Debut novelist Karen Jayes was named the 2013 Sunday Times Fiction Prize at a gala Johannesburg event this evening. She wins the R75 000 prize for her book, For the Mercy of Water.
The prize is given for a “work of rare imagination and style, evocative, textured and a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark in contemporary fiction.”
Jayes’ book was in the running with novels from Imraan Coovadia, Steven Boykey Sidley, Chris Wadman and James Whyle. Click here for the complete 2013 Sunday Times Fiction Prize shortlist. Redi Tlhabi, meanwhile, won this year’s edition of the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. Last year’s winners were Michiel Heyns for fiction and Hugh Lewin for non-fiction.
Here’s the blurb for For the Mercy of Water:
‘Here, in these places …There is no money. It is hard for you to understand, but there is not even a coin sometimes. There is only dust.’ He paused and stared at me and his eyes were hard. ‘It has become a very costly human urge,’ he said, ‘this thirst.’ I looked away. ‘There is opposition,’ he said. ‘Small bands of men and boys who attack the reservoirs. Many are killed. Others leave for the city. Like me. I left. I joined the army because they were asking for men. Then I became a company guard, to guard the water against my own people.’
In a country long gripped and devastated by drought, water has become the priceless commodity over which a deadly war is being waged. In remote towns and villages, far from the safety of the city, the resistance does what it can to oppose the company whose guards ruthlessly secure and control the water supply, but each small victory merely seems like one more step towards eventual defeat. When an unexpected rain leads a group of water security guards to a town long since thought abandoned, they find an old woman, identified only as Mother, and four girls in a classroom. A journalist, two aid workers and a doctor arrive soon afterwards, and what they discover defies ordinary explanation. When strange, dislocated fragments of Mother’s story appear in the media, a young writer is intrigued enough to set off on a journey to find her, a journey that will take her deep into the heart of a broken country in search of a truth that no one wants uncovered.
The book may be Jayes’ first, but it’s not her first literary award. In 2009, she won the inaugural PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for her short story, “Where he will leave his shoes”.
Congratulations once again, then, to Jayes!