The award lists keep rolling in! Today The Desmond Elliott Prize announced the ten titles that made their 2013 longlist cut. In case you’re unfamiliar with the award, here’s a brief description from their official website:
The Desmond Elliott Prize is an annual award for a first novel written in English and published in the UK. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the prize is named after the literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott.
When choosing the winner, a panel of three judges will look for a novel which has a compelling narrative, arresting character, and which is both vividly written and confidently realised.
Below, we’ve posted descriptions and cover art for all ten of the longlisted titles. We haven’t actually read any of this year’s nominees yet, but we’re excited to dig in as they all sound extremely promising. The shortlist for the prize will be announced on May 23rd and the winner will be announced on June 27th.
The Marlowe Papers
By Ros Barber
On May 30th, 1593, a celebrated young playwright was killed in a tavern brawl in London. That, at least, was the official version. Now let Christopher Marlowe tell you the truth: that his ‘death’ was an elaborate ruse to avoid his being hanged for heresy; that he was spirited across the channel to live on in lonely exile, longing for his true love and pining for the damp streets of London; that he continued to write plays and poetry, hiding behind the name of a colourless man from Stratford – one William Shakespeare. With the grip of a thriller and the emotional force of a sonnet, this extraordinary novel in verse gives voice to a man who was brilliant, passionate, mercurial and not altogether trustworthy. The son of a cobbler who rose so far in Elizabethan society that he counted nobles among his friends and patrons, a spy in the Queen’s service, a fickle lover and a declared religious sceptic, he was always courting trouble. When it caught up with him, he was lucky to have connections powerful enough to help him escape. Memoir, love letter, settling of accounts and a cry for recognition as the creator of some of the most sublime works in the English language, this is Christopher Marlowe’s testament – and a tour de force by an award-winning poet: provocative, persuasive and enthralling. (From the hardcover edition)
The Universe Versus Alex Woods
By Gavin Extence
A tale of an unexpected friendship, an unlikely hero and an improbable journey, Alex’s story treads the fine line between light and dark, laughter and tears. And it might just strike you as one of the funniest, most heartbreaking novels you’ve ever read.Alex Woods knows that he hasn’t had the most conventional start in life. He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won’t endear him to the local bullies. He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he’s got the scars to prove it. What he doesn’t know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he’ll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices. So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing . . . (From the hardcover edition)
By Jenni Fagan
Pa’nop´ti’con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’]
Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders.She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform.
Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met.
The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job for an elephant sanctuary in India but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her birth before she goes.
Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: she is part of an experiment, she always was, it’s a given, a liberty – a fact. And the experiment is closing in.
In language dazzling, energetic and pure, The Panopticon introduces us to a heartbreaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction. (from the hardcover edition)
The Palace of Curiosities
By Rosie Garland
A luminous and bewitching debut novel that is perfect for fans of Angela Carter. Set in Victorian London, it follows the fortunes of Eve, the Lion-Faced Girl and Abel, the Flayed Man. A magical realism delight. Before Eve is born, her mother goes to the circus. She buys a penny twist of coloured sugar and settles down to watch the heart-stopping main attraction: a lion, billed as a monster from the savage heart of Africa, forged in the heat of a merciless sun. Mama swears she hears the lion sigh, just before it leaps…and when Eve is born, the story goes, she didn’t cry – she meowed and licked her paws. When Abel is pulled from the stinking Thames, the mudlarks are sure he is long dead. As they search his pockets to divvy up the treasure, his eyes crack open and he coughs up a stream of black water. But how has he survived a week in that thick stew of human waste? Cast out by Victorian society, Eve and Abel find succour from an unlikely source. They will become The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, star performers in Professor Josiah Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities. And there begins a journey that will entwine their fates forever. (from the hardcover edition)
By Beatrice Hitchman
Mesdames et Messieurs, presenting La Petite Mort, or, A Little Death … A silent film, destroyed in a fire in 1913 at the Path? studio, before it was seen even by its director. A lowly seamstress, who makes the costumes she should be wearing, but believes her talent – and the secret she keeps too – will soon get her a dressing room of her own. A beautiful house in Paris, with a curving staircase, a lake, and locked rooms. A famous – and dashing – creator of spectacular cinematic illusions, husband to a beautiful, volatile actress, the most adored icon of the Parisian studios. All fit together, like scenes in a movie. And as you will see, this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose. (from the hardcover edition)
By Kevin Maher
I slept right through to the next day. Missed the funeral and everything. Mam said it was just as well. Would’ve been too upsetting. I think of him now, though. Right at this moment. Here in this kitchen. And I wonder if it could’ve been different.
