Debut authors Natasha Brown and Rebecca Watson are among the writers shortlisted for this year's £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize, recognising the best in experimental fiction.
The six-strong shortlist was revealed on 6th October at the end of the New Statesman/Goldsmiths Prize lecture delivered by Lucy Ellmann, who won the 2019 prize for her book Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar).
Brown, a mathematician who has worked in financial services for a decade, was picked for Assembly (Hamish Hamilton) which she developed after receiving a 2019 London Writers Award in the literary fiction category. The novel was described by judge Johanna Thomas-Corr as "a small but blistering take on the British elite and its poisonous relationship with immigration, work and sexual politics". She added: "Within a 100 neat pages, this non-linear, stream-of-consciousness narrative follows a young Black woman who has invested everything in transcending her race, class and gender to attain a high-paid position in a cut-throat bank. She is even invited to share her success story with eager young women at a school assembly. So why does her life feel so unbearable? What comes next? And do her achievements represent progress?"
Watson, assistant arts editor at the Financial Times, made the list with little scratch (Faber & Faber) which recounts the minutiae of an ordinary day from the point of view of a woman living with the legacy of sexual abuse. Judge Nell Stevens said the writing "dances, leaps, skitters and hurtles across the page, reimagining how typography can serve narrative to electrifying effect". She praised the novel for teaching readers "how to read anew, with a choreography of language that dazzles and consumes".
Judges also selected Isabel Waidner's Sterling Karat Gold (Peninsula Press) which is the author's second shortlisting in two years, following the inclusion of We Are Made of Diamond Stuff (Dostoevsky Wannabe) in 2019. The novel follows aspiring writer Sterling who is arrested one morning, without having done anything wrong and plunged into a terrifying and nonsensical world. Judge Kamila Shamsie said the book "collides the real and the mythic, the beautiful and the grotesque, to mind-bending effect" and praised Waidner's "live, distinctive intelligence that pushes form to make us see the world around us in new ways and perhaps even for the first time”.
Also in the running is Claire-Louise Bennett's Checkout 19 (Jonathan Cape) which sees a woman revisit the moments that shape her life, from crushes on teachers to navigating relationships in a fast-paced world. Judge Fred D’Aguiar said the book "performs a mind at work" and praised Bennett's "propulsive and compulsive prose".
The shortlist also features Keith Ridgway's A Shock (Picador) about people living on the fringes of London. Shamsie said: "At first it seems we might be in a book of interlinked stories, but discovering you aren’t quite where you thought you might be is part of the deliberate disorientation of A Shock. It soon becomes clear that the sections in the novel don’t interlink so much as echo and rhyme. The observation is acute, the dialogue sparkles, the movement between interiority and surveillance is deft. It is a novel of in-between places that keeps the reader off balance to surprising, intelligent and sometimes eerie effect.”
Completing the shortlist is Leone Ross' This One Sky Day (Faber), a magic realist novel which charts the troubled course of true love across an enchanted 24 hours. D’Aguiar praised it as a "bold, wild, uproarious, gawdy, bodacious, lyrical, effusive, carnivalesque, heraldic, liminal, expansive, fabulous, sensuous, sexy, hundred-story-jump and political fist-pump".
Chair of judges Stevens said: “From the exuberant magical realism of Leone Ross’ This One Sky Day to Keith Ridgway’s intricate and immersive A Shock, the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist is a celebration of fiction that is spirited, uninhibited, and restless with convention.
“In Sterling Karat Gold, Isabel Waidner brings wit, swagger, playfulness and fury to an unfettered journey through an unjust justice system. Natasha Brown’s simmering Assembly explores race, power, money and mortality in 100 pages of distilled, poised prose. The visceral evocation of books and bodies in Claire-Louise Bennett’s Checkout 19 is an investigation into life mediated and magnified by reading, while Rebecca Watson’s little scratch charts rhythms of thought alongside rhythms of the city, drawing vigour and dread from fleeting moments over the course of a day.
“These books are unabashedly singular and unafraid to take risks; side by side they represent the most exhilarating fiction of the year.”
The authors have been invited to present online readings, hosted by the Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, on 20th October. The winner of the prize will be announced at an online ceremony on 10th November, with the winner then appearing online at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 18th November.
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