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#GoldsmithsPrize2020: Meanwhile in Dopamine City by DBC Pierre

A few days before the Goldsmiths shortlist was announced, I saw an episode of the game show Pointless which had a round on Booker Prize winners. When Vernon God Little was revealed as one of the answers, both presenters said something along the lines of, “I read a few pages of that but it wasn’t for me.”

This was pretty much the impression I had of DBC Pierre’s work, without having read any at all: that his writing was ‘turned up to 11’, and that he probably wasn’t someone I’d ever have cause to read. Then he was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths, and here we are.

Meanwhile in Dopamine City is set in an unspecified country that feels like the USA in some ways and Australia in others. In a town owned by the Company, Lon Cush holds out against the ever-greater encroachment of technology and social media on all areas of life. That is until he slaps his nine-year-old daughter Shelby-Ann, having jumped to the wrong conclusions about what she was doing. Lon is forced to obtain smartphones for himself and Shelby, so the authorities can keep an eye on them.

Pierre’s prose is indeed busy. For example: “Frogs fell quiet under the catmint and sea holly as he pulled the gate shut behind him, lifting it on its hinges to dampen the squeak. He went up three steps and billowed into his house like a sailor in a black-and-white bar scene.”

After Lon gets his smartphone, the novel becomes even more striking, because the text splits into two columns: a first-person voice in the left, and a newsfeed on the right that links to it in some way. I presume that this is meant to evoke the distraction of using a smartphone, but actually I found it something of a respite! Pierre’s default prose style is enough on its own to convey that sense of constant diversion.

I must admit that I lost track of the plot as the novel went on, but I don’t think that matters too much. It’s the texture of Pierre’s book that makes it for me, and the ideas at work within, such as the Universal Fluid Score, a single giant algorithmic rating that determines social standing. Meanwhile in Dopamine City shines brightest as an experience of being caught in a hyper-connected world, with all its promises and dangers.

Published by Faber & Faber.

Click here to read my other reviews of the 2020 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2020

It’s time for the Goldsmiths Prize, for “fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form.” What an intriguing shortlist we have this year:

  • Mr. Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)
  • A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison (Goillancz)
  • Meanwhile in Dopamine City by DBC Pierre (Faber)
  • The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press)
  • Bina by Anakana Schofield (Fleet)

The only one of these I’ve read so far is The Mermaid of Black Conch (review linked above). I hadn’t really thought of it in connection with the Goldsmiths, but now I think about its variety of voices, I can see that it deserves its place.

There are two books that I’m especially pleased to see on the shortlist. I first read Anakana Schofield when her previous novel, Martin John, was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2016. I loved that book and can’t wait to see what Bina is like. M. John Harrison is an author I always find challenging and compelling: it took three attempts before Viriconium clicked, but when it finally did… The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again is a book I’ve wanted to read, and I’m happy it has been recognised by the Goldsmiths.

Elsewhere on the list, I enjoyed Xiaolu Guo’s UFO in Her Eyes a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to reading her again. I don’t really know anything about Paul Griffiths or Mr. Beethoven, but I have heard of Henningham Family Press through keeping an eye on the small press scene. It’s a two-person operation which I hear publishes some beautiful books – consider me intrigued.

Which leaves the book I’m not sure about, Meanwhile in Dopamine City. I’ve never really felt like reading DBC Pierre, whose work seems to be an acquired taste. Well, you never know.

The winner of this year’s Goldsmiths Prize will be announced on 11 November. I may not get through the whole shortlist by then, but I am planning to read and review them all. It should be fun.

#InternationalBooker2020: the shadow winner

A message from the shadow panel…

The official announcement of the winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize has been postponed until later in the summer, to give readers more time to get and read copies of the novels.

But our shadow jury of bloggers and reviewers of translated fiction has already completed our reading and re-reading, so it seems fitting to announce our Shadow Winner on the original date of May 19th.

As a reminder our own shortlist was, in alphabetical order of the original author’s name:

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), tr. Anonymous (Europa Editions)
The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), tr. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), tr. Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), tr. Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)
Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), tr. Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), tr. Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

We were collectively impressed with all of these books, indeed all six had their champions among us.

