The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by author Neil Griffiths with £2,000 of his own money to celebrate “small presses producing brilliant and brave literary fiction” in the UK and Ireland. Small presses being defined as having fewer than five full-time employees. The first Prize was awarded in 2017 to John Keene’s ‘Counternarratives’ (Fitzcarraldo Editions) and subsequent winners have been Eley Williams’ ‘Attrib. and Other Stories’ (Influx Press) in 2018, Will Eaves for ‘Murmur’ (CB Editions) in 2019, Jean-Baptiste Del Amo took home the prize for ‘Animalia’ in 2020, translated by Frank Wynne (Fitzcarraldo Editions) and last year Jacaranda Books took the main gong for ‘Lote” by Shola von Reinhold.
The Prizemoney has changed again this year with the publisher of all longlisted titles receiving £500 towards their work producing literature of high merit. Each of the short-listed presses will received £1500 (2/3rds to press; 1/3rd to writer), and as is now traditional, the winner or winners just get the glory.
Earlier this week the longlist for the 2022 Prize was announced. Here are those books (listed alphabetically by publisher as the Prize has chosen to do, with the blurbs directly from the publisher):
And Other Stories for ‘Somebody Loves You’ by Mona Arshi
“A teacher asked me a question, and I opened my mouth as a sort of formality but closed it softly, knowing with perfect certainty that nothing would ever come out again.”
Ruby gives up talking at a young age. Her mother isn’t always there to notice; she comes and goes and goes and comes, until, one day, she doesn’t. Silence becomes Ruby’s refuge, sheltering her from the weather of her mother’s mental illness and a pressurized suburban atmosphere.
Plangent, deft, and sparkling with wry humour, Somebody Loves You is a moving exploration of how we choose or refuse to tell the stories that shape us.
Dar Arab for ‘Five Days Untold’ by Badr Ahmad (translated by Christiann James)
Ziad wants no part of this terrible civil war, but what choice did the government give him? Ill-trained and poorly-equipped, he longs to leave the frontlines and return home to the simple life of a craftsman he once knew. Getting back won’t be easy though. As enemy jets rain down missiles and the outside world doesn’t seem to care, Ziad realizes his harrowing journey has just begun. Five Days Untold is an unflinching portrait of war on the micro level, yet Ziad’s struggle and determination to survive are at once instantly recognizable and profoundly universal to us all. (Taken from back cover of book as publisher doesn’t have a website).
Daunt Books for ‘Our Lady of the Nile’ by Scholastique Mukasonga (translated by Melanie Mauthner)
Parents send their daughters to Our Lady of the Nile to be moulded into respectable citizens, and to protect them from the dangers of the outside world. The young ladies are expected to learn, eat, and live together, presided over by the colonial white nuns.
It is fifteen years prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and a quota permits only two Tutsi students for every twenty pupils. As Gloriosa, the school’s Hutu queen bee, tries on her parents’ preconceptions and prejudices, Veronica and Virginia, both Tutsis, are determined to find a place for themselves and their history. In the struggle for power and acceptance, the lycée is transformed into a microcosm of the country’s mounting racial tensions and violence. During the interminable rainy season, everything slowly unfolds behind the school’s closed doors: friendship, curiosity, fear, deceit, and persecution.
Our Lady of the Nile is a landmark novel about a country divided and a society hurtling towards horror. In gorgeous and devastating prose, Mukasonga captures the dreams, ambitions and prejudices of young women growing up as their country falls apart.
Epoque Press for ‘The Beast They Turned Away’ by Ryan Dennis
Íosac Mulgannon is a man called to stand. Losing a grip on his mental and physical health, he is burdened with looking after a mute child whom the local villagers view as cursed.
The aging farmer stubbornly refuses to succumb in the face of adversity and will do anything, at any cost, to keep hold of his farm and the child.
This dark and lyrical debut novel confronts a claustrophobic rural community caught up in the uncertainties of a rapidly changing world.
Fitzcarraldo Editions for ‘Dark Neighbourhood’ by Vanessa Onwuemezi
In her brilliantly inventive debut collection, Vanessa Onwuemezi takes readers on a surreal and haunting journey through a landscape on the edge of time. At the border with another world, a line of people wait for the gates to open; on the floor of a lonely room, a Born Winner runs through his life’s achievements and losses; in a suburban garden, a man witnesses a murder that pushes him out into the community. Struggling to realize the human ideals of love and freedom, the characters of Dark Neighbourhood roam instead the depths of alienation, loss and shame. With a detached eye and hallucinatory vision, they observe the worlds around them as the line between dream and reality dissolves and they themselves begin to fragment. Electrifying and heady, and written with a masterful lyrical precision, Dark Neighbourhood heralds the arrival of a strikingly original new voice in fiction.
