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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”.

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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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