And three books in particular were so close in our deliberations and our voting that it was almost tempting to go one further than last year’s anglophone Booker judges.  But instead we’ve kept with one winner, but decided to acknowledge two books as Runners-Up.

Runners-Up:
The Other Name: Septology I-II
and
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

Jon Fosse’s “slow prose”, unfolding his story in one long, flowing stream that reads with great fluidity, took us deep inside his narrator Asle’s mind and thoughts. And we were caught up in the heady mixture of Persian myth, story-telling and magic realism of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, a true ode to literature and to the deeply soothing role books and stories play in our survival of trauma.

But the winner of our 2020 Shadow Jury Prize is:
Hurricane Season, written by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

Comments from some of our judges:

Hurricane Season is an appropriate title for a novel that roars into the unsuspecting reader’s mind, with its long and winding sentences, and its refusal to flinch from the brutalities of its world.”

“There is anger, pain, and the understanding of the role literature plays when it comes to compassion and empathy.”

“As author M. John Harrison said of Melchor’s novel ‘…she had shown me things I needed to be faced with.’ and expanded my understanding of lives so very different from my own.”

“It unflinchingly portrayed a world apart from us and artfully created another layer of distance from subject through the use of mythologized violence. That she both creates distance and ‘makes us look’ simultaneously was incredibly powerful for me.”

“Melchor’s prose, in Hughes’s stunning translation, is raw, brutal and so, so necessary.”

“As readers and intrepid voyagers down Melchor’s Dante-like vision, we are like riveted inmates, incarcerated either by law or by economics or gender, who stand to witness the depravity, despair and pain being inflicted upon this part of the world. The real evidence and reward here is not in unmasking the Witch’s killer or killers or in finding out why this happened, the true recompense of Melchor’s novel is to pay tribute by listening to the dead’s testimony,‘there is no treasure in there, no gold or silver or diamonds or anything more than a searing pain that refuses to go away.’”

And our congratulations extend to the publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions who provided two of our top three, and also now have two Shadow Prize wins in three years.

Now it’s over to the official jury for their decision.

#InternationalBooker2020: the shadow panel’s shortlist

A message from the shadow panel…

Our shadow jury of bloggers and reviewers of translated fiction has completed our reading of the International Booker 2020 longlist, and has chosen our own Shadow Shortlist.

In alphabetical order of the original author’s name our chosen six books are:

  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), tr. Anonymous (Europa Editions)
  • The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), tr. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), tr. Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), tr. Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)
  • Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), tr. Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)
  • The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), tr. Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

Firstly, we would like to congratulate the judges on choosing a very strong longlist. There are some stunning books on the list, and almost all of them, including those that missed out on our shortlist, had their champions among us. The books didn’t always make for an easy read – some are quite graphic in their depiction of violence – but certainly a thought provoking one.

You will see that four of our choices overlap with those of the official jury.

The Adventures of China Iron impressed many of us, but couldn’t quite squeeze on to our list. Instead we chose the cleverly connected short stories from Faces on the Tip of My Tongue.

When we were predicting books on the longlist The Eighth Life was the novel we most expected to see given its undoubted popularity both in the Anglosphere but also internationally. And we had expected it to make both the official and our shadow shortlist. Somewhat to our surprise, it missed out on both – the magic of the hot chocolate clearly doesn’t work on everyone.

We were though more surprised, and disappointed, at the exclusion of The Other Name from the official list – Jon Fosse’s trademark slow prose is stunning, and it makes for a very different reading experience from the others on the list. It is a timeless novel, and we fear the jury’s not unreasonable focus on novels relevant for the Covid-19 era may have counted against it. But with the next volume due in the autumn perhaps Fosse will make next year’s shortlist and he’s also overdue the Nobel Prize.

At the other end of the spectrum, the officially shortlisted Tyll didn’t spark much enthusiasm in our panel. But the one provoking the strongest reactions was Serotonin: several of the books on our shortlist are brutal or visceral but parts of Houllebecq’s novel simply felt gratuitous. Only three of our judges finished reading it and none of those were terribly impressed by its inclusion on the longlist.

We’ll now embark on the period of further re-reading, reflection and to choose our winner. We wonder if we and the official jury will see eye to eye as we did in 2018, or reach a different view as we did last year.

Thanks to shadow panellist Paul Fulcher for writing these words.

Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist

/They’ve announced the shortlist for this year’s Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize:

Congratulations to all the nominees! The list includes both of the poetry collections I reviewed as part of the blog tour – links to my posts are above.

#InternationalBooker2020: the shortlist

The International Booker Prize shortlist was announced today:

  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, translated from the Persian by an anonymous translator.
  • The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Camara, translated from the Spanish by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh.
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin.
  • Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes.
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.
  • The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison.

(Links are to my reviews.)

That’s a good shortlist. I’m not a great fan of Tyll, but I wouldn’t argue with the rest. The Memory Police is probably my favourite.

The shadow panel will be announcing our shortlist next week. I wonder how similar (or different) it will be to the official one.

#InternationalBooker2020 longlist: let the shadowing begin!

It’s International Booker Prize time, and once again I’ll be reading along and reviewing where I can. The longlist was announced this morning, so here’s what we’ve got:

  • Red Dog by Willem Anker, translated from the Afrikaans by Michael Heyns (South Africa, Pushkin Press).
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, translated from the Farsi by an anonymous translator (Iran, Europa Editions UK).
  • The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Camara, translated from the Spanish by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh (Argentina, Charco Press).
  • The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls (Norway, Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin (Georgia, Scribe UK).
  • Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq, translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside (France, William Heinemann).
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (Germany, Quercus).
  • Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Japan, Harvill Secker).
  • Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins (France, Peirene Press).
  • Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Argentina, Oneworld).
  • The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison (Netherlands, Faber and Faber).
  • Mac and His Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull-Costa and Sophie Hughes (Spain, Harvill Secker).

Okay, well… To date, I have read two of these: the Pagano (which I liked) and the Ogawa (which I really liked, but I’m reviewing it for Strange Horizons so you’ll have to wait to find out more…). It’s great to see Schweblin and Vila-Matas on here, and I’m excited to explore the rest. How much I’ll get through is another question, because some of these books are quite long (and the Haratischvili is very long indeed). But I don’t want to rush – we’ll just see what happens.

As always, I will be taking part in the shadow panel to choose our own shortlist and winner. This year, I will be joined by Stu, Frances, Bellezza, Vivek, Barbara, Paul, Antonomasia and Oisin. I wish us all – and you – an enjoyable journey.

Republic of Consciousness Prize shortlist 2020

One of my favourite literary awards, the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, announced its shortlist this evening:

Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo (tr. Frank Wynne) – Fitzcarraldo Editions. A novel about a French farming family’s experience through the 20th century.

Broken Jaw by Minoli Salgado – the87press. A collection of Sri Lankan short stories spanning the public and private spheres.

Love by Hanne Ørstavik (tr. Martin Aitken) – And Other Stories. A short Norwegian novel about the relationship between a mother and son, told over the course of an evening.

Patience by Toby Litt – Galley Beggar Press. The story of a disabled boy yearning for connection, from the publisher of last year’s co-winner.

We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner – Dostoyevsky Wannabe. A tale of belonging and ambiguous reality set on the Isle of Wight, by the only author to have been shortlisted for the Prize twice.

A fascinating selection – congratulations to all!

Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2019

The shortlist for this year’s Goldsmiths Prize was announced on Wednesday:

  • Amy Arnold, Slip of a Fish (And Other Stories)
  • Lucy Ellmann, Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press)
  • Mark Haddon, The Porpoise (Chatto & Windus)
  • Deborah Levy, The Man Who Saw Everything (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Vesna Main, Good Day? (Salt Publishing)
  • Isabel Waidner, We Are Made of Diamond Stuff (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)

It’s been a good few years since I did a proper shortlist readalong (apart from the Man Booker International Prize, of course), and I already have half of these, so I’m going to read the list and report back. The Goldsmiths usually comes up with some gems, so I’m looking forward to it already.

#MBI2019: the official winner

We chose The Shape of the Ruins as our shadow winner, but the official judges of the Man Booker International Prize went down a different path. The official MBI winner for 2019 is:

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press)

You can read my review of Celestial Bodies here: it’s a good book, so I’m pleased. Congratulations to the winners, thanks to my fellow shadow panellists for making the whole process such fun… Looking forward to next year!

Read my other posts on the 2019 Man Booker International Prize here.

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