The 2017 Shortlist

2017 Desmond Elliott Prize shortlist banner



The three debut novels shortlisted for the 10th anniversary Desmond Elliott Prize, the “most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (Daily Telegraph) were announced Friday 5th May. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Golden Hill by Francis Spufford are in the running to win the £10,000 Prize after being chosen by judges from a longlist of ten books published this year in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

The Desmond Elliott Prize has a reputation for spotting up-and-coming novelists in the UK and Ireland and propelling them to greater recognition and success. In 2016, it was won by Lisa McInerney whose novel The Glorious Heresies achieved critical acclaim and has since been optioned for television. Other past winners include Claire Fuller, Eimear McBride, Grace McCleen, and Ali Shaw.

Chair of Trustees for the Desmond Elliott Prize, Dallas Manderson said: “The judges have done a commendable job of selecting three titles from a strong, varied and ambitious longlist and we are delighted to present such an exemplary shortlist in our 10th anniversary year. The Prize strives to recognise future literary luminaries at the very start of their careers and our 2017 shortlisted authors certainly fit that bill. Their masterful debuts are just the beginning. We can expect to see great things indeed from these exceptional storytellers.”

Speaking on the judging process and the extraordinary skill shown by the shortlisted authors, Chair of Judges and Literary Editor for the Spectator, Sam Leith commented: “The level of excellence – not just potential, but real accomplishment – shown by each of the three books on this list makes it clear that these aren’t ‘good for a debut’ or ‘promising first novels’: they are fine novels tout court. Each shows technical command, each tells a compelling story, and each is given that vital extra depth by the imaginative capacity to inhabit real human feeling. I’m honoured to have had a role in selecting them.”

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal is told from the perspective of nine-year-old Leon who, separated from his mother and little brother Jake by social services, is desperate to piece his family back together again. An international bestseller, the novel has now been optioned for television by Lenny Henry’s production company, Douglas Road Productions. Leith said:My Name Is Leon is a piercing story: fierce, touching and with the absolute ring of truth-to-experience. The world de Waal creates has the refreshing quality of being one in which not only cruelty and sadness, but kindness and joy are present. It is a mark of sophistication that she has the confidence to tell it simply and straight.”

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan tells the stories of Yuki Oyama – a young woman struggling to find her place in 1960’s New York, and Jay – the son she abandons when he is two years old. Leith said:Harmless Like You is a work of startling wisdom and maturity. There’s nothing easy about the characters and relationships Buchanan describes — and she never, never, jumps quite the way you expect her to. I found it tough, moving and truthful.”

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford is set in New York in 1746, and centres around Mr Smith – a young man who arrives under a shroud of mystery with an order for an enormous amount of money. Leith said:Golden Hill is a period pastiche that offers the abundant narrative pleasures of an 18th-century romp, with a slyly 21st-century knowingness. It is a terrific story: exciting, funny, dramatic, exquisitely written and in its unforeseeable final twist, richly moving.”

Publisher Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Books UK, is shortlisted for the third year in a row, having been shortlisted in 2016 and 2015 for The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey respectively. It is also the third year in a row the Prize has revealed a majority female shortlist, with the dominance of Kit de Waal and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan.

Sam Leith is joined on the judging panel by the award-winning author, Kamila Shamsie and specialist book buyer for WHSmith, Iain Rushworth. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 21st June where they will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.