This year’s Costa Book of the Year has been awarded to Monique Roffey forThe Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story. Based on a legend from the culture of the Taino, an indigenous carribean people, it’s a dark love story between a fisherman and a mermaid torn from the sea.
Widely regarded as one of the most prestigious book prizes, the Costa Book Awards honours some of the best books written by authors resident in Britain and Ireland.
It welcomes a wide range of titles to be considered across five categories: first novel, novel, poetry, biography, and children’s book. From the winners of each of these categories, one is selected overall as the Costa Book of the Year.
Professor Suzannah Lipscomb, chair of judges for the prize, said this year’s winning novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch, is an “extraordinary, beautifully written, captivating, visceral book – full of mythic energy and unforgettable characters, including some tremendously transgressive women”.
Adding that “it is 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. It’s a book that will take you to the furthest reaches of your imagination – we found it completely compelling."
Roffey beat fierce competition, including the bookie’s favourite, Lee Lawrence’s debut, a memoir titled The Louder I Will Sing as well as Ingrid Persaud’s first novel Love After Love, the late poet Eavan Bolan’s posthumous Historians, and children’s book Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant.
To honour this year’s winner, Monique Roffey, we take a look at her title and the four crowned books that preceded it, all of which demonstrate the true joy of literature in all its forms.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
2020 winner: ‘The Mermaid of Black Conch’ by Monique Roffey, published by Peepal Tree Press
Based on a Taino legend of a woman who transforms into a mermaid, the tale is set in an imaginary Caribbean island, Black Conch, in the Seventies. Heralded as a charming romance novel, fisherman David signs to himself as he waits for a catch, and attracts an unexpected sea-dweller, Aycayia, a woman who is cursed by women who are jealous of her beauty. Touching on themes of love, loss, family and friendship, as well as the negative impacts of jealousy, it’s a moving novel.
Buy now £9.29, Bookshop
2019 winner: ‘The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz’ by Jack Fairweather, published by Ebury Publishing
Former war reporter Jack Fairweather provides an expert’s understanding into Witold Pilecki, the Polish resistance agent who entered the Auschwitz, by choice, feeding vital information back to the Allied forces. Telling Pilecki’s remarkable story was undoubtedly a challenging task, but Fairweather’s research and gripping writing style mean The Volunteer illuminates a hero and provides a new perspective on the horrors of the final solution to put a stop to the Nazi’s death camps.
Buy now £6.49, Amazon
2018 winner: ‘The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found’ by Bart van Es, published by Penguin Books Ltd
In this moving account of wartime survival, Bart van Es explores his own family history and the experiences a Jewish girl had while growing up in the Netherlands during the Second World War. Touching on not only the Nazi era but the lasting effect it had on people as they tried to live with the aftermath. A poignant and moving read.
Buy now £9.29, Bookshop
2017 winner: ‘Inside the Wave’ by Helen Dunmore, published by Bloodaxe Books Ltd
Poet and author Helen Dunmore’s Inside the Wave is only the second posthumous winner in the prize’s history and this collection of poems is centred on the subject of mortality. Through reflections on life, Dunmore considers her terminal cancer diagnosis and impending death. Offering a beautiful and deeply moving account of our journey through life, ebbing and flowing.
Buy now £9.95, Waterstones
2016 winner: ‘Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry, published by Faber & Faber
The book centres around Thomas McNulty and John Cole who fight in the Indian Wars and the Cold War as they find intimacy and the possibility of lasting happiness amid the horrors of conflict as long as they can survive. Through raw and poetic prose, as well as beautiful characterisation, Barry explores themes of national identity, love and awakening.
Buy now £8.99, Waterstones
Looking for more top titles to add to your collection? Get inspired by our round-up of the novels in the Duchess of Cornwall’s new book club