A novel about John Lennon setting out to take a course of primal scream therapy on an Irish island has won Kevin Barry the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction, with judges praising its “intricately weaving and blurring fiction and life”.
The Irish novelist, who has won the €100,000 (£70,000) Impac prize and the Sunday Times EFG short story prize in the past, was named winner of the £10,000 Goldsmiths prize on Wednesday evening for his novel Beatlebone. Intended to recognise “writing at its most novel”, and to “reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”, the inaugural Goldsmiths award went to Eimear McBride’s stream-of-consciousness A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, while Ali Smith won the prize last year for her dual narrative How to Be Both.
Beatlebone is set in 1978, and follows the 37-year-old Lennon as he travels to the west coast of Ireland, planning to visit the island he owns and undergo primal scream therapy.
“Love, blood, fate, death, sex, the void, mother, father, cunt and prick – these are the things on his mind,” writes Barry. “He will spend three days alone on his island. That is all that he asks. That he might scream his fucking lungs out and scream the days into nights and scream to the stars by night – if stars there are and the stars come through.”
Josh Cohen, chair of the judging panel, said that “intricately weaving and blurring fiction and life, Beatlebone embodies beautifully this prize’s spirit of creative risk”, and that he was “proud to crown it our winner”.
Cohen, who is professor of modern literary theory at Goldsmiths, was joined on the panel of judges by McBride, her fellow author Jon McGregor. The New Statesman, which co-founded the award with Goldsmiths, was represented on the judging panel by its lead fiction reviewer Leo Robson.
Writing in the Guardian last month, McBride said that Beatlebone was a “storm of a novel – unsettling and mesmerising. It’s formally interesting also, with the novelist choosing to step on and off the page.”
She also acknowledged the panel’s “discussion of the low number of eligible entries by women”. This led to an all-male shortlist, with Barry’s novel competing with titles by Richard Beard, Magnus Mills, Tom McCarthy, Max Porter and Adam Thirlwell.
“Given the prize’s previously unblemished record, hopefully this year will prove a blip,” said McBride.