The Dylan Thomas Prize 2021 & Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis

This Thursday sees the prize ceremony for one of the most interesting prizes for young writers. Run by Swansea University, The International Dylan Thomas Prize is awarded to the ‘best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under’ – the age of Dylan Thomas at his death.

After difficult pandemic times, this year’s prize fund has been reduced to £20,000 from thirty thousand, but is still an amount to be reckoned with. Here is this year’s shortlist:

  • Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat
  • Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi 
  • Pew by Catherine Lacey
  • Luster by Raven Leilani
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I was disappointed that Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times (my review here) didn’t make it through from the longlist, as there is generally a dearth of smart and witty novels on prize shortlists. However I was excited at the prospect of reading Kingdomtide, reviewed below, which partially fills that gap. Pew and My Dark Vanessa are also on my shelves.

Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis

This tragicomic debut novel completely beguiled me. It is smart and funny, sad and touching, frequently gross and bizarre, but always human. Kingdomtide is about two women, whose stories are told in alternating chapters.

First we meet seventy-two-years old Cloris Waldrip from the Texas panhandle, holidaying with her husband in Montana. Cloris is a formal woman, only ever referring to her hubby as Mr Waldrip. She is devout too, later explaining the book’s title to us – ‘Kingdomtide’ being a rather forgotten liturgical period from the end of August until Advent – their holiday coincides with its beginning. And what a beginning to the novel – in the first paragraph we learn that Cloris was a passenger in a small plane which crashes into the forested Bitteroot Mountains in the mid 1980s. She survives, but Mr Waldrip doesn’t, nor Terry the pilot, luckily she’d worn her good walking shoes that day. From hereon in Cloris’s tale will be one of survival and personal discovery. As she says:

It does amaze that a woman can reach the tail end of her life and find that she hardly knows herself at all.

Next we meet Debra Lewis, a Bitterroots Park Ranger. Lewis is embittered, recently single again, just getting through her days with an always topped-up thermos flask – full of merlot to drown her sorrows. When the call comes through that a plane is missing, presumed crashed in the mountains and they work out that the faint radio communication is saying ‘Cloris’, she has a reason to get up and go and the helicopter search begins. No Cloris found though, and no more availability for the copter. They send a retired Park Ranger, Charles Bloor up to help with ground searches. Lewis is sure that Cloris is alive somewhere, and they must find her before the weather turns. Bloor, who brings his seventeen-year-old daughter up with him, is an odd cove and he and Lewis make a distinctly odd couple – he’s strangely tolerant of her alcoholic haze, the ever-full thermos, the frequent vomiting, her don’t give a damn attitude.

The mountains and forest are terrain full of danger, not just critters from mozzies to mountain lions, there are rocks and sudden drops, fast currents, the changeable weather – and other humans too, as Cloris discovers, she’s rarely completely alone. It was a joy to see Cloris discover her hidden depths, to become a different woman through initial tragedy and the ongoing need to survive. As for Debra, she needs to find a way into recovery and out of her increasingly gross habits as her merlot (never another variety!) intake grows. Will Bloor and his daughter and the search for Cloris be the answer?

Kingdomtide is such a quirky novel, a surprising page-turner too. I was totally invested in Cloris and Debra’s predicaments (particularly Cloris’s though). Highly recommended.

Source: Review copy – thank you. Rye Curtis, Kingdomtide, 4th Estate paperback, 292 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

11 thoughts on “The Dylan Thomas Prize 2021 & Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis

  1. A Life in Books says:

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much, Annabel. I’ve come across a few negative comments about it but bought a copy anyway. It’s a great premise.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Cloris’s story is by far the more affecting. Debra is literally drowning her sorrows in wine and her story feels rather slapstick in comparison and is probably the source of the negative comments as she’s beyond caring, but I enjoyed the whole very much.

  2. Laura says:

    Kingdomtide sounds great and this shortlist looks very strong overall – I thought My Dark Vanessa was hugely powerful.

  3. Cathy746books says:

    The only one I’ve read here is My Dark Vanessa and it was fine but Putney had already done the same thing better. Kingdomtide does sound good though.

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