Xiaolu Guo and D B C Pierre 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 14th October and features books interrogating identity, politics and mortality in fractured times.
Guo was picked for A Lover’s Discourse (Chatto & Windus) which charts the evolution of a love affair between a nameless film student, who has moved to London from China, and a half-German, half-Australian landscape architect. “Most impressive of all is the close attention she pays to a country’s language – not just the literal meaning of words, but also the moods they impart, said judge Chris Power. “Doing so, she makes the texture of daily life appear strange and new.”
Former Booker winner Pierre made the list with Meanwhile in Dopamine City (Faber), described by judges as a “turbo-charged satire” about a grieving widower struggling to hold on to his job and his kids. Chair of judges Frances Wilson said: “Furious, despairing, and dizzingly articulate, Meanwhile in Dopamine City shows that the novel is still smarter than the latest smartphone.”
Judges also picked Mr. Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press) which looks at what Beethoven would have done with another seven years of life. Judge Will Eaves said: “Suffering and revelation are the subject matter, but in Paul Griffiths’ hands, the Biblical sorrow undergoes a lasting modulation into a new key of delight in friendship, communication and creativity.”
Also in the running is The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison (Gollancz), described by Eaves as “a brilliant realist fantasy about love in middle-age and the dissolution of the post-war settlement”. The judge added: “In a series of startling knights’ moves across our inner and outer landscapes, M John Harrison quietly overturns all grounds for supposing we know who we are and where we have come from.”
The shortlist also features The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press), the story of an ancient mermaid who captures the heart of a local fisherman. Judge Sarah Ladipo Manyika said: “This is one of those rare gems of a novel that can be read and enjoyed on many levels—it’s a whimsical love story, a history of the Caribbean and its indigenous peoples, an ode to Mother Earth, and an allegory for our times.”
Bina by Anakana Schofield (Fleet) is also shortlisted, a novel composed as a series of warnings scribbled from the safety of a septuagenarian's bed. Wilson said: “Startlingly original and horribly funny, Anakana Schofield’s Bina is that rare thing: a black comedy about euthanasia.”
Speaking of the shortlist as a whole, Wilson said: “From D B C Pierre’s smarting satire of smartphone culture to Paul Griffith’s elegant imagining of Beethoven in Boston, the six books shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2020 are concerned with characters in extremis and loss of moorings.
“While Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch blends Moby Dick with Metamorphosis in a polyphonic reflection on racial and sexual identity, M John Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again returns us to The Water Babies in a fishy tale of hallucinogenic beauty and strangeness. Xiaolu Guo’s A Lover’s Discourse places Roland Barthes in Brexit Britain in a delicate and witty love story between East and West, and Anakana Schofield’s Bina, a black comedy about euthanasia, is told as a series of warnings scribbled on the backs of envelopes by a woman who has had enough – a feeling many of us can share in these fragile and fractured times.”
The authors have been invited to present online readings, hosted by the Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, on 28th October. The winner of the prize will be announced at an online ceremony on 11th November 2020.