TagGoldsmiths Prize

Goldsmiths Prize 2019, part 1: Haddon, Levy, Main

Here are my thoughts on half of this year’s Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (Chatto & Windus)

Newborn Angelica is the only survivor of a plane crash. She is raised by her wealthy father Philippe, who over the years grows protective and possessive of her – dangerously so. When Darius, a friend’s son, gets too close to the truth, Philippe tries to kill him. Darius escapes on The Porpoise, a schooner that a friend is looking after – and a couple of days later, he wakes as Pericles in ancient Greece.

Angelica tells herself the story of Pericles as a form of protection – and reshapes reality in doing so. Characters’ identities shift and the novel’s focus changes as Angelica reaches for the story she needs to help her get through what’s happening. Haddon’s writing is propulsive and engaging… a fine start to the shortlist.

[Link to publisher]

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)

In 1988, historian Saul Adler is knocked down by a car while his girlfriend Jennifer is photographing him on the Abbey Road crossing. Jennifer ends the relationship when Saul asks her to marry him, and he seeks solace in a research trip to East Germany. While there, Saul finds himself falling for his translator, Walter, but it’s a relationship that will remain beyond reach.

There are certain details in this scenario that don’t sit right, not least that Saul appears to have advance knowledge of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Any doubts about what Saul has been telling us will only increase in the novel’s second half. It’s 2016, and Saul has apparently been knocked down on Abbey Road again, but this time it has put him in hospital. His mind keeps drifting back to 1988, blurring past and present…

The Man Who Saw Everything becomes a hall of mirrors, as it won’t quite resolve into a single interpretation of ‘what actually happened’. There’s also an interesting sense that Levy is looking back from a precarious present to a time when great change was on the way. The feeling of uncertainty extends from Saul’s individual life to the broader sweep of history within the novel. It’s quite electrifying to read.

[Link to publisher]

Good Day? by Vesna Main (Salt Publishing)

Well, this is a lot of fun. It consists mostly of dialogue between a husband and wife, Reader and Writer. She’s writing a novel about Anna and Richard, a middle-aged couple whose marriage is under strain from Richard’s infidelity. Each day, the ‘real’ couple discuss the Writer’s novel and her characters, often with differing views: for example, the Reader is more sympathetic to Richard, the Writer more defensive of Anna.

The Reader is concerned that people will think that the Writer’s novel is based on their own lives. The Writer insists it’s not, though that doesn’t stop her incorporating the odd detail. The sense grows that a conversation about the Writer’s and Reader’s relationship is going on by proxy (and sometimes more directly than that) as they talk about her novel.

Good Day? turns the structure of a typical novel inside out, and the experience of reading it is also transformed. The tale of Anna and Richard is disconcertingly fluid, because it hasn’t yet been settled – and the tale of the Writer and Reader is just out of our reach. There are also some nice touches that made me smile: it’s common enough for an author to incorporate one of their previously published short stories into a novel, but I’ve never seen it done quite like this… and I shall say no more about that!

[Link to publisher]

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.

Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2017

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

  • H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker (William Heinemann)
  • A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume (William Heinemann)
  • Playing Possum by Kevin Davey (Aaaargh! Press) 
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (Fourth Estate)
  • First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta Books)
  • Phone by Will Self (Viking)

I’m not going to have time to read and blog the shortlist this year, but I still wanted to mention it because the Goldsmiths’ remit is very much up my street. A few first impressions, then:

The only one I’ve read to date is Reservoir 13 (reviewed for Shiny New Books here); I’m really pleased to see it on the shortlist. The nomination of H(A)PPY reminds me yet again that I really must read Nicola Barker. Sara Baume’s first novel was interesting, so I’m optimistic about her second. I’ve heard great things about Gwendoline Riley’s First Love.  From past experience, I have mixed feelings about Will Self’s work. Kevin Davey’s name is completely new to me; but his book sounds intriguing, and comes with praise from Gabriel Josipovici, which is a promising sign as far as I’m concerned.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the judges’ meetings…

Goldsmiths Prize 2016, part 2: McCormack and Manyika

The winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2016 will be announced this Wednesday, so hera is my second round-up of the shortlist (the first is here). Unfortunately, I ran out of time to review Rachel Cusk’s Transit, which leaves two others: first-time Goldsmiths appearances for small publishers Tramp Press and Cassava Republic.

solarbonesMike McCormack, Solar Bones (2016)

If you look Solar Bones up, be warned that the blurb contains a piece of information which is not stated explicitly within the novel until the end (though it can be deduced). It’s not really set up to be a twist as such, and I think that knowing it would change your experience of reading the book rather than spoil it per se… but I don’t need to reveal it here, so I won’t.

