Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage wins Waterstones Book Of The Year

By Jack Rear

Seventeen years after Philip Pullman concluded the His Dark Materials trilogy, the author released its first fully-fledged follow-up.

The first part of this new trilogy, La Belle Sauvage, is something like a prequel to Pullman’s original trilogy, featuring a few of the same characters and set in the same world.

The novel found critical acclaim in at its release October, and has been further praise ever since.

This week, Philip Pullman is adding a new jewel to his crown. La Belle Sauvage has been Book Of The Year by British retailer Waterstones.

The booksellers themselves choose the award recipient, rather than literary scholars or critics. Staff members are invited to send in their nominations for the award. There is no real prize for the winner however Waterstones tend to give the winner top billing in their stores.

Front of store promotions and attention tend to drive sales. Last year’s winner, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent saw sales increase by 720 percent.

Meanwhile 2015’s winner, Coralie Bickford-Smith’s debut, The Fox and the Star, saw sales increase by over 5000% in Waterstones stores alone.

However, considering that La Belle Sauvage has already sold 200,000 copies in the UK alone, it’s unlikely to sell many more copies, according to Waterstones’ managing director James Daunt.

However, he decided that the sheer weight of nominations from staff was enough to win the award for Pullman:

Commercially, I sit there thinking: ‘Can we give the prize to something else?’ because we’re going to sell lots of this book anyway. But when just about every bookseller in the business says it’s first Pullman and then something else, you end up saying ‘Well, the booksellers have spoken.’ It is the book of the year.

Elsewhere, Daunt spoke gushingly about his passion for the novel:

Sometimes when the anticipation is so much, there’s a slight let-down when it turns up and it isn’t quite what you expect. But this manages to be both a tremendously good read, so young people can read it and enjoy it, and also a sophisticated, challenging and thoughtful book that any reader of any age will benefit from.

What is La Belle Sauvage about?

As mentioned above, La Belle Sauvage is something akin to a prequel to Pullman’s children’s classic, Northern Lights (known as The Golden Compass in America).

The story is set in the same fictional universe where humans are accompanied at all times by dæmons, physical manifestations of the person’s soul, who take the form of animals. The world of the books also includes a totalitarian version of the Catholic church.

The setting for La Belle Sauvage is Oxford university. The main character from His Dark Materials, Lyra Belacqua, appears in the book as a baby.

As such, La Belle Sauvage features an entirely separate protagonist, Malcolm, who is charged with protecting Lyra from a sinister plot. The book also features an apocalyptic flood, inspired by real-world climate change.

Other Waterstones Book Of The Year winners

La Belle Sauvage joins a host of other brilliant books as 2017’s Waterstones Book Of The Year winners. While the prize has only been in operation since 2012, it has become a real treasure trove of literary greats.

2016 – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Based on the mythological tale of a sea serpent off the coast of Essex it tells the story of a Victorian widow, Cora Seaborne her friends. After her bullying husband dies, Cora is intrigued and compelled by the possibility of the serpent’s return.

Unfortunately he quest leads her to clash with the local vicar, William Ransome. He wants to lay superstition to rest in his rural parish and her interest stands in his way.

2015 – The Fox And The Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Sumptuously illustrated by the author herself, The Fox And The Star is a tale for all ages. It is the story of a fox who lives in the forest with his friend, Star. The latter once lit fox’s path through the forest at night. However, after grieving the loss of his friend, the fox finds the strength to continue alone.

The novel was apparently based on Bickford-Smith’s experiences with losing her mother at a young age. Speaking to the Guardian, she explained:

I was thinking about how in life, if you hold on to something too tightly, you lose it, so to love something you have to let it go, and I wrote the story around that. It relates to so many situations – everyone has suffered – and it came together for me with losing my mum at an early age.

Children seem to love the idea of the friends and the crazy illustrations, while adults like the concept of things being tough, but coming out the other side.

2014 – The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Set in Amsterdam in 1686 and 1687, the novel follows the character of Petronella Oortman. She has just married a wealthy merchant and receives a dollhouse shaped like their home as a gift. Despite the present she feels unwelcome in her husband’s home.

His domineering sister Marin is dismissive of her and the servants are odd. To distract herself, she employs the services of a miniaturist to make dolls and furniture for her dollhouse. However, the miniaturists gifts are very precognitive of the actual dramatic events unfolding around Petronella.

2013 – Stoner by John Williams

Proof that the Book Of The Year prize needn’t necessarily go to something published that year. First released in 1965, Stoner, and was a total flop, selling just 2,000 copies.

However, after being brought into Waterstones by a member of staff on a friend’s recommendation. Now it sells thousands of copies per week.

The novel tells the sad story of William Stoner. When he discovers a literary course by accident, he finds his passion for the subject.

This leads him to pursue a life in academia where he finds success and love. Unfortunately things don’t quite pan out as he expects and tragic circumstances blight his life.

2012 – Polpo by Russell Norman

And it doesn’t necessarily just need to be literary fiction that wins the Book Of The Year. Polpo is a cookbook of Venetian food written by the owner of the Polpo restaurant chain found across London.

It was chosen for its “fine production standards” and being “something beautifully-written, a volume unafraid to celebrate the niche and showcase that to a much wider audience”.