Man Booker longlistee Nicola Barker has won the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize with H(a)ppy (William Heinemann), a novel described as “an embodiment of the defiant and inventive spirit”.
The £10,000 prize, set up by Goldsmiths University in association with the New Statesman in 2013, rewards British and Irish fiction which “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”.
With the “experimental” H(a)ppy, her 11th work of fiction, Barker has become the first English novelist to win the award.
The title breaks up lines with coloured words, injects spaces and diagrams and carves symbols into the type as if the fabric of the text itself is breaking down. It mirrors a tale of a future perfect world in which poverty, hatred, and suffering appear to have been eliminated. As this perfection unravels language and its infinite possibilities take centre stage as fragments mysteriously appear, repeat, and riff off each other in poetic, often musical, prose.
Tom Gatti, culture editor of the New Statesman, said Barker was a writer who has “broken the mould so many times that it’s almost beyond repair”.
“Her novel H(a)ppy is an embodiment of the defiant and inventive spirit that the Goldsmiths Prize seeks to celebrate,” he said, adding “now more than ever we need fiction that offers a sense of resistance.”
Naomi Wood, lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, meanwhile, said H(a)ppy was a “structural marvel to hold in the mind and in the hands”.
“Line by line, colour by colour, this dystopic utopia is an ingenious closed loop of mass surveillance, technology, and personality-modifying psychopharmaceuticals,” she said. “H(a)ppy is a fabulous demonstration of what the Goldsmiths Prize champions: innovation of form that only ever enriches the story. In Barker’s 3D-sculpture of a novel, H(a)ppy makes the case for the novel as a physical form and an object of art.”
Barker was awarded the prize at a ceremony at Foyles in central London on Wednesday (15th November).
The judging panel was made up of chair of judges Wood, writers Kevin Barry and A L Kennedy, and writer, singer and songwriter Tracey Thorn.
Eimear McBride was the first winner of the £10,000 prize for her work A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing (Galley Beggar Press). Subsequent winners were Ali Smith in 2014 for How to Be Both, Kevin Barry in 2015 for Beatlebone, and Mike McCormack in 2016 for Solar Bones (Tramp Press).