Thursday 14 December 2017

Book Worm: I'm protective of this 'half formed thing'

Longlisted: Donal Ryan
Longlisted: Donal Ryan

John Boland

Having failed to win this year's Man Booker Prize, Colm Toibin's The Testament of Mary now has a chance of securing next year's Impac award, in which case he'd be the first person to be granted this prize twice – The Master having triumphed in 2006.

That would be a distinction for the Wexford-born author, but even more impressive was Eimear McBride's winning of the inaugural Goldsmith's prize in London with her debut novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. This was published earlier this year by the little Norwich-based Galley Beggar imprint after mainstream publishers had spent almost a decade turning it down – the Liverpool-born, Irish-reared McBride, who's now 36, was only 27 when the rejection letters began.

I confess to feeling a bit proprietorial about this bravely experimental and unsettling book. Months before anyone else in Ireland wrote about it, I read it online (the printed version hadn't yet made its way to these shores) and reviewed it in these pages, deeming it an astonishingly original novel written with terrifying conviction. The Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books thought so, too.


Meanwhile, Dublin City Council, the creator and organiser of the Impac award, has decided to hold on to the prize's name despite the fact that Impac itself ("global leader in productivity improvement") has withdrawn its sponsorship.

I suppose there are identification reasons for the council's decision, but I honestly don't see why Impac should continue to get publicity for an award from which it has walked away.

But there's no denying the prize's financial clout – €100,000 to the winner, which has always seemed somewhat excessive, even though one lucky author among the 129 who've been longlisted will welcome its contribution to his or her bank balance. Perhaps it will be the turn of Donal Ryan, whose superb The Spinning Heart was also longlisted for the Man Booker.

As with Eimear McBride, Ryan's book had been constantly turned down until Lilliput finally gave it the go-ahead. What is it with publishers these days? Too busy on the lookout for the next Cecelia Ahern, I suppose.

Irish Independent

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