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The 2023 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist celebrates northern fiction

The award for “fiction at its most novel” is dominated this year by authors from and writing about the north of England.

By New Statesman

The Goldsmiths Prize for fiction has announced its six-book shortlist. The £10,000 award, run in association with the New Statesman, celebrates work that “breaks the mould and extends the possibilities of the novel form”. For the first time the shortlist is dominated by authors from and writing about the north of England.

That region is more specifically the north-east in the case of Cuddy, the ninth novel by Benjamin Myers. Combining prose, poetry and drama, it re-imagines the story of St Cuthbert, the hermit and unofficial patron saint of the North of England, in a telling that begins in 7th-century Lindisfarne and ends in modern-day Durham. “Part poetry, part electricity, this story carries relics between the ephemeral and the eternal with all the disarming vitality of a truly illuminated text,” said the novelist Helen Oyeyemi, one of the Goldsmiths Prize judges.

Amy Arnold, who was shortlisted for the award in 2019 with Slip of a Fish (which won the Northern Book Prize), reappears on the list this year with Lori & Joe. The novel follows Lori, who wakes to find her husband dead in their Lake District home, and heads out for a long walk over the fells, thinking back on what has been a complicated marriage, filled with regret.

Never Was, by the Manchester-based author H Gareth Gavin, is a queer bildungsroman set between a fantasy party land and an unnamed industrial northern town. The novel interrogates working-class masculinity, local history and the promise of celebrity in playful, dialogue-heavy prose.

Also shortlisted is Man-Eating Typewriter by Richard Milward, who was born in Middlesbrough and now lives in south London. In this novel-within-a-novel – Milward’s fourth book, and his first for more than a decade – the author pays homage to 1960s gay culture, following an anarchist promising to commit the crime of the century and a maverick Soho publisher hoping to profit from the outrage. The Goldsmiths judge and author of Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies Maddie Mortimer called it “a novel that lays bare the depravity of human impulse, while testing the limits of language and form with masterful ease and reckless glee”.

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This year’s list rewards experience, with just one debut novel nominated. Kate Briggs has previously published This Little Art, an essay on the practice of translation. In her first novel, The Long Form, an unnamed mother looks after her baby at home while reading The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. The Long Form is an inquiry into the politics of care work as well as the constraints and freedoms of the novel form, bringing conversations about literary theory out of the lecture hall and into domestic life.

Completing the shortlist is The Future Future by Adam Thirlwell, whose previous book Lurid & Cute was shortlisted for the prize in 2015. Thirlwell’s fourth novel follows Celine, an 18th-century Parisian aristocrat who finds herself at the centre of a misogynist gossip campaign. Exploring sex and revolution, the narrative moves from France to colonial America and then to the moon, as Thirlwell re-makes expectations of the historical novel.

Along with Oyeyemi (who will deliver the 2023 Goldsmiths Prize Lecture at the Southbank Centre on 22 October) and Mortimer, this year’s judging panel comprises its chair, Tom Lee, an author and lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths University, and Ellen Peirson-Hagger, the New Statesman’s assistant culture editor.

The Goldsmiths Prize is awarded annually to a groundbreaking novel by a British or Irish writer. Former winners of the prize include Eimear McBride, Lucy Ellmann, Ali Smith and Kevin Barry. This year’s winner will be announced on 8 November.

The 2023 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist in full

Amy Arnold, Lori & Joe (Prototype)
Kate Briggs, The Long Form (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
H Gareth Gavin, Never Was (Cipher Press)
Richard Milward, Man-Eating Typewriter (White Rabbit)
Benjamin Myers, Cuddy (Bloomsbury)
Adam Thirlwell, The Future Future (Jonathan Cape)

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