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Gordon Burns – Shortlist 2024

Clara Garnier-Barsanti, Jamie Fowler, Maria Sadek, Benedetta Giordani and Grace Briggs-Jones

 

The shortlist for this year’s esteemed Gordon Burns Prize has been announced! The prize, which aims to bring attention to bold pieces of literature that push the boundaries of innovation, includes some incredible talent across a myriad of genres such as short stories, memoirs and history books. What’s more, for the first time, the shortlist includes seven titles meaning there are now even more fantastic books to dive into!


Drawing from extensive research and told with journalistic verve, Rory Carroll, the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, unravels the events before and after the IRA’s attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher in Brighton in 1984. Killing Thatcher is a gripping account of how the IRA came astonishingly close to killing Thatcher, deftly exploring the intrigue before and after the assassination attempt. This is the first major book to investigate the Brighton attack and deserves the first spot on the shortlist.


John Niven, author of Kill Your Friends and Straight White Male, comes in second on the shortlist with a tender and affecting memoir laced with Niven’s trademark jet-black humour. O Brother tracks the lives of two brothers in changing times, focusing on Niven’s little brother Gary. The book is about the bonds of a family and how we try to keep the finest of those we lose alive. A very poignant and moving story about the black sheep of the family that is “laugh-out-loud funny, touching, sad and rueful.


When Ian Williams, the author of Disorientation: Being Black in the World, says that the style is a genius move... well, you listen. In these eight short stories, linked by identity, Miami and racism, Jonathan Escoffery chooses to use the feared second-person narrator for his debut If I Survive You. A genius move indeed, because it bridges the empathy between reader and character and “because you essentially stand in for I, [and] confirms the estrangement Trelawny [the main character] feels from himself. He cannot convincingly narrate from the I position because that would presume that he inhabits a self.” A well-deserved shortlist!

The next book on the shortlist sees Megan Nolan follow up her debut hit Acts of Desperation with Ordinary Human Failings, a novel set in London in the 1990s within which an Irish family stands scapegoated for a death on their estate. Distinguishing herself against a recent wave of exciting Irish fiction, Nolan has penned a quiet narrative that deals with big themes of addiction, class division and the venom of the nineties media, whilst also drawing out a more granular story about a complex family.


Tanya Targaq’s Split Tooth is the next book shortlisted. A coming-of-age story set in 1970s Nunavet, Targaq depicts the growth and challenges of adolescence against the background of their Inuit culture and history, the surrounding threat of European colonialism and a desire to absorb and be absorbed by the natural world. Just as Targaq overlaps these thematic concerns, they contort the form of the book to accommodate poetry, artwork and even lyrics from their 2022 album Tongues, alongside their prose. This innovative structuring mirrors a carefully constructed meditation on growing up and longing to be reconnected with the world around us.


Those who dreamt of a matter-to-fact with a girl perspective version of The Black Stallion will rejoice to find Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan in the bookstores. Acclaimed by Lydia Davis for its experimental style, this sort of ghosted memoir with Sonia – a horse trainer from the Midwest – takes the reader in jolting reminiscences with a direct and clear tone crafted into short sentences, ranging from a single line to a couple of pages: the brutality and excitement of the horse race world and the array of human reactions are left to the reader’s judgement.


Next on the shortlist is Anna Funder’s Wifedom. A mix of fiction, memoir and literary criticism, the book uncovers the story of George Orwell’s forgotten first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Funder is the award-winning and bestselling author of Stasiland and All That I Am. Thanks to recently discovered letters, Wifedom brings Eileen’s story to life, following her through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. In doing so, the book serves as a reflection on the reasons why women are often excluded from the main story and denied agency. Susan Wyndham has aptly described it as a “dashing addition to a genre of books that bring out of obscurity the women (and occasional man) behind famous writers and artists.”


The seven books on the shortlist are an eclectic mixture of genres, but, as the judges mentioned, they do have one thing in common: they all experiment with form, play with the line between fact and fiction and take risks. The winner will be announced in March – congratulations and best of luck to all the authors shortlisted!



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