Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2017: the New Statesman’s reviews

Our critics’ verdicts on the six shortlisted novels.

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The winner of the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize, run in association with the New Statesman, will be announced on November 15. Here’s what the NS said about the novels in the running:

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker

“Barker seems to find writing fiction as natural as breathing, and there’s a strong imaginative streak to almost everything she does. Inventing a world from scratch seems an obvious strategy, and her twelfth novel, H(A)PPY, is founded on a tickling premise – a dystopia constructed almost exclusively from utopian conceits.”
Leo Robson

A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume​

“The protagonist... is closer to the autofictional kind that many writers start with. Frankie is Baume-like in age, sex and background: mid-twenties, female, and returned to the Irish countryside where she grew up after a student hiatus in Dublin. She is also, like Baume, an artist and struggling with it... For Frankie, the idea of a salary has never occurred. She is, simply, devoted to art.”
Sarah Ditum

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

“Each of the 13 chapters of the book begins at New Year; and each chapter, bar the first and last, begins the same way, with the words ‘At midnight when the year turned’. This is a book of the turning seasons, each chapter stretching across 12 months, January through July and into winter, the rhythms of the land rubbing up against the 21st century, against the hollow, frightening space left by the missing Rebecca.”
Erica Wagner

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

“First Love... is narrated with characteristic foreboding: an ­off-licence ‘whose hot-pink sign said OOZE’ is a typical detail. Neve (another writer) is isolated in London in her mid-thirties, having recently – following the death of her abusive father – entered into an asexual marriage of convenience with a manipulative and irritable older man, Edwyn, who has heart problems and joint pain... his occasional tenderness (‘Lovely Mrs Pusskins! Prr prr’) only makes him more sinister”.
Anthony Cummins ​

Phone by Will Self

“Phone starts with that Self stalwart, Dr Zachary Busner, now showing the signs of incipient Alzheimer’s, who has been given a mobile phone by his Asperger’s grandson Ben as a kind of external memory. It tells him where he has to be and what he should be doing. It doesn’t remind him to wear his underpants and trousers when he is staying at a corporate Mancunian hotel.”
Stuart Kelly

Playing Possum by Kevin Davey

“In its narrative approach, Playing Possum owes something to the fiction of one of Eliot’s best biographers, Peter Ackroyd, who in Chatterton and Hawksmoor flitted between past and present to track a modern-day detective type solving a cultural mystery. The chief appeal of the antiquarian double plot is its ability to mobilise a lot of fact and argument.”
Leo Robson

Listen to the authors discuss their books as part of The Back Half podcast’s special episode on the Goldsmiths Prize nominees, on iTunes here, on Acast here or via the player below: