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Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2021

For me, October means the Goldsmiths Prize. Last year was the first time I’d managed to read the whole shortlist, and it was such an adventure. I was looking forward to this year’s shortlist, and it turns out to be full of books that I want to read:

  • Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett (Jonathan Cape)
  • Assembly by Natasha Brown (Hamish Hamilton)
  • A Shock by Keith Ridgway (Picador)
  • This One Sky Day by Leone Ross (Faber & Faber)
  • Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner (Peninsula Press)
  • little scratch by Rebecca Watson (Faber & Faber)

As of this post, I have read two: I loved Keith Ridgway’s previous novel, Hawthorn & Child, so I was always going to read A Shock. It didn’t disappoint, and I’m glad it has been recognised here. I hadn’t got along with Isabel Waidner’s work previously, but I anticipated that Sterling Karat Gold might make this prize and/or the Republic of Consciousness. So I decided to get ahead, and I really enjoyed it.

Of the other four nominees, the only author I’ve read is Leone Ross. Her short story ‘The Woman Who Lived in a Restaurant’ left a deep impression on me, so I’m looking forward to reading a full-length novel of hers. I know Claire-Louise Bennett’s name from the reputation of her previous book Pond. Assembly and little scratch are debut works that I’ve heard very good things about. It’s all looking positive to me.

As always, I will link to my reviews of the books in the list above as I post them.

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.

#2021InternationalBooker: The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard

This slim volume (under 100 pages) introduced me to an unfamiliar name from history: Thomas Müntzer, a preacher who became a leading figure in the German Peasants’ War of 1525. He opposed both the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther, and he went from questioning the prevailing theology to encouraging more general revolt against the ruling authorities. 

There’s a real sense in Vuillard’s prose of dynamic and open-ended societal change. For example, I loved this passage describing the effects of the printing press:

Fifty years earlier, a molten substance had flowed from Mainz over the rest of Europe, flowed between the hills of every town, between the letters of every name, in the gutters, between every twist and turn of thought; and every letter, every fragment of an idea, every punctuation mark had found itself cast in a bit of metal. 

Translation from french by mark polizzotti

Vuillard places Müntzer in a line of popular rebels and preachers, including Wat Tyler and Jan Hus. The restlessness of rebellion is reflected in the way Vuillard writes and structures his book (and, of course, Polizzotti’s translation). Ultimately, The War of the Poor may be a little too slight to really shine for me, but it certainly has powerful moments. 

Published by Picador.

Read my other posts on the 2021 International Booker Prize here.

International Booker Prize 2021: introducing the Shadow Panel

It’s that time of year again, when the International Booker Prize is almost with us (the longlist will be announced on Tuesday 30 March). Once again, I will be taking part in the Shadow Panel. We’ll be reading and reviewing the books, coming to our own conclusions about what’s good – and ultimately choosing our own shadow shortlist and winner.

This post is an introduction to the members of this year’s Shadow Panel. Without further ado, here they are:

***

Tony Malone (@tony_malone) is an occasional ESL teacher and full-time reader who has been publishing his half-baked thoughts on literature in translation at the Tony’s Reading List blog for just over twelve years now. One unexpected consequence of all this reading in translation has been the crafting of a few translations of his own, with English versions of works by classic German writers such as Eduard von Keyserling and Ricarda Huch appearing at his site. After a well-earned sabbatical year from all things shadowy, he’s returned with fresh energy in 2021, ready to discuss this year’s longlist and keep the ‘real’ judges honest.

Stu Allen (@stujallen), the everyman of translated fiction, has been blogging for twelve years and has reviewed over a thousand books from more than one hundred countries at his site, Winstonsdad’s Blog. He founded the original Shadow IFFP Jury back in 2012, as well as the Twitter hashtag #translationthurs. By day, he works for the NHS as a care support worker, helping people with learning disabilities on a ward in a learning disabilities hospitality centre in sunny Derbyshire. He’s married to Amanda, loves indie music, foreign films and real ale, and is pleased to be shadowing the prize for another year.

