Eimear McBride shortlisted for the £40,000 Folio Prize

McBride is joined by US lawyer Segio De La Pava and 85-year-old OBE Jane Gardam on the Prize's inaugural shortlist.

Goldsmiths Prize-winning novelist Eimear McBride has made the shortlist for the Folio Prize, a new £40,000 award for English-language fiction from across the globe.

McBride, whose debut novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing was published by Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press in February 2013 (9 years after it was rejected by almost every publisher in the UK), is one of only three non-American writers to have made the cut. The list is as follows:

Red Doc by Anne Carson (Jonathan Cape)
Schroder by Amity Gaige (Faber & Faber)
Last Friends by Jane Gardam (Little, Brown)
Benediction by Kent Haruf (Picador)
The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner (Harvill Secker)
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar Press)
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava (Maclehose Editions)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (Bloomsbury)

“From its inception, the emphasis of the Folio Prize has been on the relationship between good writing and good reading,” said Lavinia Greenlaw, who chaired the panel of judges this year. “The Prize makes an unapologetic assertion about the value of experience and expertise, and the high expectations that come from spending much of your life investigating and testing language and form.”

The Folio Prize is judged by a panel of five, drawn by ballot – redrawn again and again until the panel contains no more than three members of the same gender, three from the UK and two from abroad – from a 187-strong academy of critics, writers and professors. Each member of the academy is asked to nominate three titles, of which the top sixty books are forwarded to the judging panel. The panel this year included the American novelist Michael Chabon, British short story writer Sarah Hall, Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra, Vietnamese-Australian short story writer Nam Le, and was chaired by poet Lavinia Greenlaw.

Andrew Kidd, MD at literary agency Aitken Alexander (and the Prize’s founder), said that the academy had produced “the most rigorous, careful and generous sounding any author could wish for ... a list that ticks no boxes, balances the interests of no constituencies and will no doubt stir all kinds of debate.”

The Prize’s sponsor, The Folio Society, also announced the launch of a new two-day literary festival to take place on the weekend 8-9 March with a series of events structured around the fundamentals of fiction: form, voice, structure, place and context. The winner of the Folio Prize – in some respects a litmus test for the internationalist swerve of other major prizes – will be announced on 10 March during a ceremony at London’s St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

The eight titles shortlisted for the inaugural Folio Prize.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Ukrainian cooking shakes off the old Soviet fur coat

Forget the stereotype: Ukranian cuisine is about more than just borscht, as a new cookbook shows.

“Potatoes,” Olia Hercules fumes. “Everyone thinks I’ve written a book about bloody potatoes.” It must be said that there is the odd spud in Mamushka (Mitchell Beazley), her surprisingly colourful celebration of Ukrainian food (after all, how could you have an eastern European cookbook without borscht?), but potatoes are far from the only thing to thrive in the country’s famously fertile black soil.

In fact, Hercules – young, slightly built and rarely seen without a slick of dangerously red lipstick – bears as much resemblance to the archetypal babushka as her homeland does to the bleak, grey landscape of the popular imagination. Born close to the Crimean border, she spent many holidays at the beach by the Sea of Azov, “the shallowest in the world”, where the kids ran around smothered in kefir to soothe their sunburn and everyone feasted on mountains of home-made apricot doughnuts.

Southern Ukraine, it turns out, is a land of plenty – during its long, hot summers anyway. There are prickly cucumbers picked straight from the vine, “aromatic and warm from the blistering sun”, sour cherries that “just drop off trees in the streets in June”, and the best watermelons you’ve ever tasted: “huge, firm, stripy beasts”, Hercules says.

What isn’t eaten straight from the garden will be preserved carefully to see the household through the region’s mild winters. The conserves include some rather intriguing fizzy fermented tomatoes that promise to blow your mind and your taste buds. In Ukraine, she says, “Tomatoes are king!” Fresh curd cheese and barbecued catfish, warm, flaky pumpkin bread and saffron-spiked rice all sound a blessedly long way from that old Soviet favourite, herring in a fur coat.

Nevertheless, this sunny childhood was still spent under the rule of Moscow, with its power cuts and queues, and Hercules retains to this day a nostalgic fondness for margarine, a legacy, she says, of the USSR’s “perpetual credit crunch”. A family favourite of slow-cooked goose brings back memories of bribes her surgeon uncle received to grease the creaking wheels of an ageing Soviet health system, while the home-made silky egg noodles underneath were a necessity, at a time when the local shop stocked only the occasional packet of grey macaroni.

The Soviet Union can also take some credit for the diversity of Hercules’s family, and hence the food on which she grew up. When you have a Siberian grandmother, aunts from Armenia, an Uzbek father and relatives in Azerbaijan, impossibly exotic asides such as “My grandmother picked this recipe up when she lived in Tashkent” just come naturally.

In answer to my geographic puzzling, Hercules snorts that “Ukraine basically is eastern Europe”, but the country’s culinary horizons stretch far further – there’s even a significant Korean population in the south, which, in the absence of Chinese cabbage for kimchi, has contributed a pickled carrot dish to her book.

For most of us, thanks to long memories for those tales of endless queues and dismal canteen cooking, the curtain is yet to rise on the culinary delights of the former Soviet bloc. The television producer Pat Llewellyn, the woman who discovered Jamie Oliver and was
food judge for the 2015 André Simon Awards, described it as “a much-underrated food culture” when praising the shortlisted Mamushka (the author’s childhood nickname for her mother, which has come to signify, she says, “strong women in general”).

It’s anyone’s guess whether that means we’ll get to see Hercules, resplendent in one of her signature knotted headscarves, showing off her Moldovan giant cheese twists on screen any time soon. But we’ll be seeing a lot more of her beloved “mamushka cooking”, one way or another. Just don’t mention the P word.

Next week: Richard Mabey on nature

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle