The Goldsmiths Prize 2013: Winner

Criteria: The £10,000 prize was created by Goldsmiths, University of London in association with the New Statesman, to recognise published fiction that opens up new possibilities for the novel form. The award is limited to UK and Irish authors and books must be published by a UK-based publisher.

A novel prize for a novel novel (!) Very rarely does a new award come out with such a large backing behind it but that is exactly what the Goldsmiths Prize, founded just this year, has done. Throughout the plethora of literary awards and prizes, very few actually – on finer inspection – reward innovation, or ground-breaking writing; this seems counterintuitive as it is only through dynamic forms of writing does ‘literature’ become redefined. We must be thankful for innovation to have moved us far away from Medieval cycle love-dramas, so why is innovative writing rarely celebrated in the contemporary world?

Perhaps the answer is that truly innovative writing is not much read by the tastes of the public; in the case of eventual winner Eimear McBride, it took a decade to publish A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. And where mainstream publishers rejected the novel for being too experimental, it was Galley Beggar Press, a small independent, which finally published McBride’s winning novel. Co-director of the press, Sam Jordison had this to say about McBride:

As soon as we read Girl we were sure that it should be published, and that it would find readers. We were also certain that this book was very important. In fact, we saw printing it as a duty.

Eimear McBride, Ireland (1976)

Eimear McBride, Ireland (1976)

It seems almost astounding that McBride’s debut novel beat out such other shortlisted works by well known authors as Harvest by Jim Crace, nominated for the Man Booker this year as well, and Artful by Ali Smith. Other writers shortlisted include David Peace for his recent football-historical novel, Red or DeadPhillip Terry‘s Tapestry explores the making of the Bayeux tapestry; its innovation being its phonetic Anglo-Saxon dialect that the book is written in. Again this innovation of the narrative voice is seen in Exodus, the last book in Lars Iyer‘s trilogy, where much of the book surrounds the philosophical dialogue between two proffesional philosophers.

However A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has been called the most formally radical in the shortlist. Written in stream of consciousness the intimate, shocking novel tells the story of a young woman’s complex abusive relationship with her brother, and the history that his childhood brain tumour has on her. Dr Parnell, Chair of Judges, had this to say about Eimear McBride:

boldly original and utterly compelling [the novel] is just the kind of book the Goldsmiths Prize was created to celebrate, and we are delighted to have found such a remarkable novel int he award’s inaugural year.

Steadily the novel has been garnering praise from every direction, and though described often as uncomfortable the novel has been praised for being revolutionary, written with ‘singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget’ (via Goldsmiths).


Further Reading:

‘At last – a books prize that rewards innovation’ via the Guardian

A collection of interviews and videos with the shortlist via NewStatesman

Further commentary about Eimear McBride’s win via Telegraph, Guardian, NewStatesman, the BBC and the official Goldsmiths press themselves.

Reviews of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by David Collard via TLS, Anne Enright via the Guardian and Adam Mars-Jones via LRB.


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