Anyway: we join engineer Marcus Conway as he returns to his County Mayo home, the sound of the Angelus bell from the village church ringing in his ears. Over the course of the novel, Marcus ruminates on his life and the world; as so often on this shortlist, it’s all in the telling:

this may have been my first moment of anxious worry about the world, the first instance of my mind spiraling beyond the immediate environs of

hearth, home and parish, towards

the wider world beyond

way beyond

since looking at those engine parts spread across the floor my imagination took fright and soared to some wider, cataclysmic conclusion about how the universe itself was bolted and screwed together…

This is Marcus Conway’s voice: no capital letters or full stops –therefore no strict separation of ideas – and ‘paragraphs’ linked by those chains of sentence-fragments in an unceasing flow. Whether he’s discussing his memories, the economy, or the bones of reality itself, all is part of the same whole for Marcus. As an engineer, he is able to see the workings and connections – and McCormack brings this to life within the form of his novel.

likeamule

Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun (2016)

A few years ago, I read Roelof Bakker’s anthology Still, a book of short stories inspired by his photographs of a vacated building.  It included ‘Morayo’, a story about an old woman going into a nursing home, and what her books meant to her as a person. In a Q&A at the time, Manyika said she was working on a book-length version of the story. I always wondered what that was going to be like; and now here it is, on the Goldmsiths shortlist.

Manyika’s novel is not a direct expansion of the story, but the main character and themes are broadly the same. Morayo Da Silva is a retired literature professor, from Nigeria and now living in San Francisco. She still lives life to the full, enjoys her vintage Porsche, her books, and generally being around the neighbourhood… until she slips one day, and breaks her hip. Then she has to go into a nursing home to recover, and her old life is torn from her.

One of the central themes of Like a Mule for me is the idea that the person someone is on the inside may not necessarily be the person that others see. Morayo is such an exuberant character to us – a joy to spend time with on the page – but, as far as many of the staff in the home are concerned, she’s just another patient. There’s one scene where Morayo daydreams of a glamorous function from her old life married to an ambassador – a dream which is broken when the home staff rush to her aid because she’s left her walker behind.

In Goldsmiths Prize terms, I’d say that Like a Mule distorts the novel form primarily with its use of voice. Besides Morayo, there are chapters written from the viewpoint of several of the other characters she meets: a homeless woman, a shopkeeper, a cook in the nursing home. True, there’s nothing intrinsically unusual about that; but it’s done here in a way that feels disjointed, underlining the distance between individuals. Reading the novel allows us to bridge that distance to an extent, as we can fit the pieces together; and maybe that helps bring a sense of hope, too.

Goldsmiths Prize 2016, part 1: McBride, Schofield, Levy

I’m splitting my review of the Goldsmiths shortlist into two parts. Here’s a look at three of the titles…

lesserbohemiansEimear Bride, The Lesser Bohemians (2016)

We’ll start with Eimear McBride, who of course won the vvery first Goldsmiths Prize in 2013, with A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Her second novel is the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman who goes to study drama in London in 1994, and falls for an actor named Stephen, who is more than twice her age. Sounds conventional enough in the synopsis; but, as before with McBride, the novel is transformed by its language:

Goes on time so. Every day. Hours spent opening lanes of ways on which I might set forth. These are your oysters, boys and girls. Here are your worlds of pearls. I remember it as I sit in dust. Put on tights. Stretch on mats. Lean with hot drinks on stone steps where the throng pokes holes through shy.

