Harry and Beatrix Potter face off on eclectic Waterstones book of the year shortlist

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent is the only novel on the six-book shortlist, up against JK Rowling’s play script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and a long-lost Beatrix Potter story

Sarah Perry’s novel The Essex Serpent might have missed out on the big literary prizes this year, but her tale of a 19th-century amateur naturalist on the trail of a mythical beast is the novel of the year for booksellers at the UK’s largest book chain.

On 8 November, Waterstones announced an eclectic shortlist of titles for its book of the year award, with The Essex Serpent the only novel up for the prize. Contenders are nominated by Waterstones booksellers, who are asked to name “the book they find truly outstanding and which they have felt most pride in recommending and selling in the last year”. The chain said Perry’s novel was by far the most nominated title. “Reviewers heaped praise on the book,” said Waterstones. “Only the judges of the literary prizes have been unswayed by it.”

Also nominated are JK Rowling’s bestselling play script, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Paul Kalanithi’s memoir about life following a terminal cancer diagnosis, When Breath Becomes Air, and the long-lost Beatrix Potter story The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, discovered in the Victoria and Albert museum and illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Christopher de Hamel’s journey through the world of rare manuscripts, Meeting With Remarkable Manuscripts, makes the cut, too, alongside the BBC correspondent Emma Jane Kirby’s account of the Italian optician who rescued dozens of refugees from the sea in 2013, The Optician of Lampedusa.

A Waterstones panel headed by James Daunt, the chain’s managing director, will now choose a winner from the shortlist, with the title to be backed across the company’s hundreds of stores. Sales of last year’s winner, the sumptuously illustrated picture book The Fox and the Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith, increased by more than 5,000% following its win.

Daunt hinted that The Optician of Lampedusa might be his choice this year, saying it had “a quiet power”, and he added: “Our booksellers time and again nominate a highly eclectic list. This year, only the inclusion of the de facto patron saint of booksellers, JK Rowling, was predictable,” he said. “Praise be to her, but I encourage all to look closely at the other wonderful books we shortlist.”

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Essex Serpent beats Harry Potter to win Waterstones book of the year
Sarah Perry’s gothic ‘novel of rare intelligence’ receives lucrative honour ahead of the playscript for JK Rowling’s theatrical debut

01, Dec, 2016 @12:01 AM

Article image
Sally Rooney's Normal People named Waterstones book of the year
Bookseller praises word-of-mouth hit as ‘cementing her reputation as the voice of her generation’

Sian Cain

29, Nov, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
Cosy crime and Greek myth retellings: the Waterstones book of the year shortlist
Janice Hallett’s murder mystery has pipped Richard Osman to a spot on the bookseller’s list

Alison Flood

28, Oct, 2021 @9:01 AM

Article image
British Book awards balance art and selling power to decide best writer in 30 years
Novelists rub shoulders with presidents, chefs, comedians and thriller megastars on longlist to define the title with the biggest impact on the book world

Alison Flood

14, Feb, 2020 @6:01 AM

Article image
La Belle Sauvage chosen as Waterstones book of the year
Managing director James Daunt says staff showed overwhelming enthusiasm for Philip Pullman’s return after 17 years to the world of Northern Lights

Richard Lea

30, Nov, 2017 @6:01 AM

Article image
Waterstones prize winner Elle McNicoll: ‘I never saw autistic girls in books’
The author was repeatedly told that no one wanted to read fun books with disabled heroes. Now she has won the £5,000 Waterstones children’s book prize for her debut, A Kind of Spark

Alison Flood

01, Jul, 2021 @5:01 AM

Article image
Black Lives Matter novel wins Waterstones children's book of the year
The Hate U Give, by US author Angie Thomas, has been praised as an extraordinary achievement

Sian Cain

22, Mar, 2018 @8:00 PM

Article image
‘Utterly joyful’ Look Up! wins Waterstones children's book of the year
Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola’s picture book about a science-mad young black girl trying to distract her brother from his phone takes £5,000 award

Alison Flood

29, Jul, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Lost Beatrix Potter story becomes bestseller months ahead of publication
The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which remained unseen for a century, is already a bestseller – eight months before it reaches shops

Alison Flood

27, Jan, 2016 @3:36 PM

Article image
Waterstones set to open five new branches this year
Managing director James Daunt says company is ‘making good money’ and has plans to open a further 10 to 15 shops in 2018

Alison Flood

27, Nov, 2017 @3:32 PM