GETTY IMAGES
Show Hide image

The Goldsmiths Prize 2015 shortlist

A debut novel invoking Ted Hughes’s Crow joins an all-male shortlist for the influential award for innovative fiction.

A slim debut novel about a bereaved Ted Hughes scholar visited by Hughes’s poetic creation Crow has been shortlisted for the 2015 Goldsmiths Prize for “fiction at its most novel”. Grief is the Thing with Feathers, described by Eimear McBride as a beautifully rendered and deeply moving meditation on bereavement, love and life in its aftermath, is the first book by Max Porter, an editor at Granta who previously worked as a bookseller. (Erica Wagner's review for the New Statesman is here.)

It is joined on the list by five other novels (listed below), including Tom McCarthy's Satin Island, also shortlisted for this years Man Booker Prize, and the forthcoming Beatlebone by the IMPAC-winning Irish writer Kevin Barry. In marked contrast to previous years (both previous prizes were won by women), this years shortlist is all-male.

The Goldsmiths Prize was founded by Goldsmiths University with the New Statesman in 2013 to to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel for. The first prize was won by Eimear McBride for her novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which had taken a decade to find a publisher. McBride went on to win the Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction and has a second novel coming out with Faber and Faber next year. Ali Smith, who won the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize for How to be Both, recently told the Bookseller that the award had changed the industry

The change it’s made is that publishers, who never take risks in anything, are taking risks on works which are much more experimental than they would’ve two years ago. That to me, is like a miracle. And that’s the Goldsmiths Prize. The prize has already its two years running changed the industry. That’s what it took, for Goldsmiths to launch a prize which was novel about the novel and understood the novel form.

The judges for the 2015 prize are Eimear McBride; Jon McGregor, the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Unremarkable ThingsLeo Robson, the New Statesman’s lead fiction reviewer; and Josh Cohen, Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths and author of The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark, who is chairing the panel.

The winner of the £10,000 award will be announced at a ceremony on 11 November 2015 at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London. The winner will appear at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 29 November.

The Goldsmiths Prize 2015 shortlist

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
In the second novel from the Irish author of the IMPAC-winning City of Bohane, John Lennon wants to visit his island off the west coast of Ireland – but events conspire against him. The judges described it as “stylistically adventurous and utterly inimitable”.

Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard
Beard’s sixth novel leads the reader on a hunt for the body of Jesus, telescoping time so that smartphones and shepherds collide. “This novel,” the judges said, “takes a circular saw to received ideas about belief, fate, will and storytelling.”

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The author of Remainder and the Booker-shortlisted C returns with a novel that comprises the uneasy reflections of U, a corporate anthropologist. It “draws humour from the driest material” and “manages to be beautiful”, too.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills
The eighth novel from the author of The Restraint of Beasts is a fable, written with “brutally deadpan humour” and set in a camp in a great field. Mills “appears to be no less than a prophet of our own history”.

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
This slim debut is set in a quiet flat in London, where two little boys are left motherless, and their Ted Hughes scholar father bereft. Then Hughes’s creation, Crow, arrives. It is “that rarest of birds, the truly poetic novel”.

Lurid and Cute by Adam Thirlwell
Thirlwell has twice been named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His third novel, featuring a dead body and a spree of armed robberies, is “a brilliantly sustained stylistic tour de force” and “horrifyingly funny”.

Lady Macbeth.
Show Hide image

Lady Macbeth: the story Stalin hated reaches the movie screen

Lady Macbeth grows less psychologically plausible the higher the body count rises.

Lady Macbeth (15), dir: William Oldroyd

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Nikolai Leskov’s novel about a bored, oppressed and bloodthirsty young woman, was adapted for the opera by Shoskatovich. Two years after its premiere in 1934, it had a terrible review, allegedly by Stalin himself, in Pravda. The new film version, Lady Macbeth, is set in 1865 (the year the novel was published) and feels resolutely anti-operatic in flavour, with its austere visuals and no-nonsense camerawork: static medium shots for dramatic effect or irony, hand-held wobbles to accompany special moments of impetuousness. The extraordinary disc-faced actor Florence Pugh has her hair scraped back into plaits and buns – all the put-upon teenage brides are wearing them this season – and the film feels scraped back, too. But it features certain behaviour (murder) that would feel more at home, and not so riskily close to comedy, in the hothouse of opera, rather than on and around the stark moors of low-budget British cinema.

Pugh plays Katherine, who is first seen reacting with surprise to a booming singing voice at her wedding ceremony. Unfortunately for her, it’s her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton). On the plus side, there won’t be much cause for crooning in their house, no power ballads in the shower or anything like that. The tone is set early on. He orders her to remove her nightdress. Then he climbs into bed alone. It’s not clear whether she is expected to follow, and a cut leaves the matter unresolved.

Alexander defers to his grizzled father, Boris (played by Christopher Fairbank), who purchased Katherine in a two-for-one deal with a plot of land in north-east England, on important matters such as whether she can be allowed to go to sleep before him. So it isn’t much of a loss when he is called away on business (“There’s been an explosion at the colliery!”). Ordered to stay in the house, she dozes in her crinoline, looking like an upside-down toadstool, until one day she is awakened, literally and figuratively, by the sound of the rough-and-ready groomsman Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) sexually humiliating the maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie). Katherine leaps to her rescue and gives Sebastian the most almighty shove. Pugh’s acting is exceptional; fascination, disgust and desire, as well as shock at her own strength, are all tangled up in her expression.

When Sebastian later forces his way into Katherine’s room, you want to warn them that these things don’t end well. Haven’t they seen Miss Julie? Read Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Thérèse Raquin? Well, no, because these haven’t been written yet. But the point stands: there’ll be tears before bedtime – at least if these two can lay off the hot, panting sex for more than 30 seconds.

The film’s director, William Oldroyd, and the screenwriter, Alice Birch, play a teasing game with our sympathies, sending the struggling Katherine off on a quest for independence, the stepping stones to which take the form of acts of steeply escalating cruelty. The shifting power dynamic in the house is at its most complex before the first drop of blood is spilled. Indeed, none of the deaths is as affecting as the moment when Katherine allows her excessive consumption of wine to be blamed on Anna, whose lowly status as a servant, and a dark-skinned one at that, places her below even her bullied mistress on the social scale.

There is fraught politics in the almost-love-triangle between these women and Sebastian. It doesn’t hurt that Jarvis, an Anglo-Armenian musician and actor, looks black, hinting at a racial kinship between groomsman and maid – as well as the social one – from which Katherine can only be excluded. Tension is repeatedly set up only to be resolved almost instantly. Will Alexander return home from business? Oh look, here he is. Will this latest ghastly murder be concealed? Oh look, the killer’s confessed. But the actors are good enough to convince even when the plot doesn’t. A larger problem is that Lady Macbeth grows less psychologically plausible the higher the body count rises. Katherine begins the film as a feminist avenger and ends it as a junior version of Serial Mom, her insouciance now something close to tawdry camp. 

“Lady Macbeth” is released 28 April

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 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

0800 7318496