Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting wins inaugural Nero book of the year prize | Nero Book Awards

Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting wins inaugural Nero book of the year prize | Nero Book Awards

The Irish author Paul Murray has won the inaugural £30,000 Nero Gold prize for The Bee Sting, a comic family saga set in rural Ireland.

Murray was announced as the winner at a ceremony in London on Thursday. “This is a wonderfully ambitious and entrancing novel about a family imploding against a background of Ireland’s economic and social crisis of the late 00s,” said the judging chair and Booker-winning author Bernardine Evaristo.

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. Photograph: Hamish Hamilton

“It’s a tremendous honour,” said Murray. “If you’re writing a book it’s a long, lonely process, and you’re always thinking at the back of your mind, ‘Who’s going to read this?’, so for it to be received so generously — it’s just been a really lucky book for me … and this is sort of the apex of that”.

The Bee Sting was named overall book of the year after being announced as the winner of the fiction category in January. It was chosen for the Gold prize over Close to Home by Michael Magee, which won the debut fiction category; Strong Female Character by Fern Brady, which won the nonfiction category, and The Swifts by Beth Lincoln, which won the children’s fiction category. Each category winner will receive £5,000.

The Bee Sting allowed Murray to explore ideas that he is really interested in including “technology and climate change and just the basic state of dread that people live in in the 21st century”, he said. The novel rotates around the perspectives of different family members which “allows you to travel quite widely, because it’s got that scaffolding there that people can understand very readily”.

“Suspenseful and linguistically astonishing, The Bee Sting is written with great wit and humanity, with a cast of complex characters who are held back by their past, mired in the present and longing for a different future,” added Evaristo. “Murray is a supremely gifted storyteller as we learn of unspoken secrets and desires in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations, in a rich, multilayered novel that is both epic and intimate in scale.”

The Nero book awards were launched in May last year, just under a year after Costa abruptly scrapped its awards after 50 years. The judges are asked to choose books that “they would most want to recommend to others for their quality writing and readability”.

“The pacing of [The Bee Sting] means that we live through hundreds of pages on tenterhooks, and the suspense and revelations keep coming until the end,” wrote the Guardian fiction editor Justine Jordan in a review of the novel. “This is a sprawling, capacious novel, but expertly foreshadowed and so intricately put together that many throwaway moments only take on resonance on a second reading.”

Joining Evaristo on the judging panel was the lexicographer Susie Dent and the broadcaster James Naughtie. “This is fiction of the finest calibre and we all unanimously agreed that The Bee Sting should win the Nero Gold prize 2023 book of the year,” said Evaristo.

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The Bee Sting was also shortlisted for the Booker prize and the Writers’ prize – formerly known as the Rathbones Folio prize – and it won the An Post Irish book of the year. It is Murray’s fourth novel; he is also the author of An Evening of Long Goodbyes, Skippy Dies and The Mark and the Void.

Asked how he would spend the prize money, Murray said that he would take his family on holiday. He said that he is currently working on a book for younger readers, and has some other ideas for future projects. The Bee Sting “has been a joy and a dream, so I feel like if I try and do Bee Sting Two, and repeat that, it’ll just be a catastrophe”, he added.

The Nero awards were open to books published between 1 December 2022 and 30 November 2023, and to authors resident in the UK or Ireland for the past three years.

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