Bina, a novel by Irish-Canadian author Anakana Schofield, which secured a British publisher only after The Irish Times reviewed its Canadian edition, has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2020 Goldsmiths Prize.
The £10,000 prize, which since 2013 has celebrated fiction at its most novel, has been won previously by Mike McCormack for Solar Bones (2016); Kevin Barry for Beatlebone (2015); and Eimear McBride for A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing (2013).
Schofield, who was also shortlisted for her previous novel, Martin John, is joined on the shortlist by another former Irish resident, Man Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre, for Meanwhile in Dopamine City (Faber).
The shortlist is completed by Mr Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press); A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus); The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison (Gollancz); and The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press).
Chair of judges Frances Wilson said: “From DBC Pierre’s smarting satire of smartphone culture to Paul Griffith’s elegant imagining of Beethoven in Boston, the six books shortlisted are concerned with characters in extremis and loss of moorings.
“While Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch blends Moby Dick with Metamorphosis in a polyphonic reflection on racial and sexual identity, M John Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again returns us to The Water Babies in a fishy tale of hallucinogenic beauty and strangeness. Xiaolu Guo’s A Lover’s Discourse places Roland Barthes in Brexit Britain in a delicate and witty love story between East and West, and Anakana Schofield’s Bina, a black comedy about euthanasia, is told as a series of warnings scribbled on the backs of envelopes by a woman who has had enough – a feeling many of us can share in these fragile and fractured times.”
Schofield, who now lives in Vancouver, said: “I am grateful and enraptured by the shortlisting of Bina for the 2020 Goldsmiths Prize because of what the prize rewards and because the pandemic has been so long and lonely for all, but especially for people, like Bina, who live alone.
“Lately, I had started to lose my courage. Obviously the most important affirmation any writer can ever receive is readers. Most writers are just trying to stay alive and manage to write and these acknowledgements really help us carry on.
“Bina initially met resistance from UK and US publishers, and I was left to wonder if she’d ever be published over there at all. After a review in The Irish Times of the Knopf Canada edition, Bina found a publisher – Fleet – in the UK and Ireland. Bina will also be published in the US next February by the New York Review of Books, which is thrilling, because usually you have to be dead to be published by them and I am not dead yet. I am presently completing another novel titled Library of Brothel.
“We cannot only allow market forces to shape our reading, because the market tends to return to that which is familiar, safe and has worked before. Those aren’t the terms of art-making, but they are a great basis for taking a quality nap. Art is what we want to wake us up. As a reader, I enjoy novels that are disobliging disruptive and ludic. After all, we are presently living in a time of pure madness.”
This year’s judging panel comprises former Goldsmiths Prize shortlisted-writer Sarah Ladipo Manyika, short story and newspaper columnist Chris Power, novelist and poet Will Eaves – who has twice been shortlisted for the prize – and Wilson, a biographer and critic.
Tom Gatti, deputy editor of the New Statesman, the spopnsor, said: “Once again, the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist provides an essential snapshot of the most ambitious and compelling fiction being written in the UK and Ireland today.”
The winner will be announced at an online ceremony on November 11th.
QUOTES FROM THE JUDGES
Will Eaves on Mr Beethoven
What would Beethoven have done with another seven years of life, and where, in the 1830s, might he have gone? The answer, in this audacious but exacting extension of the composer’s late period, is America, where an oratorio, Job, is completed (and performed) in Boston. Suffering and revelation are the subject-matter, but in Paul Griffiths’ hands, the Biblical sorrow undergoes a lasting modulation into a new key of delight in friendship, communication, and creativity.
Chris Power on A Lover’s Discourse
If A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes is a novelistic essay, Xiaolu Guo’s book of the same name is an essayistic novel. In short chapters, and with hypnotically measured language, Guo studies the relationship between two lovers as a union and an alliance, yes, but also as a confrontation, an argument, and a struggle.
The book charts the evolution of a love affair between a nameless film student, who has moved to London from China, and a half-German, half-Australian landscape architect. Brexit looms large, as does isolation, as Guo describes the emotional and psychological landscape navigated by immigrants to Britain. Most impressive of all is the close attention she pays to a country’s language – not just the literal meaning of words, but also the moods they impart. Doing so, she makes the texture of daily life appear strange and new.
