On October 6, the Goldsmiths Prize announced its selection of groundbreaking novels by British and Irish writers. The £ 10,000 prize, organized in association with the New statesman, celebrates fiction which “breaks the mold and expands the possibilities of the romantic form”.
Leone Ross is on the shortlist with her first novel in 22 years. Ross’s This day of heaven, an exuberant work of magical realism that spanned 15 years, is one of six shortlisted books for the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize. Ross’s third novel – after the Orange Prize All the blood is red (1996) and orange laugh (1999) – follows a pair of cursed lovers during a day in a fictional archipelago in the Caribbean.
Ross, who was born in England, raised in Jamaica and is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Roehampton, is joined on the shortlist by two early novelists. Rebecca Watson, deputy editor of the arts at the Financial Time, has been preselected for small scratch, a wildly experimental book that also takes place over a day and penetrates the mind of a protagonist living as a result of sexual assault. The reader dwells in her thoughts as she does administrative tasks at his desk, typography skipping across the page in rhythm, like verses.
The other first shortlisted novelist is Natasha Brown, who worked for a decade in financial services. At 100 pages, Assembly is the shortest novel on the list. Powerful and tense, he follows a black British woman as she prepares to attend a garden party at her white boyfriend’s family estate. The goldsmith’s award judge and New statesman collaborating writer Johanna Thomas-Corr described Assembly as “a small but dazzling take on the British elite and their poisonous relationship to immigration, work and sex politics”.
Isabelle Waidner is the only author of this year’s shortlist to have ever been nominated for the award: We are made of diamonds was on the shortlist in 2019. Their third novel Sterling karat gold follows Sterling after their arrest one morning. The book, surreal but prescient, acts as an investigation into the effects of state violence on gender non-conforming people, the working class and black people.
Also nominated is Case 19, the second book by Claire-Louise Bennett, who grew up in Wiltshire, lives in Ireland and in 2013 received the first Mock exam Price of the news. Bennett’s anonymous protagonist brings together memories of his time at school and university, telling a hallucinogenic tale where certainty and uncertainty collide to become one and the same. It’s an ode to reading and an exploration of the capricious nature of storytelling.
A shock by Keith Ridgway, born in Dublin, author of Hawthorn & Child, completes the shortlist. Novelist and goldsmith judge Kamila Shamsie called it “an in-between novel that keeps the reader off balance to a surprising, intelligent, and at times odd effect.”
“These books are unabashedly singular and are not afraid to take risks; side by side, they represent the most exhilarating fiction of the year, ”said memory and fiction writer Nell Stevens, who is this year’s judge chair. Alongside Thomas-Corr and Shamsie, the jury is completed by Fred D’Aguiar, novelist, poet and professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles.
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The announcement of the shortlist follows a talk, “My Study Hates Your Study,” given online by Lucy Ellmann, winner of the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize for Ducks, Newburyport. Previous award winners include Mr. John Harrison, for The sunken earth begins to rise again, Eimear McBride, for A girl is a half-formed thing, and Ali Smith, for How to be both.
Authors were invited to present readings online, hosted by the Goldsmiths Writers’ Center, on October 20. The prize winner will be announced at an online ceremony on November 10. This person will then appear online at Cambridge Literary Festival November 18.
The pre-selection of the 2021 Goldsmith Prize in its entirety:
- Claire-Louise Bennett, Case 19 (Cap Jonathan)
- Natasha Brown, Assembly (Hamish Hamilton)
- Keith Ridgway, A shock (Picador)
- Leone Ross, This day of heaven (Faber & Faber)
- Isabelle Waidner, Karat sterling gold (Peninsula Press)
- Rebecca Watson, small scratch (Faber & Faber).