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The Rathbones Folio Prize: 2022 Shortlist Announced

By Caitlin Evans and Ellie Brady

A long-standing topic of controversy in the Prizes industry, and indeed the wider publishing world, is the rivalry between literary and commercial fiction. Oftentimes, what prestigious writers and institutions view as ‘"good doesn’t align with the public consumer opinion and this has led to debates over the relevance of awards that celebrate only novels of "literary" merit. The Rathbones Folio Prize was founded in direct response to this, hoping to lean more towards popular fiction than literary.

The Prize was established in 2014 and was sponsored by The Folio Society, for the first two years of operation but has since found a new sponsor in Rathbone Investment Management from 2017 to present. The prize is open to any work of literature published in the UK and written in English, spanning all genres (with the exception only of work written for children). The winning author will receive a hearty £30,000 prize for their work of "excellence" that has achieved its "most perfect and thrilling expression." The judging board is curated of Rathbones Folio Academy members and this year features, Tessa Hadley, Rachel Long and William Atkins.

The winning title for 2022 will be announced on 22 March, in a ceremony to be held at the British Library. Whilst we wait in anticipation of the announcement, view a brief synopsis of the shortlisted titles below:

Natasha Brown, Assembly

Brown’s best-selling debut manages to craft a powerfully moving narrative in a little over one hundred pages. Filled with sharp insights on the place of marginalised people in today’s post-colonial society, this word-of-mouth hit will certainly be in contention for this year’s top prize.

Damon Galgut, The Promise

Galgut’s latest novel is no stranger to award’s success having already won the prestigious 2021 Man Booker Prize. The narrative, following the dissolution of a white South African family in the Apartheid state follows the breaking of the novel’s titular promise is an unflinching exploration of the segregation and its impacts on society. Praised for its approach to form as well as subject matter, it is no surprise to see The Promise on this list.

Selima Hill, Men Who Feed Pigeons

This collection of seven poem sequences has already been shortlisted for the T.S. Elliot Prize and The Forward Prize alongside its inclusion on this list. Hill’s lively and uncomfortable examinations of the relationships between men and women have drawn praise from throughout the poetry community. The beautiful work has certainly earned its place alongside the more immediately recognisable and commercially successful novels.

Philip Hoare, Albert and The Whale

Philip Hoare brings a new form of narrative on the table of travel writing, set in the shores of New Zealand. He uses the elements of the travel writing genre like presenting dangerous adventure, unimaginable creatures and giants, but with a twist. The twist is that he unleashes the people from the past like Dürer, Martin Luther, David Bowie, Shakespeare, Thomas Mann and Blake to unravel a poignant relationship between Man and Animal.

Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These

Most of Keegan's stories are based around a family. Small Things Like These follows the same trend with the protagonist being a father who has five daughters and a wife. However, what makes the book distinct from any of Keegan’s works is the brutal form of violence. The novella begins in a small Irish town - exploring the forms of violence preserved by the church.

Gwendoline Riley, My Phantoms

My Phantoms explores the emotional estrangement of a daughter from her separated parents. The parents maintained an orthodox loveless force over the female narrator, Bridget. The personal narrative goes on to deal with questions of financial security and unconditional obedience to a broken love. The impact of a broken family leaves Bridget empty with a loss of warmth.

Colm Tóibín, The Magician

Tóibín’s text has been shortlisted for the 2022 prize, and its ingenuity coupled with genuine readability makes it clear to see why. Irish author, Tóibín, employs the masterful and almost lyrical qualities of Irish literature to his exploration of the life of Thomas Mann. A man of endless intrigue – having lived through two world wars, fathered multiple children while keeping his homosexuality private and produced some of the most provoking and renowned works of European literature such as The Magic Mountain, Doctor Faustus and Tristan – Tóibín takes Mann as his muse in this profoundly readable literary work.

Sunjeev Sahota, China Room

China Room is partly set in rural Punjab during the first half of the twentieth century, where young bride, Mehar, grapples with uncovering the identity of her newly-wedded husband. Adjacent to her narrative, is the story of a man in 1999 who travels to what was once Mehar’s family farm from London and who’s own experiences of racism, prejudice and cultural disconnections afford him strength through a period of self-searching rumination. Sahota has been lauded for his affecting prose that deftly examines generational trauma, making this beautiful and deeply human novel a prime candidate for the Rathbones Folio Prize.


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