Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in a mining village in Durham, and he attended Stockton-on-Tees Grammar School and Manchester University. He has spent a number of years in the Eastern Mediterranean area and has taught English in Athens and Istanbul. He now lives in Italy. His first novel, The Partnership, was published in 1966. This was followed by The Greeks Have a Word for It (1967); The Hide (1970); Mooncranker's Gift, which received the Heinemann Award for 1973; Pascali's Island, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1980 and has been filmed; Stone Virgin (1985); Sugar and Rum (1990); The Rage of the Vulture (1991); Sacred Hunger, which was joint winner of the 1992 Booker Prize; Morality Play, which was shortlisted for the 1995 Booker Prize; After Hannibal, Losing Nelson and The Songs of the Kings.
Barry Unsworth is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
It is the late fourteenth century, a dangerous time beset by war and plague. Nicholas Barber, a young and wayward cleric, stumbles across a group of travelling players and compounds his sins by joining them.Yet the town where they perform reveals another drama: a young woman is to be hanged for the murder of a twelve-year-old boy. What better way to increase their takings than to make a new play, to enact the murder of Thomas Wells? But as the actors rehearse, they discover that the truth about the boy's death has yet to be revealed...
As the child of an absent mother and a disapproving father, Charles Cleasby found comfort in solitary games of chess. Many years later, in the house where he grew up and now lives alone, he re-enacts the naval battles of his hero Horatio Nelson, moving model ships as carefully as he once did chess pieces. Having long been convinced of a link between `this great man's life and mine', Charles, surrounded by his collection of Nelson memorabilia, begins work on his biography of the Admiral and is unsettled to find that Nelson may not be the perfect leader he's always imagined. To doubt his hero's integrity feels like a terrible betrayal, but if Nelson is not the man Charles thought he was, what does that mean for him?
For five hundred years a statue of the Madonna has watched over Venice. Now, dulled by time and pollution, she is prepared for restoration. As Simon Raikes immerses himself in the painstaking task of cleaning and repairing, he is inexorably drawn to the stories of violence and lust which have surrounded this stone virgin. Simon's investigations lead him to Chiara Litsov, the wife of a renowned sculptor. A dangerous attraction develops between them and it appears inevitable that once again the stone virgin will bear witness to passion, betrayal and murder.
It is the spring of 1767, two years after the events of Barry Unsworth's Booker Prize-winning novel Sacred Hunger. Erasmus Kemp, the son of a Liverpool slave ship owner, has had the rebellious sailors of his father's ship brought back to London to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy. However, Sullivan, the Irish fiddler, has escaped and is making his way on foot to the north of England, stealing and scamming as he goes. In London, Kemp is looking to invest some of his fortune on Britain's new industries: coal-mining and steel. When he receives a tip about some mines for sale in East Durham, Kemp sees the business opportunity he has been waiting for, and he too makes his way north, to the very same village that Sullivan is heading for...
Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the "e;sacred hunger"e; to expand its empire and its profits, England entered fully into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. In the Booker Prize-winning work, Barry Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper-class woman; and his nephew who sails on the ship as its doctor because he has lost all he has loved. The voyage meets its demise when disease spreads among the slaves and the captain's drastic response provokes a mutiny. Joining together, the sailors and the slaves set up a secret, utopian society in the wilderness of Florida, only to await the vengeance of the single-minded, young Kemp.
Barry Unsworth returns to the terrain of his Booker Prize-winning novel Sacred Hunger, this time following Sullivan, the Irish fiddler, and Erasmus Kemp, son of a Liverpool slave ship owner who hanged himself. It is the spring of 1767, and to avenge his father's death, Erasmus Kemp has had the rebellious sailors of his father's ship, including Sullivan, brought back to London to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy. But as the novel opens, a blithe Sullivan has escaped and is making his way on foot to the north of England, stealing as he goes and sleeping where he can. His destination is Thorpe in the East Durham coalfields, where his dead shipmate, Billy Blair, lived: he has pledged to tell the family how Billy met his end. In this village, Billy's sister, Nan, and her miner husband, James Bordon, live with their three sons, all destined to follow their father down the pit. The youngest, only seven, is enjoying his last summer aboveground. Meanwhile, in London, a passionate antislavery campaigner, Frederick Ashton, gets involved in a second case relating to the lost ship. Erasmus Kemp wants compensation for the cargo of sick slaves who were thrown overboard to drown, and Ashton is representing the insurers who dispute his claim. Despite their polarized views on slavery, Ashton's beautiful sister, Jane, encounters Erasmus Kemp and finds herself powerfully attracted to him. Lord Spenton, who owns coal mines in East Durham, has extravagant habits and is pressed for money. When he applies to the Kemp merchant bank for a loan, Erasmus sees a business opportunity of the kind he has long been hoping for, a way of gaining entry into Britain's rapidly developing and highly profitable coal and steel industries. Thus he too makes his way north, to the very same village that Sullivan is heading for ...
1914, and an English archaeologist called Somerville is fulfilling a lifelong dream: to direct an excavation in the desert of Mesopotamia. Yet forces beyond his control threaten his work. The Great War is looming, and various interest groups are vying for control over the land and its manyprizes. And Somerville, whose intention is purely to discover and preserve the land's ancient treasures finds his idealism sorely tested. Naked ambition, treachery and greed are at play, in a thrilling adventure from the master of the historical novel.
The year is 1908, the place, a small Greek island in the declining days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. For twenty years Basil Pascali has spied on the people of his small community and secretly reported on their activities to the authorities in Constantinople. Although his reports are never acknowledged, never acted upon, he has received regular payment for his work. Now he fears that the villagers have found him out and he becomes engulfed in paranoia. In the midst of his panic, a charming Englishman arrives on the island claiming to be an archaeologist, and charms his way into the heart of the woman for whom Pascali pines. A complex game is played out between the two where cunning and betrayal may come to haunt them both. Pascali's Island was made into a feature film starring Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren.
WINNER OF THE 1992 BOOKER PRIZE 'Gripping . . . SACRED HUNGER covers a period between 1752 and 1765 . . . it concerns the entangled and conflicted fortunes of two cousins: Erasmus Kemp, the son of a Lancashire merchant, and Matthew Paris, a scholar and surgeon just released from prison for denying Holy Writ . . . the Liverpool Merchant is the vessel on which the whole of the novel hinges, and it carries the reader deep into the history of man's iniquitous greed . . . AS REGARDS ITS DRAMATIC BREADTH AND ENERGY, NO RECENT DOMESTIC NOVEL HAS COME WITHIN A MILE OF IT' - Anthony Quinn in the Independent