A Girl is a half-formed Thing was written in a fragmented style which suggested that its narrator’s consciousness was not yet coherent – in the other words, the cohesion of voice (or lack of it) matched the cohesion of the character’s identity. The Lesser Bohemians could be seen as an extension of that technique: Eilis is further on in life than Girl’s protagonist, so her narrative voice is not quite as fragmented, but its rhythms are still noticeably jagged.

What really gives this novel its shape and contrast for me, however, is the section where Stephen tells Eilis his story – and his voice is rendered in a much more conventional literary style. This gives his life a semblance of order and control; but the events he describes don’t bear that out at all. So, McBride seems to suggest, a life is as coherent as the one living it allows; the tumult of the past will always be there, but – just maybe – it’s possible to bring oneself together eventually.

martinjohn

Anakana Schofield, Martin John (2015)

Conventionally, a novel is organised to create meaning for its reader. Even with a book like The Lesser Bohemians, where you have to work at it a bit, and where part of the meaning is encoded in the style, the general shape is recognisable and you can find your way around soon enough. Martin John is different: this is the form of the novel broken down and rebuilt to generate meaning for its protagonist; readers just have to derive what they can.

Martin John Gaffney lives in South London (his mam sent him away from Ireland). He works as a security guard, visits his Aunty Noanie every week. He loves the Eurovision Song Contest, but hates words that begin with the letter P. He is also a flasher. Martin John the novel is perhaps not so much his story (that would imply a narrative) as an account of his being.

Martin John’s existence is based around rituals and refrains, routines and circuits; these provide the structure that helps keep his life together (or, perhaps, keep his life at bay). The novel is built from looping, elliptical paragraphs:

With no day shift or night shift or circuits, time has become strange, neither protracted nor squat. Just strained. Strange. Estranged. Estuary ranged. There are days, inside the room, that because the windows are blacked out, he can’t tell you if it is day or night. He can’t tell if it’s night or day? He can’t even tell you how he wants to make this statement.

Martin John is a novel that lives with you, demands that you make space for it, uncomfortable as that inevitably will be. It places Anakana Schofield on my list of must-read authors.

hotmilkDeborah Levy, Hot Milk (2016)

As with reading Ishiguro, reading Deborah Levy has for me been a learning process. In both cases, when I read the author for the first time (Nocturnes and Swimming Home respectively), I wasn’t equipped to appreciate texts that had the appearance of stereotypical middle-class literary fiction, but distorted the form subtly, so that interpreting them literally didn’t work. I’m still finding my way.

In Hot Milk, 25-year-old Sofia Papastergiadis has travelled with her mother Rose to Almeria on the Spanish coast. Rose’s legs have been affected by a mysterious illness; it’s hoped that the Gómez Clinic in Almeria will provide a solution, but Sofia has surrendered her own life in order to come here – she’s even begun to copy Rose’s gait. It took me some time to get into the swing of the novel’s patterns of imagery and oblique characterisation. Even then, I can only see my understanding of it as provisional.

I came to the conclusion that Hot Milk was structured around metaphors of personal space: Sofia begins the novel having effectively subordinated her own identity to her mother’s; and the extent to which other characters encroach on her indicates how much Sofia is her own person. The scene that really seemed to unlock this is one where, hands bloodied from gutting a fish, Sofia rushes into the local diving school to free the owner’s dog, and ends up drinking the vermouth on his desk and leaving bloody handprints all over the walls. It seems strange if taken at face value, but made sense to me as a metaphor for Sofia exerting control over her surroundings.

I wouldn’t say that I unlocked Hot Milk entirely – I don’t have a sense of a complete metaphorical underpinning – but I was able to see Levy’s work in a new light. I now want to explore further, and hopefully come back to this book (and Swimming Home) one day, to see what else I can find there.

 

Goldsmiths Prize 2016: the shortlist

One of the literary prizes that I like to pay particular attention to is the Goldsmiths Prize, because its remit chimes a lot with what I like to read: “to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form.” I’m planning to read along with the shortlist, which was announced yesterday:

Transit by Rachel Cusk (Jonathan Cape)

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber)

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Tramp Press)

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun (Cassava Republic Press)

Martin John by Anakana Schofield (And Other Stories)

At first sight, that’s an interesting mix of books that I look forward to exploring. I’ll be reading and reviewing as many as I can before the winner is revealed on 9 November.

