Desmond Elliott Prize Shortlist Explores Loss of Innocence and the Conflict between Self and Society
“From a very strong longlist we’ve arrived at a shortlist of three really marvelous novels — each of them an unforgettable picture of a place and a society, peopled by vividly interesting characters. It’s a pleasure to greet three such gifted, and contrasting, first novelists.”
Chair of judges and author, Alan Hollinghurst
The three novels shortlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliott Prize, the “UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (Daily Telegraph), have been announced today (Friday 10th May 2019). Golden Child by Claire Adam, Hold by Michael Donkor and Devoured by Anna Mackmin are all in the running to win the £10,000 Prize and be named the year’s best debut novel.
All three titles explore the theme of how innocence can be lost following the realisation that long-accepted beliefs about the world might not be true.
Claire Adam introduces readers to the colourful, vibrant yet dangerous world of her childhood, Trinidad, in Golden Child. The novel tells the story of a family with twin boys, Peter and Paul, with differing personalities. When the ‘misfit’ twin, Peter, is abducted, their father, Clyde, must race to save the son that he has never really understood. About the novel, Alan Hollinghurst said:
“Golden Child is a superbly controlled narrative of a family cracking under unbearable pressures, and a remarkable study in violence, always latent, sometimes horrifically real. It combines the tang of harsh reality with the luminous strangeness of a dream.”
In Hold, author Michael Donkor explores the conflict between a person’s heritage and the culture in which they grew up taking inspiration from his own childhood experiences of being a London born Ghanaian. When Londoner Amma starts rebelling against her parents, the disciplined ‘house-girl’ Belinda is summoned from Ghana to be a good influence on her. Hollinghurst said:
“Hold is a captivating study of cultural displacement and generational change, seen, remarkably, entirely through female eyes. In the house-girl Belinda, Michael Donkor has created a memorably funny and poignant portrait of a young woman making sense of a life she is not in charge of.”
Rounding off the shortlist is Devoured by Anna Mackmin, a vivid semi-autobiographical tale of a girl growing up in a commune in Norfolk. The central character, Nearly Thirteen, offers the reader a chance to experience a world that exists on the fringes of society through the eyes of a child with the innocence not to question the unusual behaviour she encounters. The novel comes from Norwich-based independent publisher Propolis, founded by Henry Layte who co-published the 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize-winning A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride. Alan Hollinghurst said:
“An exuberant and technically inventive debut from Anna Mackmin. She shows us the variously pompous, randy and self-deluded adults in a 1970s Norfolk commune through the eyes of drolly observant child on the cusp of puberty. Devoured is absorbing, unnerving and extremely funny.”
The Chairman of the Prize’s trustees, Dallas Manderson said: “The purpose of the Desmond Elliott Prize is to support debut novelists, to raise their profile and provide them with a financial platform from which they can dive into their next novel. It is no easy task for our judges to whittle the longlist down from ten to a shortlist of three and I know every year there is a fierce debate in the judging room. It is with great joy that we present the Desmond Elliott Prize shortlist for 2019.”
The Desmond Elliott Prize has a track record of spotting exceptionally talented novelists at the very beginning of their careers. Last year, the Prize was awarded to Preti Taneja for her debut novel, We That Are Young. Since winning the Desmond Elliott Prize, We That Are Young has been published in the US, Canada, India, Germany and France. The rights have also been acquired for a television adaptation. Other past-winners include Francis Spufford, Claire Fuller and Eimear McBride.
Alan Hollinghurst is joined on the judging panel by the literary editor of The Times, Robbie Millen, and managing director of the Booksellers Association, Meryl Halls. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 19th June, where they will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.
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The Desmond Elliott Prize 2019 shortlist in detail
(alphabetically by author surname):
Golden Child by Claire Adam (Faber & Faber)
It’s dark now; the bats are out. Insects knock against the light on the patio and the dog sits at the gate. A boy has not returned home and a family anxiously awaits. A father steps out into the night to search for his son.
As the hours turn into days, this man will learn many things. He will learn about being a father to twin boys who are in no way alike. He will learn how dangerous hopes and dreams can be. He will learn truths about Trinidad, about his family, and himself. He will question received wisdom and will question his judgement. He will learn about sacrifice and the nature of love and he will be forced to act.
Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize
‘This novel gives a succinct lesson in how corrupt society corrupts absolutely, everyone in its ambit, even – especially – those who stand apart. Claire Adam fixes this dreadful truth at the heart of the extended Deyalsingh clan, and in the mouth of the patriarch whose prideful fire will burn through his little family: Clyde and Joy, Peter and Paul, this quartet of biblical integrity taken apart, evicted from their haven by serpentine evil. The author, a child of Trinidad herself, has conjured richly affecting dilemma from bare ethics, from wilful paralysis of feeling an electrifying psychological thriller.’
‘Delivered in sparse prose, with an acute, haunting understanding of how much pain can be inflicted by the people closest to you.’ – The Times
‘This is a quiet explosion of a novel from a bright new voice in fiction.’ – The Sunday Times
‘Utterly unsentimental and luminously empathic, this is a seriously impressive first novel.’ – The Mail
About the Author
Claire Adam was born and raised in Trinidad. She read Physics at Brown University and later took an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she gained a distinction. She lives in London.
Hold by Michael Donkor (4th Estate)
Belinda knows how to follow the rules, and how to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi to be a housegirl.
Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven years old and irrepressible, this young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had.
Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. Until now.
They decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example their daughter needs. So, Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship…
As the Brixton summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tight threaten to seep out.
Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize
‘On the back of the jacket, praise for Hold is topped by its description as “rich, heavy, painful, funny and full”, a slightly indigestible blend of attributes for a novel but an accurate enough summing-up of its attractive mix of tumultuous incident, emotional turmoil and delicious interlude.’
‘Hope resonates from within Donker’s warm and accomplished novel’ – The Observer
‘Michael Donkor is a real talent, and Hold is a brave, unpredictable and generous-hearted novel’ – Sarah Winman, author of Tin Man
‘There’s much to love in Michael Donkor’s debut novel. His eye for acute observations coupled with a gift for pitch perfect metaphors are joyful to read. But it’s the emotional truths he unearths from the inner lives of three disparate women that make the novel stand up and sing. Hold is a powerful and important work of fiction’ – Courttia Newland, author of The Gospel According to Cane
‘A beautiful novel. A deeply engrossing, elegant tapestry of family and friendship from a stirring new voice’ – Irenosen Okojie, author of Butterfly Fish
‘An arresting and textured novel … He has a gift for succinct, piercing description’ – The Observer
‘Moving and funny, a big-hearted book that will stay with you’ – The Guardian, Best Fiction for 2018
About the Author
Michael Donkor was born in London and raised in a Ghanaian household where talking lots and reading lots were vigorously encouraged. He read English at Oxford before working in publishing for a number of years, but eventually decided to put his literary enthusiasms to other uses: in 2010, he retrained as an English teacher. In 2014 he was selected by Writers Centre Norwich for their Inspires Mentoring Scheme and worked with mentor Daniel Hahn.
Devoured by Anna Mackmin (Propolis Books)
Swallow’s Farmhouse in deep, rural Norfolk is home to Your People, a commune of free-thinkers and poets seeking a better way. But beneath the veneer of a nurturing, alternative lifestyle, an atmosphere of jealousy and threat is pushing their utopia towards the brink of its inevitable collapse.
Raising herself amidst the chaos is a 12-year-old survivor, desperately preoccupied with her transition into womanhood. With her mute sister, beloved dog and the re-defining force of her emerging appetites, she marches resolutely towards her future, venturing – with hilarious and horrifying results – through the minefield of an adult world built on hypocrisy and misplaced ideals.
Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize
‘An opening fantastically theatrical, affectively true, but not a surprise for Devoured marks the fourth phase of an all-round artistic career for Anna Mackmin, from actor to designer to director – the last of these seeming directly to have informed the now-novelist: in the character of Nearly Thirteen; in her slightly adjacent stance as she addresses the audience in the second person; and in that clipping of an actor’s identity to the end of their speech – this a wrinkle once ironed into awareness that wondrously smooths the flow of her stream of consciousness, from one barnstorming script straight to the reader’s bloodstream, and on to the heart.’
‘A wonderful depiction of a 1970s commune of hopeless, beautiful, deluded people. The book is so funny, I haven’t laughed so much in ages. I can’t imagine I’ll enjoy a novel more this year.’ – Tim Pears.
‘Quite brilliant. So funny at times, and so horribly sad. Tragic and hilarious, an experiment in ’70’s new age living that could turn the hardiest biodynamic farmer into a Heinz soup guzzling rebel.’ – Esther Freud.
‘A fascinating portrait of a singular childhood. Highly accomplished and very enjoyable.’ – David Hare.
‘Funny, touching and extraordinarily consistent in sustaining the voice of an almost 13 year old girl. Full of optimism as well as hurt.’ – Sir Richard Eyre.
‘A dazzling debut, in equal parts hilarious and terrifying. An incredibly assured and superbly written evocation of an eccentric childhood that will nonetheless resonate powerfully those whose upbringings were more conventional.’ – Stephen Fry
About the Author
Anna Mackmin previously worked as a theatre director. Her first novel, Devoured, was published in June 2018 and won the Fiction category at the East Anglian Book Awards.