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 a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

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 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era