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Ruth studied her PhD at Exeter

English alumna wins distinguished literary prize

University of Exeter alumna Ruth Gilligan (PhD English, 2014) has won the 2021 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize for her book The Butchers. This annual prize of £10,000 is awarded for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

The Butchers is a literary thriller set in the Irish borderlands during the 1996 BSE crisis, which forms the backdrop for an unsettling but compelling story of family, love, tradition and darkness. It is Ruth’s fifth novel.

Responding to the announcement Ruth said: “I am just elated – and still totally shocked – to have won the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize. I am a sucker for books with a strong sense of place, so I have long been a huge fan of the Prize, but after a year of isolation and confinement, it feels more pertinent than ever to be celebrating the transportive power of reading. There were some absolute crackers on the shortlist, so I am truly honoured that the judges chose The Butchers. A million thanks; this really means an awful lot.”

Announcing the win, the Chair of 2021 Judges, Lola Young, Baroness Young of Hornsey said:Our winning title is about a moment in time, in a particular place. It’s been described in many different terms: Literary thriller, coming-of-age story, historical fiction, an account of superstition and the supernatural, but it doesn’t matter how it’s categorised – it’s a page-turning, roller coaster of a read. The humour works – we need relief from repressed emotional lives, and the slaughter of cows – and it lures us into recalling the recent past at a moment when ‘crisis’ was constantly on the lips of politicians and pundits alike – just like today.”

The Ondaatje Prize is an annual literary award given by the Royal Society of Literature and bears the name of its benefactor Sir Christopher Ondaatje, who is also a significant and long-time supporter of the University of Exeter.

Date: 12 May 2021

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