Why did Solar Bones win? Short answer: because it was the most experimental work in a competition that favors skillful innovation.
As we wrote a few weeks ago when the shortlist was announced, the Goldsmiths Prize has a reputation for being the British Isles’ most radical literary prize, and it is thus no surprise that a novel as inventive as Solar Bones would be rewarded by it. In the few years since it was founded, the Goldsmiths Prize has established itself as a very important award, having most notably launched Eimear McBride on her way towards success (she was handed its inaugurative prize in 2013 for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing). Its ethos was put on full display by novelist Howard Jacobson, invited to give a lecture at the shortlist ceremony. He argued that the novel matters because it allows one to “exult in the meaninglessness of things.” In other words, to take pleasure, beauty, and emotion from the fact that real life is grand neither in heroism nor in tragedy.
To enjoy, then, the glorious blandness of the day-to-day, the prize this year has chosen McCormack’s eerie, free-flowing third novel. Previously endorsed by the last winner, Kevin Barry, the book was praised by Blake Morrison, the judges’ chair, who explained the decision thusly: “Politics, family, art, marriage, health, civic duty and the environment are just a few of the themes it touches on, in a prose that’s lyrical yet firmly rooted. Its subject may be an ordinary working life, but it is itself an extraordinary work.”
Set on All Souls’ Day — which was once believed in Ireland to be the day when souls of the dead visit their family homes — the story follows Marcus Conway, a middle-aged engineer. We find him upon his return to his house and kitchen table, contemplating a series of events that led him away, and the country he’s come back to. Written very much like a prose poem, it also happens to be innovative in structure (it’s one very long sentence). A good fit within the great Irish literary tradition, then.
Solar Bones was chosen from a shortlist which contained five other novels, all written by women, itself whittled down from a pool of 111 submissions. It was released by an independent publisher (Tramp Press) — like two of the other nominees — and beat out bigger names like Eimear McBride and Deborah Levy for the win.