Keith Ridgway and Claire-Louise Bennett on Goldsmiths Prize 2021 shortlist

Two debuts and a second shortlisting in three years in running for £10,000 prize

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett and A Shock by Keith Ridgway have made the six-strong shortlist for the Goldsmiths Prize 2021, a £10,000 award which celebrates fiction at its most novel.

Natasha Brown and Rebecca Watson have reached the shortlist with their debut novels, Assembly and little scratch, while Isabel Waidner’s nomination for Sterling Karat Gold is their second shortlisting in two years, following the inclusion of We Are Made of Diamond Stuff in 2019. Leone Ross is nominated for her third novel, This One Sky Day.

Bennett grew up in Wiltshire before moving to Ireland where she worked in and studied theatre for several years. In 2013 she was awarded the inaugural White Review Short Story Prize and her debut book, Pond, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2016.

Ridgway was born in Dublin in 1965 and lives in London. A Shock is his fifth novel, and his first in eight years. He was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2001. The Long Falling, translated as Mauvaise Pente, received the Prix Femina Étranger that year. Ridgway’s short story Rothko Eggs won the O Henry Award in 2012.


The shortlist was revealed this evening at the end of the New Statesman / Goldsmiths Prize lecture delivered by Lucy Ellmann, who won the 2019 prize for her book Ducks, Newburyport.

The winner will be announced at an online ceremony on November 10th, with the winner then appearing online at the Cambridge Literary Festival on November 18th.

The Goldsmiths Prize 2021 shortlist
Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett (Jonathan Cape) Review Interview
Assembly by Natasha Brown (Hamish Hamilton) 
A Shock by Keith Ridgway (Picador) Review Interview
This One Sky Day by Leone Ross (Faber & Faber)
Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner (Peninsula Press)
little scratch by Rebecca Watson (Faber & Faber) Review

Chair of judges Nell Stevens said: “From the exuberant magical realism of Leone Ross’s This One Sky Day to Keith Ridgway’s intricate and immersive A Shock, the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist is a celebration of fiction that is spirited, uninhibited, and restless with convention.

“In Sterling Karat Gold, Isabel Waidner brings wit, swagger, playfulness and fury to an unfettered journey through an unjust justice system. Natasha Brown’s simmering Assembly explores race, power, money and mortality in 100 pages of distilled, poised prose. The visceral evocation of books and bodies in Claire-Louise Bennett’s Checkout 19 is an investigation into life mediated and magnified by reading, while Rebecca Watson’s little scratch charts rhythms of thought alongside rhythms of the city, drawing vigour and dread from fleeting moments over the course of a day.

“These books are unabashedly singular and unafraid to take risks; side by side they represent the most exhilarating fiction of the year.”

Tom Gatti, deputy editor of the New Statesman , said: “The New Statesman is delighted to support the Goldsmiths Prize, the essential literary award for anyone who cares about the state – and future – of the novel.”

This year’s judging panel comprised Nell Stevens (a writer of memoir and fiction and lecturer in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths), Fred D’Aguiar (poet, playwright, novelist and University of California professor), Kamila Shamsie (novelist, Women’s Prize for Fiction winner and co-vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature), and Joanna Thomas-Corr (journalist, book critic and New Statesman contributor).

The prize was launched in association with the New Statesman in 2013 with the goal of celebrating the spirit of creative daring associated with Goldsmiths as a university, and to reward fiction that breaks the mould and extends the possibilities of the novel form.

Last year M John Harrison won for The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, published by Gollancz, which was described by 2020 chair of judges Frances Wilson, as “a literary masterpiece that will continue to be read in 100 years’ time, if the planet survives that long”.


Fred D’Aguiar on Checkout 19

“Checkout 19 performs a mind at work. Claire-Louise Bennett creates this propulsive and compulsive prose that champions the impossibility of cohesion in life as nothing short of a desideratum. She performs fragments culled from libraries and lived and overheard, often misconstrued, experiences, with lucrative results for the story. She indemnifies memory and sanctifies the imagination. A woman’s body is its undiscovered country, a life indebted to reading is its bequest.