Will Eaves on The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again
On the banks of the Thames, fifty-something Shaw gets involved with a crazy website about evolutionary biology. His girlfriend, Victoria, drifts westwards to a town on the Severn, where the inhabitants are sinking into ponds, reading The Water Babies, and changing for ever. The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again is a brilliant realist fantasy about love in middle-age and the dissolution of the post-war settlement. In a series of startling knights’ moves across our inner and outer landscapes, M. John Harrison quietly overturns all grounds for supposing we know who we are and where we have come from.
Frances Wilson on Meanwhile in Dopamine City
Lon Cush, the hero of DBC Pierre’s turbo-charged satire, is a grieving widower struggling to hold on to his job and his kids. His nine year-old daughter, Shelby, is addicted to her phone and Lon is warring against millennials, vloggers, memes, likes, and allegations of parental abuse. The cacophony of this new binary world is demonstrated by a split page, one half giving us the stream of chatter displayed on Shelby’s screen, the other half the stream of thoughts running through Lon’s head. Furious, despairing, and dizzingly articulate, Meanwhile in Dopamine City shows that the novel is still smarter than the latest smartphone.
Sarah Ladipo Manyika on The Mermaid of Black Conch
The Mermaid of Black Conch is an extraordinary novel in which myth, fairy tale, adventure and history are combined to produce a magical tale that provokes as much as it delights. This timeless story of an ancient mermaid who captures the heart of a local fisherman is a powerful feminist tale which speaks artfully to the nature of love and possession, race and class, creolization and colonialism. Filled with unforgettable characters and scenes, the story moves effortlessly between prose, poetry, and journal entries with playful interweaving of various Englishes including patois and English Creole. This is one of those rare gems of a novel that can be read and enjoyed on many levels – it’s a whimsical love story, a history of the Caribbean and its indigenous peoples, an ode to Mother Earth, and an allegory for our times. The book sings with warm echoes of Jean Rhys, Ernest Hemingway and Zora Neale Hurston.
Frances Wilson on Bina
Startlingly original and horribly funny, Anakana Schofield’s Bina is that rare thing: a black comedy about euthanasia. Composed as a series of warnings scribbled on the backs of envelopes from the safety of her bed, the narrator is a septuagenarian who has had enough. And we can see why: her front garden is filled with political activists, her back garden with medical waste; her lodger stayed on for an extra ten years and she is suspected of murdering her best friend. In all her despair, and empathy for the despair of others, Bina emerges from her elliptical missives, addressed to everyone but no-one in particular, as an eccentric heroine of monumental moral courage.
Paul Griffiths is an internationally respected authority on classical music, whose books have been translated into 12 languages. He has worked as a music critic on major publications in London (The Times) and New York (The New York Times, The New Yorker). He received an OBE for services to music literature and composition, and has been honoured also in France (Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) and the United States (Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). His first novel, Myself and Marco Polo (Chatto & Windus), won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1990, and extracts from his third, let me tell you (Reality Street), were made into a song cycle by Hans Abrahamsen in 2013 for Barbara Hannigan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Xiaolu Guo was born in south China. She studied at the Beijing Film Academy and published six books in China before moving to London in 2002. Her books include Village of Stone which was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth which was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and I Am China which was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her recent memoir, Once Upon a Time in the East, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award, the Jhalak Prize and the Rathbones Folio Award 2018, and was a Sunday Times Book of the Year. In 2013 Xiaolu was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. She has directed several award-winning films including She, A Chinese, and documentaries about China and Britain. She was a judge for the Booker Prize in 2019, and is currently a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York.
M John Harrison is the author of, amongst others, the Viriconium stories, The Centauri Device, Climbers, The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life, Light and Nova Swing. He has won the Boardman Tasker Award (Climbers), the James Tiptree Jr Award (Light) and the Arthur C. Clarke Award (Nova Swing). He lives in Shropshire.
DBC Pierre is the author of Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out in Wonderland and Vernon God Little, which won the Man Booker Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel, the Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman Award and the James Joyce Award.
Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born British writer of novels, essays, memoir and literary journalism. Her novels have been translated into five languages, shortlisted for the Costa and Orange awards. In 2013, Archipelago won the OCM BOCAS Award for Caribbean Literature.
Anakana Schofield is the author of the acclaimed, Giller Prize-shortlisted novel Martin John, which was also a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize in the UK, a New York Times Editors’ Choice and named a best book of the year by the Wall Street Journal, Globe and Mail, National Post, Sunday Business Post, Toronto Star and Irish Times, among others. Her debut novel Malarky won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the Debut-Litzer Prize for Fiction in the United States and was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.