Geoff Dyer to judge the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize

The prize, inaugurated in 2013 to reward "fiction at its most novel", will officially relaunch on 29 January.

The award-winning novelist and journalist Geoff Dyer will join Kirsty Gunn, Francis Spufford and NS Culture Editor Tom Gatti to judge this year’s Goldsmiths Prize. The £10,000 prize for “fiction at its most novel”, which was inaugurated in 2013 in association with the New Statesman, will officially launch on 29 January when last year's winner Eimear McBride will read from her novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

Blake Morrison, Professor of Creative and Life Writing, cited Walter Benjamin when he introduced the prize shortlist last October – his dictum that a great work of literature should either “establish a genre or dissolve one”. Dyer, whose work ranges across art criticism, travel writing, fiction and non-fiction (generally within a single volume), has called the Goldsmiths “a much-needed prize rewarding innovation, originality and daring.”

The debut shortlist, drawn in 2013 from over 120 submissions, was remarkable in singling out six books, four of which were published by independent publishers - all of which broke new ground.

“The New Statesman has long been home to daring writing, from Virginia Woolf to Will Self,” said Tom Gatti, who took over as Culture Editor at the magazine in November. “We are delighted to be continuing our partnership with the Goldsmiths Prize, a rare opportunity to celebrate audacity and invention in British fiction.”

McBride’s reading will be followed by two further events: Deborah Levy on the art of fiction on 26 February and Kirsty Gunn on 12 March. The closing date for submissions to the prize (details, for all interested parties, can be found here) is 28 March. This year’s shortlist will be announced on 1 October, with the winner being presented with the prize at Goldsmiths on the evening of 12 November.

Francis Spufford, a member of the faculty at Goldsmiths and the author of Red Plenty, The Child that Books Built and, mostly recently, Unapologetic, said “the best boundary is the most elastic one, and the most interesting literary territory is the most contested.”

More information about the Goldsmiths Prize is available here.

Geoff Dyer photographed by Lawrence Impey.

Book talk from the New Statesman culture desk.

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In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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