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13 November 2019

The 2019 Goldsmiths shortlist in reviews

Before the announcement of the winner this evening, read our verdict on the six books shortlisted for this year's prize.

By New Statesman

This evening, the winner of the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize will be announced at Foyles, Charing Cross Road. The prize, which celebrates “fiction at its most novel”, will go to one of six shortlisted books, all of which, says chair of judges Erica Wagner, “not only offer a reminder that the novel remains a flexible and innovative form, but reflect our 21st-century political and cultural concerns.” You can read the NS critics on each book below.

Slip of a Fish – Amy Arnold

Slip of a Fish reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s ‘The Depressed Person’ in that it too commits itself absolutely to portraying a troubled state characterised by obsessive involution, which resists being moulded into a satisfying narrative pattern. Like Wallace’s story, Slip of a Fish is likely to stymie some readers, but the fact that both works renounce the traditional pleasures of narrative is not due to their authors’ miscalculation, but is a marker of their achievement.” Read Chris Power’s review in full, and our interview with Amy Arnold.

Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellmann

Ducks is asking us to imagine what a total, unboundaried empathy with another person could feel like; it is chasing the white whale of a single consciousness in a single span of time. I suspect that within its own terms, the fact that it finishes at all counts as a kind of failure, an acceptance of the limits it is trying to refuse. Its inevitably defeated readers can consider themselves proof of Ellmann’s success in her extraordinary project.” Read Sarah Ditum’s review in full, and our interview with Lucy Ellmann.

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The Porpoise – Mark Haddon

“The ‘strongest’ characters in the novel are those with the least power and agency: Angelica, abused and imprisoned; Pericles’s dead wife, Chloe, lugged over the edge of a ship to calm the weather gods. But they experience their losses as an opportunity to shrug off the identities created for them, to sideline or erase themselves. It can be, this effortlessly inventive and absorbing story tells us, the best way to survive.” Read Alex Clark’s review in full, and our interview with Mark Haddon.

The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy

“In The Man Who Saw Everything, the sense of things being mixed ‘all up’, or occurring ‘at the same time’, of clashing symbols and conflicting emotions, isn’t simply asserted or described. It is enacted – manifested in the novel’s form, embodied by its structure. And yet by refusing ever to make the significance of the story neat or wholly legible, Levy has succeeded in evoking our ways of engaging as they are experienced, as a kind of groping, with patterns only appearing to form, a final sense touched but never grasped. You would call her example inspiring if it weren’t clearly impossible to emulate.” Read Leo Robson’s review in full, and our interview with Deborah Levy.

Good Day? – Vesna Main

Good Day? is a fast-paced, intimate discussion of sex work, gender bias, blame and marital faithfulness – all in the name of best developing the female character’s novel in progress. Unlike a traditional script, there is no name introducing each character’s speech. But you needn’t find yourself counting lines to work out who is speaking. Instead, Main’s dialogue springs along with a rhythmic pulse, each character ringing out loud and clear.” Read Ellen Peirson-Hagger’s review in full, and our interview with Vesna Main.

We Are Made of Diamond Stuff – Isabel Waidner

“This is a pungent, fluent, frequently overbearing though just as often thrilling novel set in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, equally comfortable making reference to the Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi series Stranger Things and BS Johnson’s House Mother Normal. Or, for that matter, BS Johnson and Boris Johnson, since this is the latest example of English modernism with a Brexit backdrop.” Read Leo Robson’s review in full, and our interview with Isabel Waidner.

The winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2019 will be in conversation with the NS’s culture editor Anna Leszkiewicz at Cambridge Literary Festival on 30 November. Tickets are available here.


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