From one book prize to another: The Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist

One of the younger book prizes, the Rathbones Folio Prize began life as the Folio Prize,  sponsored by the Folio Society in 2014.  The prize money has varied, but is currently £20,000 sponsored by the investment bank, and this year’s winner will be announced on May 8th.

The prize has an interesting and unashamedly literary remit:

The Rathbones Folio Prize is open to all works of literature written in English and published in the UK. All genres and all forms of literature are eligible, except work written primarily for children. The format of first publication may be print or digital.

How the selection of books is arrived at is also a bit different.  This year, the Folio  ‘Academy’ of authors nominated books and the top sixty books have been  judged by a panel of 3-5 academy members, who will shortlist up to 8 books. This year’s judges are Kate Summerscale, Nikesh Shukla and Jim Crace,

I’ve either read, or had a chance to look at almost all of this year’s shortlisted books now and they are a fascinating and diverse bunch. Let me introduce them to you…

The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard

This memoir was one of my books of the year in 2017. (Read my full review here.)  Later on this week – I will be hosting a guest Q&A with Richard – each of the shortlisted authors have done one ahead of the prize ceremony to help you to get to know the authors. (I asked the prize publicists if I could have Richard’s guest post, as his book had moved me so, and he’s a local author.) Here’s a little about it…

The Day That Went Missing recounts a tragedy that happened to Beard’s family in 1978, how they dealt with it over the years, and now forty years later, how he has finally been able to being the process of coming to terms with it.  In 1978 Beard was 11 years old and on a family holiday in north Cornwall. He and his 9-year-old brother Nicky had snuck to a cove around the corner from the main beach for one more swim. Out of sight of their encampment, both quickly got out of their depth and in trouble. Richard had to make the decision to leave Nicky to save himself, Nicky was caught by the undertow and drowned. Then his family essentially clammed up.  It wasn’t until forty years later, after his father died, that Richard felt he could talk to his mother about Nicky and that opened up the well-spring of grief, but also a desire in Richard to bring Nicky’s memory back into the family. The result is this remarkable book, a clever true detective story, but told with powerful emotion and full of Beard’s own personal pain. The feeling really comes through that this book doesn’t represent closure as much as being a tool for the work in progress that is Beard himself. Beautifully constructed, honestly written, I can’t recommend this powerful addition to the canon of grief memoirs enough.

Once Upon A Time In The East: A Story of Growing Up by Xiaolu Guo

Born in 1973, Guo was handed over to a childless peasant couple who lived in the mountains. Two years later, she was so poorly malnourished that they gave her back to her illiterate grandparents who lived in a stone shack in a fishing village. She didn’t meet her actual parents properly until she was seven, when she discovered she had a nine-year-old brother. Her early years were marked by hardship and malnutrition, then getting an education. She had a difficult relationship with her mother who had been a jr red guard during the Cultural Revolution, and hated her brother, gravitating towards her artist father.

I’m nearly halfway through the book which I am enjoying very much. She has yet to escape to Beijing where she studied film before moving to Britain. Her prose is unshowy but descriptive, and she is not afraid to show her feelings. She comes over as a contrary rebel, not caring much about her family, which isn’t surprising given that they gave her away and favoured her brother. However I am finding her early life in China fascinating, and am amazed at how far she has come from being an illiterate seven-year-old to writing well-received books in a totally different language.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I’ve yet to read Exit West, but I like the premise. A young couple meet and fall in love in a city that is increasingly troubled and violent with war not far away. So far, so ordinary, but then Hamid adds some spec fiction concepts – black doors – portals, pop up around the city, offering translocation to places all over the world. This isn’t a new concept thought – Stephen King used black doors in his Dark Tower series, and of course doors are essential in Pixar’s Monsters Inc.  The question here isn’t whether you go through the door to save the world, or because it’s your job – but whether you choose to go through at all…

A glance at the text shows a sort of fable style to the storytelling within. I’m looking forward to read this having enjoyed The Reluctant Fundamentalist some years ago.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

white tears hari kunzruOne thing you can say about Kunzru’s previous novels – they will always have interesting themes that connect with the zeitgeist of the day, from computer viruses in Transmissions to cults in the Californian desert in Gods Without Men (reviewed here). Increasingly, they include ghostly echoes from the past coming back to haunt the protagonists, like former political activist Mike in My Revolutions.  White Tears, which I reviewed for Shiny here, has both defining tropes.

The initial thrust of White Tears concerns the music industry, particularly technological advances that have enabled new ways of working for musicians and producers, (David Byrne’s How Music Works (see here) explains this changing world well if you’re interested). Contrasting against this modern theme is something more ancient: the search for authenticity in music, its origins and how it can be preserved for posterity.

White Tears is a novel that can be read on many levels, the shallowest being a psychological drama, with a Faustian premise that reminds one of the story that blues legend Robert Johnson met the devil at a crossroad and sold his soul for success. However, as you delve deeper you find that Kunzru is questioning many issues – not least, to quote from the book’s blurb, “the theft of black music and black lives.” This novel certainly made me think about cultural appropriation in music and my own experience of listening to the blues in its many forms.

Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry

A huge earthquake struck Japan on 11 March, 2011, sending a massic tsunami towards the north-eastern coastline, killing more than 18,500 people – Japan’s biggest tragedy since Nagasaki. Lloyd Parry was a foreign correspondent living in Tokyo. In the prologue to he describes how they felt the earthquake there and afterwards he spent six years in the disaster zone reporting. I’ve only had time to read the prologue so far, but I know this is going to be a masterly work of investigative journalism, uncovering the human stories behind those who died, and those they left behind.

We posted a review of this book last month at Shiny – so I’ll direct you to Terence’s thoughts about this moving book here.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

I must admit I’ve struggled with McGregor before, so I put off reading it with its long paragraphs without speech formatting and the like. However, I did enjoy it on the radio (R4 Book at Bedtime) a while ago, so I will read it. The story follows the effects caused by a young girl’s disappearance. It is told over thirteen years, one for each of her life. Everyone I know who has read this book loved it. Here are a selection of links to other reviews:

  • David Hebblethwaite for Shiny New Books – here.
  • Susan at A Life in Books – here.
  • Eleanor at Elle Thinks – here.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney’s debut novel continues to make waves wherever it goes and she won the PFD Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award in December.  It is a a contemporary novel about modern relationships between four younger people in Dublin. Best friends and former partners Frances and Bobbi are twenty-one and meet thirty-something Melissa who is married to Nick at a poetry night. Cue some complicated relationship dynamics when Frances and Nick have an affair.

I enjoyed this novel (reviewed here), but the character of Melissa jarred for me, there was a contrivance about her motives that I questioned. However, what isn’t in doubt is that Rooney is a superb writer. Eschewing speech punctuation, which isn’t needed the way her words flow, her text leaps off the page and grabs you, especially in the conversational batting back and forth. She also knows when to leave things unsaid, to allow us to read between the lines, but more so than that, when to tantalize us by not always providing resolution. Definitely an author to watch.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

This is the one book on the shortlist that I haven’t a copy of.  Again, like Reservoir 13, I haven’t seen any reviews that didn’t adore this novel, which follows on from her previous book My Name is Lucy Barton, although I gather it stands alone well.

I would urge you to go and read Harriet’s eloquent review of it for Shiny New Books – here.


So there we have the shortlist for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2018.  Which book would be your winner?  My choice will be The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard, but this is such an interesting list, that nearly any of them could win…

Do come back in a couple of days to read the Q&A with Richard Beard.

10 thoughts on “From one book prize to another: The Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Thanks for the McGregor link, Annabel. Spoilt for choice with this list: I enjoyed the Rooney and although I haven’t yet read the Strout I’d have to find a hat to eat if it’s not excellent.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I have no idea which book might win from this shortlist, which is, I think a rather good one.

  2. Laura says:

    I’m a person who read Reservoir 13 and didn’t like it at all (despite being a long-time McGregor fan)! The only other book on the list I’ve read is Conversations with Friends – my feelings were very similar to yours.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I couldn’t get on with McGregor’s debut, and have avoided him ever since, but so many good things have been said about Res 13, I will give it a proper go. No idea which way it’ll take me. Glad to find I’m in good company on the Rooney which I didn’t adore as much as everyone else.

      • Laura says:

        I’d be really surprised if you liked Reservoir 13 if you didn’t like If Nobody Speaks, but I suppose it must be possible…

        • AnnaBookBel says:

          I am older and (I hope) wiser and read a bit differently now – so it might work!

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