DBC Pierre’s smartphone era novel leads Goldsmiths prize shortlist

Alison Flood
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

The latest novel from Booker winner DBC Pierre, which splits its pages into two columns to represent the cacophony of a smartphone-obsessed world, has been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths prize, which celebrates “fiction at its most novel”.

The £10,000 award goes to “fiction that breaks the mould and extends the possibilities of the novel form”, and previous winners include Eimear McBride’s experimental A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing.

Pierre’s Meanwhile in Dopamine City, set in a near future where the nine-year-old daughter of a grieving widower is addicted to her phone, is one of six novels to make the shortlist, with judge Frances Wilson calling it “furious, despairing and dizzingly articulate”.

“Meanwhile in Dopamine City shows that the novel is still smarter than the latest smartphone,” she said.

Anakana Schofield’s black comedy about euthanasia, Bina, also made the cut. Told as a series of warnings written on the back of envelopes by a septuagenarian narrator, it was “startlingly original and horribly funny”, said Wilson, and Bina was “an eccentric heroine of monumental moral courage”.

M John Harrison was chosen for The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, which features a town where inhabitants are obsessed with The Water Babies. Judge Will Eaves called it “a brilliant realist fantasy about love in middle-age and the dissolution of the postwar settlement”.

The shortlist is completed with Paul Griffiths’ Mr Beethoven,, which imagines the composer living for another seven years and journeying to the US, Xiaolu Guo’s A Lover’s Discourse, the story of a Chinese woman in London that is modelled on Roland Barthes’ eponymous study, and Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch, in which a mermaid captures the heart of a fisherman. According to judge Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Roffey’s novel is “filled with unforgettable characters and scenes”, moving “effortlessly between prose, poetry and journal entries with playful interweaving of various Englishes, including patois and English Creole.”

All six books, said Wilson, who chaired the judging panel, dealt with “characters in extremis and loss of moorings”. The award was launched in association with the New Statesman, and the magazine’s deputy editor Tom Gatti said this year’s line-up provided “an essential snapshot of the most ambitious and compelling fiction being written in the UK and Ireland today”.

The winner will be announced on 11 November in an online ceremony.

The 2020 Goldsmiths prize shortlist

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)
Meanwhile in Dopamine City by DBC Pierre (Faber)
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press)
Bina by Anakana Schofield (Fleet)