Meredith Smith (@bellezzamjs) has been writing about books at her site, Dolce Bellezza, since 2006. Now that she has retired from teaching, she has much more time to devote to her passion of reading translated literature. She has hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge for fourteen years and been a member of the Shadow Jury for seven. It is her great joy to read and discuss books from around the world with both the panel and fellow readers.

Oisin Harris (@literaryty), based in Canterbury in the UK, reviews books at the Literaryty blog. He earned an English degree from Sussex University and an MA in Publishing from Kingston University. He is a librarian at the University of Kent and a co-editor and contributor for The Publishing Post’s Books in Translation Team, as well as the creator of the Translator Spotlight series where prominent translators are interviewed to demystify the craft of translation. His work on Women in Translation was published in the 2020 research eBook of the Institute for Translation and Interpreting, entitled Translating Women: Activism in Action (edited by Olga Castro and Helen Vassallo).

Frances Evangelista (@nonsuchbook) works as an educator in Washington DC. She elected a career in teaching because she assumed it would provide her with lots of reading time. This was an incorrect assumption. However, she loves her work and still manages to read widely, remember the years she blogged about books fondly, chat up books on Twitter, and participate in lots of great shared reading experiences. This is her fourth year as a shadow panellist for the International Booker Prize.

Barbara Halla (@behalla63) is an Assistant Editor for Asymptote, where she has covered Albanian and French literature and the International Booker Prize. She works as a translator and independent researcher, focusing in particular on discovering and promoting the works of contemporary and classic Albanian women writers. She has lived in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA), Paris, and Tirana.

Vivek Tejuja (@vivekisms) is a book blogger and reviewer from India, based in Mumbai. He loves to read books in Indian languages and translated editions of languages around the world (well, essentially world fiction, if that’s a thing). He is Culture Editor at Verve Magazine and blogs at The Hungry Reader. He is also the author of So Now You Know, a memoir of growing up gay in Mumbai in the 90s, published by Harper Collins India.

Areeb Ahmad (@Broke_Bookworm) recently finished an undergrad in English from the University of Delhi and is now pursuing a Master’s in the same subject from the University of Hyderabad. Although he is quite an eclectic bookworm, he swears by all things SFF. You can find him either desperately hunting for book deals to supplement his overflowing TBR pile or trying to figure out the best angle for his next #bookstagram picture while he scrambles to write a review. He impulsively decided to begin book blogging in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since.

And then there’s me…

David Hebblethwaite (@David_Heb) is a reader and reviewer originally from Yorkshire, UK. He started reading translated fiction seriously a few years ago, and now couldn’t imagine a bookish life without it. He writes about books at David’s Book World and on Instagram @davidsworldofbooks. This is his eighth year on the Shadow Jury, and it has become a highlight of his reading year. There are always interesting books to read, and illuminating discussions to be had.

***

So there we are. I’m not going to guess which books will be on the longlist, but whatever they are, I am sure it’s going to be another enjoyable year in the Shadow Panel. I hope you’ll join us for the journey.

Republic of Consciousness Prize 2021: the longlist

I promised myself that this year I would read the Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist. I’ve always found it an interesting prize to follow, and I’ve enjoyed the last few months as a subscriber to their book of the month – but I’ve never actually read along with it. Time to change that.

The 2021 longlist was announced yesterday, and here’s what we’ve got:

  • A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti, tr. Fionn Petch (Charco Press)
  • The Appointment by Katharina Volckmer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Mordew by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press)
  • Mr. Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)
  • Unknown Language by Huw Lemmey and Hildegard von Blingen (Ignota Books)
  • LOTE by Shola von Reinhold (Jacaranda Books)
  • The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press)
  • Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman (Peninsula Press)
  • Alindarka’s Children by Alhierd Bacharevic, tr. Jim Dingley & Petra Reid (Scotland Street Press)
  • A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press)

To date, I’ve read four of those and reviewed three (links above). Mordew was one of my favourite books from last year. Mr. Beethoven and The Mermaid of Black Conch were not far behind. The other one I’ve read so far is A Musical Offering, which is so far away from what I’d usually read that I didn’t really appreciate it properly – so a re-read is in order.

I love that, even though I’ve become reasonably knowledgeable about small presses over the years, the Republic of Consciousness can still shine a light on books and publishers I’ve never heard of. Well, it’s time to get acquainted.

