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The shortlist for the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize has been announced

The award for “fiction at its most novel” returns for its second year.

“For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name...” The opening words of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing are like blows from a hammer. An uncompromising, stream-of-consciousness novel that took almost a decade to find a publisher, the book won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize – a literary prize for “fiction at its most novel” launched by Goldsmiths, University of London, and the New Statesman in 2013. McBride – whose novel was rejected by all the major UK publishers before it was eventually picked up by the independent imprint Galley Beggar Press – went on to sweep the board, winning everything from the Desmond Elliot Prize to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This year the prize, established to celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form”, returns with judges Geoff Dyer, Kirsty Gunn, Francis Spufford and Tom Gatti. The 2014 shortlist, announced this morning, is as follows:

Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber & Faber)
The Absent Therapist by Will Eaves (CB Editions)
J by Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
In The Light Of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (Picador)
How To Be Both by Ali Smith (Penguin)

The list includes two books published by small, independent imprints: CB Editions, a one-man operation specialising in short fiction, poetry and translations, and Unbound, which uses crowdfunding to finance individual projects. It also shares two titles – How to Be Both and J – with this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist (Ali Smith featured on last year’s Goldsmiths shortlist too).

You can read the New Statesman’s lead fiction reviewer, Leo Robson, on the shortlist and the prize’s position in “an ever larger, chaotic and fractured landscape” online now or in this week’s magazine. Francis Spufford, who chaired the panel of judges, had this to say about the list:

The Goldsmiths Prize rewards innovation in the form of the novel, a process with as many possible directions as there are writers settling down to their keyboards. We expected to be surprised, and we were; we expected to compare wildly dissimilar successes, and we did. We expected to argue, and we weren’t disappointed. Yet we’re delighted to have ended up with a shortlist that captures so much of the versatility with which the novel, these days, is being stretched, knotted, rejigged, re-invented.

The winner of the £10,000 prize will be announced on 12 November during a ceremony at the newly reopened Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road.

Here are the Goldsmith Prize judges on the 2014 shortlist:

Geoff Dyer on Outline
On a flight to Greece where she is going to be teaching a creative writing class, the narrator begins talking to her neighbour. More accurately, initiating a pattern that will be repeated throughout the encounters and “conversations” that make up this hypnotic and unsettling novel,  he talks at her. Gradually her own identity emerges   in response to  – is given shape by – what is said to her. As one of her students puts it, the story constitutes a series of events she finds herself involved in, but on which  she seems to have  “absolutely no  influence at all.”  The irony, of course, is that all of these tales  – the author’s tale – hold our attention because of Cusk’s  unerring command of pace and tone. 

Tom Gatti on The Absent Therapist
The Absent Therapist is a little like spending an evening turning the dial on an old-fashioned radio: voices emerge from the static, gain perfect clarity, and then disappear.  Some tell anecdotes, banal or momentous; some talk technical business on the phone; some compose polite but freighted letters; some only have time for an elliptical scrap of speech before the dial spins on. From these fragments Will Eaves has composed a slim but remarkable novel, somewhere between a modernist poem and an “Overheard on the Underground” collage – attuned to different registers, often witty, frequently poetic, always with the bright ring of truth.

Francis Spufford on J
We seem, at the beginning of J, to be in some melancholy fable about the idiocy of rural life, with two touchingly tentative lovers providing the only oasis of reflection in a desert of poor impulse control.  But this isn’t the brutish past, it’s a future struggling with the always-denied, never-banished memory of a terrible act.  The nuanced shading of literary fiction blends into the muffling cotton wool of apology-speak, to produce a stingingly satirical dystopia.  You can argue with the premise of Jacobson’s nightmare, but then he expects you to.  Obsessional, unexpected, this is a kind of meta-flirtation with paranoia, both mischievously controlled and genuinely fearful.

Geoff Dyer on The Wake
The publisher’s blurb is actually implausibly accurate: The Wake is a post-apocalyptic novel set a thousand years in the past.  In the aftermath of the catastrophic defeat of  1066 small bands of guerrillas resist the Norman invasion. The events are chronicled by Buccmaster, a brutally unreliable narrator, in an adapted or shadow version of old English. At first the prospect seems unreadably off-putting; within twenty pages you get the hang of it; by thirty the suddenly fluent reader is immersed entirely in the mental and geographical contours of the era. But it works the other way too: we are seeing – and feeling and hearing – the living roots of Englishness. 

Kirsty Gunn on In the Light of What We Know
In the Light of What We Know is doing what the novel has always done best - taking us into a deeply private place wherein, by staying there for a long time to read about the lives of others, we come to speculate upon ourselves. In the case of this novel, though, it does this not by surrounding us with a story we may lose ourselves in but instead requires that we participate in the ordering and arranging of its various kinds of content. One doesn’t just read this book, one reads hard. 

Kirsty Gunn on How to be Both
Ali Smith’s latest renovation of the novel genre is a stunning example of literary inventiveness, idiosyncratic presentation of character and her charming, disarming way with plot. How to be Both slices a line through the content of her story and places what Virginia Woolf would have called a “corridor” between the two halves. In that space the reader turns and turns again, our experience of the novel released from a sense of its ending and thrown into a state of ever-reading, re-reading, reading “both”.

Book talk from the New Statesman culture desk.

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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood