The Discomfort of Evening, written by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison, has been announced as the winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize.
At twenty-nine, Rijneveld is the youngest author ever to win prize, and The Discomfort of Evening is the first debut novel to take the award.
The winners were due to be announced back on 19 May but, with bookshops shut and readers unable to get hold of the shortlist owing to the pandemic and worldwide lockdowns, the announcement was delayed.
‘It is a great honour to receive the 2020 International Booker Prize for my first novel,’ Rijneveld said during the virtual announcement, adding: ‘I can only say that I am as proud as a cow with seven udders!’
Rijneveld thanked their publishers and Hutchison, and continued:
‘There are two words that got me this far. When I was writing The Discomfort of Evening I took a marker pen and wrote them on the wall about my desk: Wees onverbiddelijk—literally, “be relentless”.
‘Today, when the world has been turned upside down and is showing its dark side, I often remember those words.
‘So, write, read, win, lose, love each other, but be relentless in this.’
In her speech, Hutchison said: ‘Translations open up windows into other worlds, allowing us to see into other places and other people’s minds. Now, when it is no longer possible to travel like we used to, now, we should travel by reading books.’
The International Booker Prize, which celebrates ‘the finest translated fiction from around the world’, is awarded every year for a single book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
Both novels and short story collections are eligible, and the contributions of both the author and translator are given equal recognition, with the two sharing the £50,000 (about R1.1 million) prize money.
The Discomfort of Evening was chosen from a shortlist of six books by a panel of five judges,: Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature and Spoken Word at Southbank Centre; Lucie Campos, director of the Villa Gillet, France’s centre for international writing; Man Booker International Prize-winning translator and writer Jennifer Croft; Booker Prize longlisted author Valeria Luiselli and writer, poet and musician Jeet Thayil, whose novel Narcopolis was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012.
‘We set ourselves an immense task in selecting a winner from our superb shortlist, filled with fiction bold enough to upend mythic foundations and burst the banks of the novel itself. From this exceptional field, and against an extraordinary backdrop, we were looking for a book that goes beyond echoing our dystopian present and possesses a timeless charge. Combining a disarming new sensibility with a translation of singular sensitivity, The Discomfort of Evening is a tender and visceral evocation of a childhood caught between shame and salvation, and a deeply deserving winner of The 2020 International Booker Prize.’
Rijneveld, whose preferred pronouns are they/them, was born in April 1991 in Nieuwendijk, Netherlands and, alongside their writing career, still works on a dairy farm. They are described as one of the most exciting new voices in Dutch literature, and have already won awards for both their first poetry collection Calfskin and The Discomfort of Evening, the bestselling Dutch edition of which won the prestigious ANV Debut Prize.
Michele Hutchison’s translations include the bestselling An American Princess by Annejet van der Zijl, Mona in Three Acts by Griet op de Beeck and Seaweed by Miek Zwamborn. She is also co-author of The Happiest Kids in the World.
The Discomfort of Evening tells the story of Jas and her devout farming family in a strict Christian community in rural Netherlands. One winter’s day, her older brother joins an ice skating trip. Resentful at being left alone, she attempts to bargain with God pitting the life of her pet rabbit against that of her brother; he never returns. As grief overwhelms the farm, Jas succumbs to a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies, watching her family disintegrate into a darkness that threatens to derail them all.
This year the International Booker Prize judges considered 124 books, translated from thirty languages.
Previous winners of the International Booker Prize include Korean bestseller Han Kang and Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk. Last year’s award was won by Celestial Bodies by Omani novelist Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth.