I first became aware of the Green Carnation Prize last year when it was won by a book I already loved, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomons. Books bring people together; if a stranger loves a book you love, you’ve automatically got something in common. So while I’ve been reading the Baileys and Man Booker longlists (and, this year, the Goldsmith’s Prize, of which more in another post), I’ve kept an eye out for the Green Carnation longlist. When it came, it looked like this:
- Through The Woods – Emily Carroll (Faber & Faber)
- The Absent Therapist – Will Eaves (CB Editions)
- The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
- All The Days and Nights – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
- Vixen – Rosie Garland (Borough Press)
- Thirst – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
- The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan (Salt)
- In Search of Solace – Emily Mackie (Sceptre)
- Any Other Mouth – Anneliese Mackintosh (Freight)
- The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
- Unspeakable Things – Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury)
- Invisible Love – Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Europa Editions)
- The Glasgow Coma Scale – Neil D. A. Stewart (Corsair)
I’d already read – and loved – Kerry Hudson’s Thirst (you can read Kerry Hudson’s guest blog on the WoMentoring Project here) and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart. Anna Freeman’s The Fair Fight was already high on my tbr pile, as was Rosie Garland’s Vixen (solely, I’m ashamed to say, on the grounds of the beautiful cover). In short, the Green Carnation Prize longlist felt like home. We shouldn’t need the Bailey’s Prize (women authors), or the Green Carnation (LGBT authors) – every book should be judged on its merits alone. But here in the real world, did anyone look at this year’s Man Booker longlist and genuinely feel that there was no issue with the gender and/or race balance? Judge Sarah Churchwell pointed out that the Man Booker judges were confined to what publishers chose to submit, but that simply relocates the issue. And then there’s the Green Carnation. Eight women. Five men. A good mix of publishing houses. As refreshing as a cut lemon.
The Man Booker longlist was a very comfortable reading experience. The Green Carnation wasn’t – not always, anyway. The cut lemon is squeezed into society’s hidden wounds in Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things. It should be given out in schools, like the Gideon Bible. Mackintosh treads a finer line between memoir and story; still, the pages of Any Other Mouth fairly blister. In The Rental Heart, Logan uses fairy tale tropes to hold a fresh filter to familiar narratives; Emily Carroll uses illustration in a similar way in her not-a-comic-book Through the Woods. Hudson and Stewart both explore dependent relationships; their novels have completely different outcomes, but both pay tribute to the poor and the dispossessed, and play their love stories out at the bottom of our dirty, unfair and exploitative class system. Freeman and Garland take the reader back in time whilst maintaining astonishing contemporaneity – no mean feat. Govinden and Eaves use language and form over traditional plot to pull the reader through their novels. Schmitt encloses enough material for several novels in his short stories, like a silk scarf crumpled in the palm of a hand. Mukherjee’s epic encompasses class and privilege across Indian society; Mackie’s quieter tale of a man in search of himself is equally epic, although its subject is an individual rather than a country.
I hesitate to select my shortlist, partly because I don’t know how many books the judges are going to choose, and partly because the books are all so different. The books I’ve chosen are not only the ones in which I feel form is married most effectively with language and with character, but the ones which, for whatever reason, resonated with so much force that I can’t get them out of my head.
Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things
Kerry Hudson, Thirst
The Fair Fight, Anna Freeman
Kirsty Logan, The Rental Heart and other fairytales.
Emily Mackie, In Search of Solace
Will Eaves, The Absent Therapist.
But whatever the shortlist looks like, I’ll be pleased. I’ve discovered new writers, and been both shaken and stirred. Thank you, Green Carnation, and deep and sincere congratulations to all the long listed authors.