Tag: Dylan Thomas Prize

Dylan Thomas Prize: Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu

Today I’m joining the blog tour for this year’s Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize, which is awarded to writers in English who are aged under forty. This post looks at one of the longlisted titles, Losing the Plot, the second novel by Derek Owusu. 

Losing the Plot is inspired by the journey of Owusu’s mother from Ghana to the UK. We get a sense of the impetus for this book from its epilogue, in which the narrator Kwesi conducts a “factless interview” with his mother – factless because she’s reluctant to answer his questions about her life in any sort of detail. 

This means that Kwesi has to stretch his imagination in writing about his mother, leading to an account that’s fragmented and impressionistic, shifting between prose and poetry. Through this, there is a keen sense of the displacement felt by Kwesi’s mother. For instance:

She lifts her head, towel for tresses, watches as snakes of steam dance and fight to rise and fall, 

condensing, dripping, drops dying and spreading, 

reminding her tears cling to the face to live a little longer. 

She brushes her teeth out of time with her reflection, 

watches suds touch the porcelain prefering the scrub and ease of a chewing stick.

One striking aspect of Losing the Plot is its use of marginal notes. The mother’s account includes words and phrases in Twi, which come with their own sidenotes. Rather than provide a direct translation, Kwesi uses these notes to give his own observations. For example, one note begins like this:

Honestly, certain insults can’t even be translated and put into context that makes sense, you just have to feel the vim of the insult and know it’s devastating and it’s all gonna end with a scrap. Bro, I know this because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. She’s bare small so I didn’t even clock she can fight. 

So, it seems the sidenotes are there not so much to open a door for the reader, as to help Kwesi bring himself closer to the story he’s trying to tell. In reading Losing the Plot, we are confronted by the limits of what we can and can’t know about another person’s life. It also becomes clear that there is an urgent reason for this story to be told, and together these help give Owusu’s novel its power. 

Book published by Canongate. The shortlist for this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize will be announced on 23 March, with the winner to follow on 11 May.

Pew by Catherine Lacey: Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize

Today’s post is part of a blog tour covering the shortlist for this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize (the winner of which will be announced on Thursday). I’m reviewing Pew, the third novel by Catherine Lacey. I’ve previously written about her debut, Nobody Is Ever Missing; like that earlier book, Pew focuses on a protagonist who’s elusive even to themself. 

Lacey’s narrator is an individual with no memory or identifiable characteristics. They’re dubbed Pew because they are found in the church of a small American town. The townsfolk welcome Pew at first, but Pew’s reluctance to say anything unnerves them, and their attitudes change. There will be a Forgiveness Festival in town at the end of the week, and the reader has reason to suspect that this may not be as wholesome as it sounds… 

With Pew staying silent, conversations are one-sided. Pew becomes an empty presence, and the town’s inhabitants fill the void with their own stories. The novel explores questions of what makes a person, and how individuals and communities relate to each other. Underneath it all is the figure of Pew, who might be looking for a place to belong, or might not need one after all. Lacey’s book is enigmatic, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. 

Published by Granta Books.

International Dylan Thomas Prize blog tour: House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

My post today is part of a blog tour for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize, which is awarded to a novel written in English by a writer aged 39 or under (39 being the age at which Dylan Thomas died). The a blog tour is looking at the books on the longlist. The book I’ve chosen is House of Stone, the debut novel by Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma.

House of Stone is narrated by the orphaned 24-year-old Zamani, who lives with Abednego and Agnes Mlambo. He would like to be more than a lodger in this family and sees his chance when the Mlambos’ son Bukhosi goes missing. In an effort to ingratiate himself with the couple he refers to his “surrogate” father and mother, Zamani asks Abednego and Mama Agnes about their lives. He tries his best to oil the wheels:

We spent the whole of yesterday seated in the sitting room, in a battle of wills, me trying to get [Abednego] to take just one sip of the whisky, he pursing his lips, glaring at the wall, willing Bukhosi to reappear, declaring himself to be mute unless the boy popped up abracadabra before his eyes, and snapping at me to shurrup when he I pleaded with him to continue with his story.

Despite initial reluctance, Abednego does continue with his story, as does Agnes. Through their accounts, Tshuma explores the history of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, while telling an intriguing family story. Zamani also has secrets of his own, adding up to a multi-layered and engaging book.

Book details

House of Stone (2018) by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Atlantic Books, 374 pages, hardback. [Paperback published on Thursday 4 April.]

Take a look at the other stops on the blog tour in the graphic above. The shortlist of the Dylan Thomas Prize will be announced on Tuesday 2 April.

Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

The Dylan Thomas Prize is awarded every year to a book by an author aged under 30. The work of young writers is one of my particular areas of interest, so I thought I’d take a look at the 2012 longlist, which was announced this morning:

Tom Benn, The Doll Princess

A crime novel set in Manchester in the aftermath of 1996’s IRA bombing, with a narrator involved in the city’s gangs.

Ben Brooks, Grow Up

A portrait of 21st-century adolescence, by an author who was 19 at the time of publication.

Matthew Crow, My Dearest Jonah

The correspondence between two pen-pals on the fringes of society, who find the stability of their lives under threat.

Andrea Eames, The White Shadow

A tale of siblings living in 1960s Zimbabwe, mixing folklore with a background of guerrilla war.

Amelia Gray, Threats

The protagonist loses his wife in mysterious circumstances, then discovers around the house pieces of paper bearing threats – can he rely  on his own mind?

Chibundu Onuzo, The Spider King’s Daughter

‘A modern-day Romeo and Juliet’ set in Lagos, chronicling the romance between a wealthy girl and a boy from the slums.

Maggie Shipstead, Seating Arrangements

A wealthy New England family threatens to come apart at a wedding celebration.

Alexandra Singer, Tea at the Grand Tazi

A historian’s assistant gets lost in a world of vice whilst working in Morocco.

D.W. Wilson, Once You Break a Knuckle

A collection from the winner of last year’s BBC Short Story Award. I loved his winning story back then.

Lucy Wood, Diving Belles

In case you haven’t heard me mention it before, this is one of my favourite books of the year so far. Wonderful to see it on the longlist.

***

I think that’s a nicely broad selection. The Eames, Gray, Onuzo, and Wilson are the ones I most want to read personally, but good luck to all.

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