Goodness knows how the judges, an eclectic bunch who included the likes of model Marie Helvin and Spandau Balletâ€™s Gary Kemp, decided between the five writers vying for the 2009 Costa Book of the Year Award. Somehow they had to weigh up the respective merits of a novel set in 1950s New York, the account of a young Bangladeshi fleeing an arranged marriage, the biography of a physics genius, an anthology of poems written in tribute to the poetâ€™s late wife and a childrenâ€™s novel where the characters can hear each otherâ€™s thoughts.
A tough call, but in the end (and by a â€śsubstantial majorityâ€ť), they voted that this yearâ€™s award should go to poet Christopher Reid for A Scattering (AretĂ© Books, ÂŁ7.99), his heartrending tribute to his late wife, who died of cancer at the age of 55. His descriptions of her last few days, when he played Schubert to her, read her favourite Yeats and â€ścultivated my clumsy, husbandly bedside mannerâ€ť are intensely moving and are sure to find a wider audience now Reid has won the ÂŁ30,000 Costa prize.
Â But if you havenâ€™t read Colm TĂłibĂnâ€™s Brooklyn (Viking, ÂŁ17.99), please beg, buy or borrow a copy. This beguiling novel made headlines when it beat Hilary Mantelâ€™s Booker-prizewinning Wolf Hall to the coveted Costa novel award and I was rooting for it from the start. Itâ€™s the story of Eilis Lacey, a young girl who leaves small-town Ireland to find work in 1950s New York. An elegantly-written and tender story of love and loss, Brooklyn swiftly became the early favourite to scoop the overall prize â€“ but sadly it wasnâ€™t to be.
The other finalists are well worth reading too, especially Raphael Selbourneâ€™s Beauty (Tindal Street Press, ÂŁ7.99). The winner of the Costa first novel award, Beauty was inspired by Selbourneâ€™s experiences of teaching in Wolverhampton. Authentic and at times deeply shocking, itâ€™s the gritty tale of Beauty Begum, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi girl who returns to England after escaping from an abusive arranged marriage to a man 30 years older.
To my surprise, I found the fourth contender, Graham Farmeloâ€™s The Strangest Man (Faber and Faber, ÂŁ22.50), riveting. The reclusive Paul Dirac, who died in 1984, is said to be one of the greatest British physicists since Isaac Newton, yet few people have ever heard of him. And donâ€™t miss The Ask and the Answer, the hard-hitting sequel to Patrick Nessâ€™s award-winning The Knife of Never Letting Go. Set in a sinister world where men can hear each other think, itâ€™s aimed at a teenage audience but itâ€™s absolutely gripping.