The Idea of Perfection: The Orange Prize

The Idea of Perfection was unknown outside Australia, by an equally little-known author, when it won the Orange Prize in 2001.

At £30,000 sterling, the prize is Britain's richest literary award. It's awarded each year by a jury of women to a book written by a woman that demonstrates "excellence, originality and accessibility". The women-only aspect of the Orange prize has meant it's been controversial since its inception in 1995. It was established when a group of women in publishing noticed that women's writing was markedly under-represented on major prize lists.

In 2001 there was a "shadow" panel of male judges - with no power to award the prize - to see whether the male and female panels would choose the same books.

Of the 118 books submitted that year, The Idea of Perfection was on the only one on both male and female shortlists. Announcing their list, head of the men's panel, novelist Paul Bailey said "The Idea of Perfection is an unpretentious, seriously written book which also makes you smile. It was a rare treat to read." and commented that " the male jury would have chosen it as its winner, had the chaps been allowed to choose one."

The other books shortlisted in 2001 were:

  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  • Fred and Edie, Jill Dawson
  • Homestead, Rosina Lippi
  • Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley
  • Hotel World, Ali Smith

The bookies' favourite was The Blind Assassin, at 7-4. The outsider, at 7 to 1, was The Idea of Perfection.

Awarding the prize, chair of the judges, Rosie Boycott, described The Idea of Perfection as "an exquisite, minutely observed study of two people meeting in their middle years. It's just a truly jaw-dropping book, extremely real, extremely emotional, and there is writing that just blows you away."