The Goldsmiths Prize – ‘Fiction at Its Most Novel’

TJ1zaq6L_400x400First off, let me say that I am not a paid publicity hack for the Goldsmiths Prize, far from it.  I just found out about the award two days ago, and it has already been going on for two years.  However the award is so much on my wavelength, so much right up my alley so to speak, that I must write about it.

The award is sponsored by Goldsmiths University of London in association with the magazine The New Statesman.  It is limited to Irish and United Kingdom authors, and books must be published by a United Kingdom publisher.  Why would I, way out here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, care?

The slogan of the Goldsmiths Prize is ‘Fiction at its most Novel’.

Here are some words taken directly from the Goldsmiths website that describe well the purpose of the prize:

‘All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one’ (Walter Benjamin)

‘I have laid a plan for something new, quite out of the beaten track’ (Laurence Sterne)

Novel, n. Something new (OED)

The Goldsmiths Prize was established in 2013 to celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form.

Good or bad, I have a restless mind. I have always liked to point out that the definition of the word ‘novel’ is ‘something new’.  I don’t want the ‘same old, same old’.   I might read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ or Jean Rhys one day, Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy the next, and the latest critical darling the next.  I appreciate writers who are willing to attempt something new or different.

In their announcement of this year’s winner, Goldsmiths perhaps said it best:

‘How to be Both’ by Ali Smith has won the Goldsmiths Prize 2014 for boldly original fiction.

That is exactly what I want from fiction, something that is bold and original.

All this is not to say that I will always agree with the Goldsmiths choices.  I gave up in disgust on the first winner of the Goldsmiths prize, ‘A Girl is a Half Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride, after only a few pages.  It might even be said that if a person is going to be boldly original, they are also setting themselves up for intense dislike.

I had much better luck with this year’s winner.  ‘How To Be Both’ is a book I much admire.

This year’s short list for the Goldsmiths Prize consisted of ‘How to Be Both’ by Ali Smith, ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk, ‘The Wake’ by Paul Kingsnorth, ‘The Absent Therapist’ by Will Eaves, ‘In the Light of What We Know’ by Zia Haider Rahman, and ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson.

Ali Smith

Ali Smith

The award is not about outlandish plots or science fiction.  It is about originality in form and/or style.  I recently read another of the short list, ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk, which is certainly a fresh new approach to a familiar subject.  (More about ‘Outline’ in a future article.)

I will be watching the Goldsmiths Prize in the future for good leads on fiction to read.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. The slight but remarkably affective and human The Absent Therapist by Will Eaves was one of my favourite reads from last year. I also really enjoyed The Wake, and How to be Both is near the the top of my upcoming (best laid) reading plans. This award does capture some gems. That’s why some of us across the pond care and have to call attention to it. Good for you, I second your efforts!

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    • Hi roughghosts,
      So far you and I are even, both of us having read two of the Goldsmiths finalists. I may read another just to stay even. I did read a couple of positive reviews of ‘The Wake’, but had not heard of ‘The Absent Therapist’ before. It may not be published in the US yet.

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      • The Absent Therapist is published by a small UK publisher. I had heard of it and ordered it. It is a fragmentary and experimental little piece. I wrote about it on my blog ( https://roughghosts.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/the-absent-therapist-or-listen-now-can-you-hear-the-voices/ ) and was pleasantly surprised to have the author himself comment. That is a plus to this award, it recognizes works by small publishers that might be overlooked otherwise.

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        • Hi roughghosts,
          Your review of ‘The Absent Therapist’ causes me to want the book NOW.
          So far I’ve had one author, Robin Black, of a book I reviewed comment on my blog. I also had one member of the music group The Browns, Maxine Brown, comment on a review of a novel about them. This is awesome fun to get these comments.

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          • That is the joy of sharing your enthusiasm for for a book with others, especially when it is new or not mainstream. Too many people complain that there is a dearth of worthwhile new literature being published. I feel like I won’t live long enough to read everything currently on my wishlist. It also pays to remain open to the brave small publishers out there – not everything is brilliant, but there are some true gems.

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            • Hi roughghosts,
              Yes, it is the small publishers that are publishing a lot of the good fiction. Here im Minneapolis we have GreyWolf press that is small but publishes a lot of excellent books.

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  2. The Goldsmiths Prize is of more interest to me than the Booker (which I largely ignore these days). I finished Ali Smith’s How to be Both last week – loved it, delighted to see it win this prize.

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    • Hi Jacqui,
      I probably won’t totally give up on the Booker despite everything. To me the low point for the Booker was when they gave the award to ‘The Finkler Question’, but that’s history now.

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  3. I am a big Ali Smith fan, but have yet to read How to Be Both. It sounds intriguing.

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  4. This award sounds right up my alley, I like to be challenged too. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    Their twitter tag BTW is @GoldsmithsPrize

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