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:

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.

#MBI2019: the shadow panel’s shortlist

Drum roll, please…

We’ve read the books (all the longlisted titles were read by at least eight of our eleven panellists, and most were read by at least ten). We’ve given our scores, crunched the numbers, and now we can present our shadow shortlist for this year’s Man Booker International Prize:

  • Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, tr. Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press).
  • The Years by Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner (MacLehose Press).
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, tr. Anne McLean (MacLehose Press).
  • The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran, tr. Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories).

The first thing to note here is the degree of overlap with the official shortlist: only one book is different (we have The Faculty of Dreams rather than The Pine Islands). Sadly, this similarity has come about in part because we found the longlist quite weak overall, so there weren’t as many good books to choose from as there have been in the past.

Nevertheless, there are some fine books on this shortlist, and we have interesting discussions in store before we choose a winner. The official Man Booker International winner will be announced on the evening of 21 May, and we’ll reveal our shadow winner shortly before then.

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

#MBI2019: the official shortlist

The official shortlist for this year’s Man Booker International Prize was announced on Tuesday:

  • Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, tr. Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press).
  • The Years by Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, tr. Jen Calleja (Serpent’s Tail).
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, tr. Anne McLean (MacLehose Press).
  • The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran, tr. Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories).

Generally speaking, I think this is a good shortlist. I do have my reservations: I’m not keen on The Pine Islands, and this list leaves off my favourite book from the longlist (The Faculty of Dreams, which I’ll be reviewing next). But you can’t go far wrong with the rest of the shortlist.

We’ll be announcing the shadow panel’s shortlist next Thursday, 18 April. It’s not finalised yet, but it should make an interesting point of comparison with the official shortlist.

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

Man Booker International Prize 2019: let the shadowing begin!

It’s that time of year again: time for the Man Booker International Prize. As ever, I will be reading along with the shadow panel. This year, I tried to make an effort to get ahead by reading more in advance (I’d read 16 eligible titles, which is more than usual). The longlist was announced today:

  • Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, tr. Marilyn Booth (Oman, Sandstone Press).
  • Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue, tr. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (China, Yale University Press).
  • The Years by Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer (France, Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong, tr. Sora Kim-Russell (South Korea, Scribe).
  • Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf, tr. Jonathan Wright (Palestine/Iceland, Granta).
  • Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli, tr. Sam Taylor (France, Granta).
  • The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, tr. Jen Calleja (Germany, Serpent’s Tail).
  • Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, tr. Megan McDowell (Argentina, Oneworld).
  • The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner (Sweden, MacLehose Press).
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Poland, Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, tr. Anne McLean (Colombia, MacLehose Press).
  • The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa, tr. Sam Garrett (Netherlands, Scribe).
  • The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran, tr. Sophie Hughes (Chile, And Other Stories).

After all my preparation, I have read a grand total of one book on this list, which just goes to show how many ways this prize can go. Much of this list is an unknown quantity to me: even the book I’ve read (Drive Your Plow) is one I’ll have to read again, because I didn’t know what I thought of it the first time. I’m disappointed that Convenience Store Woman and T Singer especially didn’t make the cut, but I am hopeful of finding gems on the longlist; in particular, I’m looking forward to reading Samanta Schweblin again, having loved Fever Dream.

More generally, I’m pleased to see such a strong showing for small publishers (particular congratulations to Scribe and Sandstone, who are longlisted for the first time). It’s also notable that the list as a whole skews away from Europe and male writers.

(A couple of housekeeping points: although The Years is part of Fitzcarraldo’s essay list, it was published as a novel in France, and was accepted for submission by the Booker after discussion with the publisher. The Faculty of Dreams and The Pine Islands were due to be published in April, but have both been brought forward to 21 March).

My fellow shadow panel members this year are Tony, Bellezza, Emma, Oisin, Naomi, Barbara, Vivek, Paul, Frances, and Antonomasia. Do pay them a visit.

The official MBIP shortlist will be announced on 9 April, with the winner to follow on 21 May. Until then, I will be reading and reviewing as many of the books as I can. Let’s go!

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