Fum D’Estampa Press for ‘The Song of Youth’ by Montserrat Roig (translated by Tiago Miller)
In The Song of Youth, Montserrat Roig boldly presents eight remarkable stories that use language as a weapon against political and social “dismemory”. Her powerful and striking prose allows the important stories of those silenced by the brutal Franco regime to, at last, come to the fore. The Song of Youth is undoubtedly feminist and deeply critical but, as always, Roig’s lyrical writing gives shape, depth, and significance to the human experience.
Lolli Edition for ‘After The Sun’ by Jonas Eika (translated by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg)
Under Cancún’s hard blue sky, a beach boy provides a canvas for tourists’ desires, seeing deep into the world’s underbelly. An enigmatic encounter in Copenhagen takes an IT consultant down a rabbit hole of speculation that proves more seductive than sex. The collapse of a love triangle in London leads to a dangerous, hypnotic addiction. In the Nevada desert, a grieving man tries to merge with an unearthly machine.
After the Sun opens portals to our newest realities, haunting the margins of a globalised world that’s both saturated with yearning and brutally transactional. Infused with an irrepressible urgency, Eika’s fiction seems to have conjured these far-flung characters and their encounters in a single breath. Juxtaposing startling beauty with grotesquery, balancing the hyperrealistic with the fantastical, he has invented new modes of storytelling for an era when the old ones no longer suffice.
Peninsula Press for ‘Sterling Karat Gold’ by Isabel Waidner
Sterling is arrested one morning without having done anything wrong. Plunged into a terrifying and nonsensical world, Sterling – with the help of their three best friends – must defy bullfighters, football players and spaceships in order to exonerate themselves and to hold the powers that be to account.
Sterling Karat Gold is Kafka’s The Trial written for the era of gaslighting – a surreal inquiry into the real effects of state violence on gender-nonconforming, working-class and black bodies.
Following the Goldsmiths Prize–nominated We Are Made of Diamond Stuff, Isabel Waidner’s latest novel proposes community, inventiveness and the stubborn refusal to lie low as antidotes against marginalisation and towards better futures.
Turas Press for ‘In the Dark’ by Anamaria Crowe Serrano
Terual, north-east Spain, winter, 1937. The civil war is raging, pitting neighbour against neighbour, tearing families apart. Franco’s Nationalist rebels have surrounded the devastated, Republican-held city. This is the story of a house, of the people who take refuge there – and a dangerous secret within. María and her sister Julita mourn their lost loved ones and try to bury their differences. But only one person knows the secret of the house, hidden deep in the dark– a deserter from the conflict, a soldier who has dared to leave the fighting to come home – and the woman who dares to protect him.
Tilted Axis Press for ‘Happy Stories, Mostly’ by Norman Erikson Pasaribu (translated by Tiffany Tsao)
Playful, shape-shifting and emotionally charged, Happy Stories, Mostly is a collection of twelve stories that queer the norm. Inspired by Simone Weil’s concept of ‘decreation’, and often drawing on Batak and Christian cultural elements, these tales put queer characters in situations and plots conventionally filled by hetero characters.
The stories talk to each other, echo phrases and themes, and even shards of stories within other stories, passing between airports, stacks of men’s lifestyle magazines and memories of Toy Story 3, such that each one almost feels like a puzzle piece of a larger whole, but with crucial facts – the saddest ones, the happiest ones – omitted, forgotten, unbearable.
A blend of science fiction, absurdism and alternative-historical realism, Happy Stories, Mostly is a powerful puff of fresh air, aimed at destabilising the heteronormative world and exposing its underlying absences.
Links in the titles are to my views of the books, to date having only read two, interestingly the Scholastique Mukasonga title I read in 2015 when it was longlisted for the USA Best Translated Book Award and published by Archipelago Books in the USA.
The 2022 judges are Kate Briggs (author of ‘This Little Art’ Fitzcarraldo 2017), Wendy Erskine (author of ‘Sweet Home’ 2018 Stinging Fly & 2019 Picador), and Martin Koerner (general manager Waterstones Piccadilly). The short-list for the Republic of Consciousness Prize will be announced on the 26th of March 2022.