenous people of the Caribbean, the Taino, the book effortlessly blends Caribbean mythology with everyday realism and overflows with magic and the language of musicality. 

Launched in 1971, the Costa Book Awards is one of the UK’s most prestigious book prizes which is held annually and considers a huge variety of books across five different categories; First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book. From the winners in each of these categories, only one is selected as the overall ‘Costa Book of the Year’ by a final nine-member judging panel and is awarded a £30,000 prize. Previous winners have included Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies

Suzannah Lipscomb, the historian and broadcaster who chaired the judging panel said The Mermaid of Black Conch was “utterly original – unlike anything we’ve ever read – and feels like a classic in the making from a writer at the height of her powers”. Commenting further, she stated that it “is an extraordinary, beautifully written book – full of mythic energy and unforgettable characters, including some tremendously transgressive women.”

Other final nominations included: Love After Love by Trinidad and Tobago award-winning writer Ingrid Persaud; The Louder I Will Sing by social entrepreneur Lee Lawrence; The Historians by the late Irish poet Eavan Boland and Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by children’s author Natasha Farrant. 

Lipscomb said the judges' deliberation lasted for three hours before they finally selected Roffey as their winner. Discussing the reasoning behind their final choice, she said: “the novel feels like one of those stories you think you must have known before, because it already feels like a classic.” Elaborating further she said “the mermaid is pulled out of the sea in this really arresting scene that, pun fully intended, hooks you in the novel just as much as she is hooked by the fisherman. And then it’s a question of whether she could become a woman again and live in a modern Caribbean society and all the questions that raises.” 

“The novel feels like one of those stories you think you must have known before, because it already feels like a classic.”

Suzannah Lipscomb

Roffey is an award-winning, Trinidadian-born British writer and also works as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has written seven novels which have been translated into five languages. In 2013, her novel Archipelago won the OCM BOCAS Award for Caribbean Literature. 

"A prize like this is a blessing for any writer, I'm delighted to win this award. It's not just a vote for the mermaid but for publisher Peepal Tree Press who have been publishing the best in Black British and Caribbean writing for 40 years … this award will help get the mermaid seen and read by a wider readership,” said Roffey. 

The Sunday Times hailed The Mermaid of Black Conch as “an arresting slice of Caribbean magic realism… Sensuous, beguiling but without whimsy” and listed it as one of their top new pieces of lockdown literature. 

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