It’s the start of this year’s book prize season and I love perusing all the lists the judges to create to see what they choose to highlight. One of my favourite prizes of late is the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize – whose shortlist I so avidly followed last year. It was great to see poet Kayo Chingonyi receive the prize last year for his debut collection “Kumukanda”. The Dylan Thomas Prize is awarded to what the judges deem to be the best published literary work in the English language written by an author aged 39 or under.

This year’s longlist has just been announced and it’s got that perfect mix of books I’ve read and admired, books I’ve been meaning to read and a few books I’ve not come across before. On the list are eight novels, two short story collections and two books of poetry. Two that I’ve read and that were also listed for this year’s Costa Book Awards are “Normal People” by Sally Rooney and “Soho” by Richard Scott. Rooney’s immense popularity as one of the most exciting new voices in Ireland today is well deserved and Richard Scott’s disarmingly beautiful and emotional poetry still vividly sticks with me. It’s also wonderful to see the excellent Sarah Perry honoured for her most recent novel “Melmoth” and writer Emma Glass for her wickedly creative slim debut novel “Peach”.

Dylan1.jpg

I’m eager to try reading some of the other books listed before the shortlist is announced on April 2nd. This year’s winner will be announced on May 16th. It’s also fun to note that one of the judges of this year’s prize is writer Kit De Waal!

Dylan2.jpg

Have you read any of the books on this year’s longlist or are you curious to try some of them now?

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
4 CommentsPost a comment
melmoth_SarahPerry.jpg

There’s something so invitingly intoxicating about the way Sarah Perry blends the tone of classic Victorian literature with a modern sensibility. Her previous novel “The Essex Serpent” was actually set in the Victorian era and new novel “Melmoth” is set roughly in present-day Prague. But they both employ a self-conscious authorial control over the narrative that contemplates many moral questions while (most importantly) telling a riveting gothic-inflected story at the same time.

“Melmoth” centres around the story of Helen Franklin, an English woman with a guilty secret working as a translator of mundane manuals in the Czech Rep. But the novel also includes many fictional documents from the past detailing Nazi occupations and the forced migration of different ethnicities. All these accounts are tied together with occasional sightings of a figure called Melmoth, a dark-clad woman with bleeding feet who legend claims roams the Earth for eternity seeking to assuage her piteous loneliness. As Helen surveys these documents from different cultures about individuals who make dubious choices in times of political unrest, she gradually confronts her own past and the possibility that Melmoth is now pursuing her.

Helen goes to a dramatic production of the opera Rusalka about a water sprite from Slavic mythology

Helen goes to a dramatic production of the opera Rusalka about a water sprite from Slavic mythology

Perry creates a menacing sense of atmosphere filled with unsettling natural phenomena and things which seem to be lurking in the shadows just out of sight. The question of whether Melmoth is real or not is teased out in quite a unique way where her presence is both feared and invited. At one point Helen contemplates how “I wasn’t only scared. I wanted something to be there – I wanted to see something waiting for me – do you think you can long for something that scares you half to death.” There’s the dark desire to be titillated by what scares us the most and there’s the conscience-stricken belief we deserve to be punished. Helen is challenged over the course of this tale to radically confront and judge herself. This is a richly evocative novel that provokes unsettling questions about our obligations to people in need and what we do with our guilt when we’re all on our own.  

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesSarah Perry