“The narrator’s swift exploration of thinking introduces an apparently unrelated set of circumstances from her life and reading by a seemingly spontaneous thought process of loose associations. She sifts each topic (nothing is off limits) with humour, insight, and compositional elegance. Just as the reader begins to think that the thread is lost, the author picks it up and weaves it into the fabric of the story with startling and bravura effects. Bennett’s studied chaos, studded with loud-out-loud instances, forms this harmonious, fragile, and memorable whole.”

Johanna Thomas-Corr on Assembly

“Natasha Brown’s debut novel is a small but blistering take on the British elite and its poisonous relationship with immigration, work and sexual politics. Within a 100 neat pages, this non-linear, stream-of-consciousness narrative follows a young black woman who has invested everything in transcending her race, class and gender to attain a high-paid position in a cut-throat bank. She is even invited to share her success story with eager young women at a school assembly. So why does her life feel so unbearable? What comes next? And do her achievements represent progress?

“At a certain point, the story falls away and the narrator steps forward to express her frustration with the toxicity of the novel itself - a white, bourgeois form that rewards indirection, subtlety, and subtext. But all that assumes a great many shared assumptions on the part of the readers - an ability to read between someone else’s lines. So how do you write from outside that white bourgeois world while still writing within the novel form? And is the narrator doomed to be ‘what we’ve always been to the empire: pure, fucking profit’?”

Kamila Shamsie on A Shock

“At first it seems we might be in a book of interlinked stories, but discovering you aren’t quite where you thought you might be is part of the deliberate disorientation of A Shock. It soon becomes clear that the sections in the novel don’t interlink so much as echo and rhyme. The observation is acute, the dialogue sparkles, the movement between interiority and surveillance is deft. It is a novel of in-between places that keeps the reader off-balance to surprising, intelligent and sometimes eerie effect.”

Fred D’Aguiar on This One Sky Day

“Bold, wild, uproarious, gawdy, bodacious, lyrical, effusive, carnivalesque, heraldic, liminal, expansive, fabulous, sensuous, sexy, hundred-story-jump and political fist-pump, replete with coordinates that big-up the poor and wrestle with authority, with the gender binary sharing space and place with the gender fluid, against the vexed reproduction of convention, only to buck expectation in favour of invention, of ellipsis in cahoots with culinary magic, obeah partnered with scandal, ribaldry as social cohesion, secrecy as a manifesto for desire’s rampant rule of island rhythm, This One Sky Day insists on having its way with the surreal, fable and allegory (all three simultaneously) by relocating the center of thought in flesh, blood, bone and nerves, and in flora, fauna, land and sea, to create a world brimful with wonder and delight.”

Kamila Shamsie on Sterling Karat Gold

“Isabel Waidner collides the real and the mythic, the beautiful and the grotesque, to mind-bending effect. Time-travel constrained by the limitations of Google Maps and trials out of Hieronymus Bosch never out-dazzle the human heart in this novel of friendship, art, injustice and all that can be imagined and unimagined. From the first page, matadors in Camden seem entirely plausible and we wait to see what might be coming around the next corner. Waidner has a live, distinctive intelligence that pushes form to make us see the world around us in new ways and perhaps even for the first time.”

Nell Stevens on little scratch

“The writing in Rebecca Watson’s little scratch dances, leaps, skitters and hurtles across the page, reimagining how typography can serve narrative to electrifying effect. This is a novel that teaches its reader how to read anew, with a choreography of language that dazzles and consumes. Taking place over the course of a single day, the narrative negotiates its protagonist’s simultaneous realities: psychological, environmental, digital. The rhythm of the city intersects with the rhythm of her thought, which in turn is interrupted by and entwined with the intermittent hum of electronic communications. The result is a unique and compelling evocation of contemporary life and work in the city. As much as little scratch is an exploration of trauma in the aftermath of sexual assault, it is also a testament to what is at stake in the minutiae of daily existence, the countless fleeting moments in which our lives happen to us.”