Val makes Orange prize her Property

An outsider yesterday brushed aside two high-profile favourites to claim Britain's richest prize for fiction.

Valerie Martin beat five challengers to the £30,000 women-only Orange Prize with her novel Property.

The American was an unlikely 7/2 to beat two of the top-selling female authors - Zadie Smith and Donna Tartt.

Property, Martin's seventh novel, tells the story of the wife of a 19th century sugar plantation owner in America's Deep South.

"We are delighted to have as this year's winner a novel which deals with a huge subject with originality," said Ahdaf Soueif, who chaired a panel of judges which included supermodel Sophie Dahl.

"It performs the difficult task of depicting dramatic events with stylish restraint."

Tartt, the favourite, was shortlisted for The Little Friend and Smith for her second novel, The Autograph Man.

The other contenders were Carol Shields for Unless, Anne Donovan for Buddha Da and Shena Mackay for Heligoland.

The cash prize and the Bessie - a limited edition figurine - were presented to the author at a ceremony at Lincoln's Inn Fields, London.

Martin's victory made it the third year in a row the favourite has failed to win. The Orange Prize was first awarded in 1996.

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