Shortlist year: 2008

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: Penguin Random House

To be a hero's wife in times supposedly suited to the heroic caused a woman to swallow doubt.

I knew in general terms I was marrying a hero. The burden lay lightly on Leo, and to be a hero's wife in times supposedly suited to the heroic caused a woman to swallow doubt . . . The Japanese had barely been turned away. It was heresy and unlucky to undermine young men at such a supreme hour.

When Grace married the genial and handsome Captain Leo Waterhouse in Australia in 1943, they were young, in love – and at war. Like many other young men and women, they were ready, willing and able to put the war effort first. They never seriously doubted that they would come through unscathed.

But Leo never returned from a commando mission masterminded by his own hero figure, an eccentric and charismatic man who inspired total loyalty from those under his command. The world moved on to new alliances, leaving Grace, like so many widows, to bear the pain of losing the love of her life and wonder what it had all been for.

Sixty years on, Grace is still haunted by the tragedy of her doomed hero when the real story of his ill-fated secret mission is at last unearthed. As new fragments of her hero's story emerge, Grace is forced to keep revising her picture of what happened to Leo and his fellow commandoes – until she learns about the final piece in the jigsaw, and the ultimate betrayal.

About the author

Tom Keneally

Tom Keneally won the Booker Prize in 1982 with Schindler's Ark, later made into the Steven Spielberg Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List.

His non-fiction includes the memoir Searching for Schindler and Three Famines, an LA Times Book of the Year, and the histories The Commonwealth of Thieves, The Great Shame and American Scoundrel.

His fiction includes Shame and the Captives, The Daughters of Mars, The Widow and Her Hero (shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award), An Angel in Australia and Bettany's Book.

His novels The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize, while Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers for the Paraclete won the Miles Franklin Award. The People's Train was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia division.

Judges’ comments

In the fifth decade of his career, Thomas Keneally's powers of renewal and his unflagging appetite for story-telling distinguish his latest novel, The Widow and her Hero (Doubleday).

He turns to his favoured historical period - the Second World War (setting of a number of his works and of several of the short-listed novels here) - and in particular to the Australian commando raids against Japanese shipping at Singapore in 1943 and 1944.

This master-class in fiction is also an interrogation of the nature of heroism, perhaps unproblematic for men in action, but of deep ambivalence for the women left behind.