In association with the New Statesman
Fiction at its most novel
All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one’ (Walter Benjamin)
‘I have laid a plan for something new, quite out of the beaten track’ (Laurence Sterne)
Novel, n. Something new (OED)
The Goldsmiths Prize has been established to celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form. Accordingly, the annual prize of £10,000 will be awarded to a book that is deemed genuinely novel and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterises the genre at its best.
There are many prizes with a brief to reward the ‘best’ fiction, but while that implies openness to excellent novels of all kinds, the books that win prizes tend, for all their merits, to be unsurprising and conventional. Launching in the tercentenary year of the births of Laurence Sterne and Denis Diderot, the Goldsmiths Prize will go to a novel that shares something of the exuberant inventiveness and restlessness with conventions manifest in Tristram Shandy and Jacques the Fatalist. The modern equivalents of Sterne and Diderot are often labelled ‘experimental,’ with the implication that their fiction is an eccentric deviation from the novel’s natural concerns, structures and idioms. A long view of the novel’s history, however, suggests that it is the most flexible and varied of genres, and the Goldsmiths Prize will encourage and reward writers who make best use of its many resources and possibilities.
While debate about the nature of the novel and the directions it should or should not take has had key moments of intensity since Virginia Woolf published ‘Modern Novels’ in 1919, it is as old as the genre itself. Yet serious discussion of the art of fiction is now too often confined to the pages of learned journals, and we hope the prize will stimulate a much wider debate about fiction. To contribute to the dialogue, the Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre will host a series of prize-related events each year, including readings from critically acclaimed contemporary novelists and the shortlisted writers.