George Saunders won the Man Booker prize on Tuesday night, but while he was working on Lincoln in the Bardo, his winning book, he would sometimes stop and ask himself if it really was a novel he was writing. He still sounds a little unsure. “I still, I still … I mean, it says it is!” he says, pointing to the dustjacket; US tradition dictates that a novel is specified as such on its cover.

Until now, Saunders, 58, has been master of the short story. (He won the Folio prize in 2014 for his collection Tenth of December and in 2006 was awarded a MacArthur fellowship.) This explains why he and his wife, Paula, who has been his first reader since they met in 1986 on a creative writing MFA at Syracuse University, still joke about the book. “Pretty good use of white space there!” one of them will say. “I guess it is a novel,” Saunders says.

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