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Catherine Chidgey wins major prize at 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

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A ‘powerfully compelling’ novel narrated by a cheeky magpie called Tama has flown off with New Zealand’s top literary prize.

The Axeman’s Carnival, by Ngāruawāhia-based writer Catherine Chidgey, has won the $64,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Fiction judge convenor Stephanie Johnson said the novel, which details the inner workings of a deteriorating marriage from the perspective of Tama the magpie, is “a powerfully compelling read from start to finish”.

“The unforgettable Tama – taken in and raised by Marnie on the Te Waipounamu high country farm she shares with champion axeman husband Rob – constantly entertains with his take on the foibles and dramas of his human companions. Catherine Chidgey’s writing is masterful, and the underlying sense of dread as the story unfolds is shot through with humour and humanity,” Johnson said.

The Axeman’s Carnival, published by Te Herenga Waka University Press, is Chidgey’s seventh novel. She is the first writer to win the major prize twice – she won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in 2017 for her fourth novel, The Wish Child.

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