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2 October 2019updated 05 Oct 2023 8:52am

Small literary presses dominate the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist

Alongside books by Deborah Levy and Mark Haddon, the prize for "literature at its most novel" has chosen politically engaged works from independent publishers for its 2019 shortlist. 

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

Four out of six books shortlisted for the seventh annual Goldsmiths Prize are from small, independent publishers. The £10,000 prize, which celebrates fiction that “breaks the mould and extends the possibilities of the novel form” and is run in association with the New Statesman, has announced a shortlist that includes established, lesser-known and debut authors.

The shortlisted novels are:

Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold (And Other Stories)
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press)
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (Chatto & Windus)
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)
Good Day? by Vesna Main, published (Salt)
We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)

The shortlist was announced at Goldsmiths, University of London on 2 October, following the fourth annual New Statesman/Goldsmiths Prize lecture on “Why the Novel Matters”, this year given by Eimear McBride, the winner of the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize for her first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Other former winners of the prize include Ali Smith and Nicola Barker.

“This year’s selection of six books not only offers a reminder that the novel remains a flexible and innovative form, but reflects our 21st-century political and cultural concerns,” said the chair of judges, writer and Goldsmiths creative writing lecturer Erica Wagner. She is joined on the judging panel by video journalist and previous Goldsmiths Prize nominee Guy Gunaratne, the NS’s culture editor Anna Leszkiewicz, and the poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón.

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Slip of a Fish is the only debut on the list, and comes from Oxford-born Amy Arnold, who has already found success as the winner of the inaugural Northern Book Prize. Anna Leszkiewicz calls it a “hazy, unsettling and uncompromising novel”, which immerses us “in a claustrophobic, rhythmic stream-of-consciousness narrative that is at once perplexing and intensely compelling.” Its publisher, the Sheffield-based And Other Stories – which describes itself a “publisher of innovative contemporary writing” – was founded a decade ago and focuses on publishing authors outside of London and the south-east.

Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport – also shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize – comes in at a mammoth 1,000 pages, and, according to Sjón, “gives us an inspired demonstration of what it’s like to be the warm vanishing point of a hostile universe.” It comes from the Norwich independent Galley Beggar Press, who also published A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing in 2013.

Croatia-born Vesna Main’s third novel, A Good Day?, lives up to the prize’s interests in genre defiance. Published by Salt, it takes the form of a novel-within-a-novel, unfolding as a series of conversations between a husband and wife that works, writes Erica Wagner, “with repetition and rhythm like a piece of music by Philip Glass”.

We Are Made of Diamond Stuff is critical theorist Isabel Waidner’s fourth book. Set on the Isle of Wight, it interrogates the dream of national belonging and is, says Guy Gunaratne, “a furious work, stuffed with necessary power, purpose and also affection”. The book is published by the Manchester-based Dostoyevsky Wannabe, founded just four years ago and working on a print-on-demand model which puts design at its forefront.

Mark Haddon, best known for his 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, appears on the shortlist for the first time with his fifth novel, The Porpoise, published by the Penguin Random House imprint Chatto & Windus. The book is based on the myth of Appollonius, and moves from the modern era to ancient times, “inviting us to understand something Haddon always has, which is that even stories as old as this one can remain relevant to our current moment,” writes Gunaratne.

Deborah Levy, who was a judge of last year’s prize, is the only author to have previously appeared on the prize’s shortlist (for her 2016 book Hot Milk). She appears this time with her eighth novel, The Man Who Saw Everything, published by Hamish Hamilton (also part of Penguin Random House). Her narrative slips between the 1980s and the present day in an innovative analysis of truth, desire and male vanity. Sjón says: “All of it is executed in a melancholy and highly seductive style, so that the novel becomes a mosaic celebrating the inevitable sadness of life.”

The winning author will be announced at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, on Wednesday 13 November (and will be in conversation with Anna Leszkiewicz at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 30 November).

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