The writer beat big names, including novelist Donna Tartt when she was announced the winner at a ceremony in London for A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing.
The novel, which is the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour, was written in six months but was initially rejected by every publisher to whom she sent it. Ms McBride put the novel away for a decade after it was rejected as too experimental, before a small publisher in her adopted home town of Norwich published it.
It has been critically acclaimed but McBride lost out on The Folio Prize in March to US writer George Saunders.
“It is a wonderful thing to have my book recognised in this way,” Ms McBride said. “I hope that it will serve as an incentive to publishers everywhere to take a look at difficult books and to think again.”
Helen Fraser, chair of the judging panel, said: “An amazing, ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy.”
Ms McBride, who is due to appear at the West Cork Literary festival on July 12, was born in Liverpool but grew up in Sligo and Mayo. She collected her prize at an awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, having beaten authors including previous winner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who was nominated for Americanah.
Jonathan Ruppin, web editor for Foyles bookshop, said: “To paraphrase Brian Eno’s legendary quote about the first Velvet Underground album, not many people have bought it so far, but every single one of them will probably write a novel. It’s bold, brilliant and beautiful, a book that will delight every reader concerned that the novel had nowhere new to go and reinforce every prejudice of those who dismiss literary fiction as pretentious.”
Previous winners of the prize, formerly sponsored by Orange, include Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Lionel Shriver’s controversial We Need to Talk About Kevin.