 

Goldsmiths Prize 2015: the shortlist

This year, I thought I would pay closer attention to the Goldsmiths Prize, for fiction that “breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form”, as my reading is leaning more and more in that direction. The 2015 shortlist was announced this morning:

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (Canongate)

Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard (Harvill Secker)

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape)

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills (Bloomsbury)

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (Faber & Faber)

Lurid & Cute by Adam Thirlwell (Jonathan Cape)

(Links above are Foyles affiliate links.)

First impressions? It’s disappointing that the list is all white and all male (and for a prize whose previous winners have both been women), and that all the books are from relatively large publishers (in the past, the Goldsmiths has shone a spotlight on the likes of CB Editions and Galley Beggar Press).

Still, this is the shortlist we have, so what about the books? The only I’ve read so far is Satin Island, which I liked (read my thoughts here and here). An extract from Lurid & Cute was published in the 2013 Best of Young British Novelists issue of Granta; I was unsure at the time how its narrative voice would fare at novel length, so count me as on the fence about that one.

The others all intrigue me. I know Kevin Barry from reading his short fiction, but I’ve yet to read him at novel length. Richard Beard has been on my list of authors-to-read for a while.  I’ve never yet been tempted to read Magnus Mills, but have heard praise for him from such different quarters over the years that maybe now is the time. Max Porter I know as an editor at Granta Books, and have heard a lot of good things about his first novel.

The winner will be announced on 11 November, and the chances of my actually being able to read the full shortlist before then are pretty slim. So I’m just going to read what I can, but I hope to find some good stuff along the way.

Awards round-up

A few bits of news and comment on awards that I like to follow:

On Tuesday, this year’s BBC National Short Story Award went to Lionel Shriver for her story ‘Kilifi Creek‘. The runner up was Zadie Smith for ‘Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets‘; the other shortlisted authors were Tessa Hadley, Francesca Rhydderch, and Rose Tremain. I hadn’t caught any of the stories prior to the announcement; but I’ve since read the Comma Press anthology, and I have to say that Smith’s story is easily my favourite of the five. Shriver’s winning piece is not really to my taste:  it’s written in a (to me) fussy literary prose for which I’m increasingly losing patience. I think my tastes in reading are shifting once more.

So to the Goldsmiths Prize, for “fiction that opens up new possibilities for the novel form” – something that interests me increasingly, as my interest in straightforward realism wanes. The Prize got off to an excellent start last year, going to Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. I was really looking forward to seeing what would be selected this year, and now we have a shortlist:

  • Rachel Cusk, Outline (Faber & Faber)
  • Will Eaves, The Absent Therapist (CB Editions)
  • Howard Jacobson, J (Jonathan Cape)
  • Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake (Unbound)
  • Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know (Picador)
  • Ali Smith, How to be both (Hamish Hamilton)

First impressions… Half of the titles overlap with the Booker longlist, which surprises me – I was expecting (and, to be honest, hoping for) more divergence. The Kingsnorth (which is the only book of these that I’ve read) absolutely deserves to be here, and would be a worthy winner. From what I’ve heard about them, I can see the inclusion of the Smith, but am less persuaded about the Jacobson. Of the remaining three, I’m most interested in the Eaves, which I understand is written as a collage of fragments in different voices; the Cusk and Rahman, I’m undecided about. Overall, I have a nagging sense that this list is treading water a bit; it doesn’t feel as bold as I would hope. Still, there’s potential for another good result here.

Finally, a  call for volunteers: following on from shadowing the IFFP and Desmond Elliott Prize earlier in the year, I’ve been asked if I’d like to shadow the JQ-Wingate Prrze (“the only UK award to recognise writing by Jewish and non-Jewish writers that explore themes of Jewish concern in any of its myriad possible forms either explicitly or implicitly”). Would anyone like to take part? The timeframe would be from November (shortlist) to February (winner); six books, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, Anglophone or translated. Let me know if you’re interested!

© 2019 David's Book World

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: