Irish writer Anne Enright won the Man Booker fiction prize for The Gathering, an uncompromising portrait of a troubled family that its author called the literary "equivalent of a Hollywood weepie."
Enright had been considered a long-shot to take Britain's most prestigious and contentious literary trophy. The prize, which carries a check for ?50,000 (US$100,000), was awarded during a ceremony on Tuesday evening at London's medieval Guildhall.
The Gathering is a family epic set in England and Ireland, in which a brother's suicide prompts 39-year-old Veronica Hegarty to probe her family's troubled, tangled history.
Enright said people looking for a cheery read should not pick up her book.
"It is the intellectual equivalent of a Hollywood weepie," she said.
Howard Davies, the chairman of the judging panel, acknowledged the book was "a little bleak" in places, but praised it as "a very readable novel."
"Anne Enright has written a powerful, uncomfortable and, at times, angry book. The Gathering is an unflinching look at a grieving family in tough and striking language," he said.
Enright said the book's focus on family was classically Irish.
"I think family is a hugely interesting place, it's a place where stories happen. ... And it's also a central Irish institution," Enright said.
Enright's victory was another surprise from an award renowned for unpredictable results. Bookmakers had made Enright the rank outsider to win, with bookies William Hill giving her 20-1 odds.
But the Booker judges have a history of defying the odds when awarding the prize, which usually brings a huge sales boost for the winner. The favorite has not won since 2002, when Yann Martel's Life of Pi took the prize.