Dublin, 1984: Ireland is a divided country, the Parish Priest remains a figure of immense authority and Jim Finnegan is thirteen years old, the youngest in a family of five sisters. Life in Jim’s world consists of dealing with the helter-skelter intensity of his rumbustious family, taking breakneck bike rides with his best friend, and quietly coveting the local girls from afar. But after a drunken yet delicate rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ at the Donohues’ raucous annual party, Jim captures both the attention of the beautiful Saidhbh Donohue and the unwanted desires of the devious and dangerous Father Luke O’Culigeen.
Bounced between his growing love for Saidhbh and his need to avoid the dreaded O’Culigeen, Jim’s life starts to unravel. He and Saidhbh take a ferry for a clandestine trip to London that has dark and difficult repercussions, forcing Jim to look for the solution to all his problems in some very unusual places.
The Fields is an unforgettable story of an extraordinary character: Jim’s voice leaps off the page and straight into the reader’s heart, as he grapples with his unfairly interrupted adolescence. Lyrical, funny, profoundly original and endlessly inventive, it is a brilliant debut from a remarkable new voice. (from the hardcover edition)
Signs of Life
By Anna Raverat
This is an addictive psychological drama about a disastrous love affair. At the age of 23, Rachel had an illicit relationship with a guy in the office, one that quickly spiralled out of control. Now in her early thirties and living alone in a flat in Camden, Rachel is struggling to make sense of what she set in motion. She writes from diaries, from photographs and from memory to explore questions of love, obsession and the choice she made, and in doing so she recounts the chain of events that led to her relationship’s shocking end. The novel opens with the assertion ‘This is not a confession,” but Rachel”s lover is dead, her life is in pieces, and as her story unfolds we’re never quite sure where the real truth lies. (from the hardcover edition)
By Sarah Rigard
Desiree White was walking through the fields of winter wheat and oilseed rape when she saw it.
She picked the newspaper bundle out of the ditch and took it to the phone box.
Across the baby’s tiny body she could see a faint tattoo of Lady Di’s face where some of the newsprint had rubbed off. It was like finding a featherless bird fallen out of its nest.
No-one had ever bothered much about Desiree but now everyone is interested in her, in what she saw, in who the parents might be and why they’d dump a baby. Even Bernie Capon, her older brother’s best friend, wants to know what she thinks.
As years go by and everyone else moves on with their lives, Desiree feels stuck, unable to forget what she saw that day. Somehow she owes it to the baby to solve the mystery. But when she starts to make connections which bring the truth dangerously close to home, it seems that some secrets are best left alone. (from the hardcover edition)
By Kevin Smith
Life is sweet for would-be bohemian Artie Conville. Safe at the helm of his subsidised magazine—with a cosy office paid for by the tax-payer—he’s content to drift along quoting poetry, lingering over long lunches and flirting with the lovely Rosie McCann. The main thing is to keep the real world—of nine-to-five jobs, mortgages and political violence—at bay. So when his cushy number is threatened, Artie hatches a cunning plan to keep the funds coming in. But events quickly spiral out of control and before long he is up to his ears in a bizarre fraud. Can he avert disaster? Will he get the girl? With a cast of characters that includes a gun-toting playwright, a jealous police chief, a drunken actor and a giant white rabbit, this is a rich and riotous tale about coming-of-age in 1980s Belfast; a novel that is by turns darkly ironic and laugh-out-loud funny. (from the hardcover edition)
The Painted Bridge
By Wendy Wallace
Just outside London behind a tall stone wall stands Lake House, a private asylum for genteel women of a delicate nature. In the winter of 1859, recently-married Anna Palmer becomes its newest arrival, tricked by her husband into leaving her home, incarcerated against her will and declared hysterical and unhinged. With no doubts as to her sanity, Anna is convinced that she will be released as soon as she can tell her story.
But Anna quickly learns that liberty will not come easily. And the longer she remains at Lake House, the more she realises that — like the ethereal bridge over the asylum’s lake — nothing is as it appears. Locked alone in her room, she begins to experience strange visions and memories that may lead her to the truth about her past, herself, and to freedom – or lead her so far into the recesses of her mind that she may never escape…
Set in Victorian England, as superstitions collide with a new psychological understanding, this elegant, emotionally suspenseful debut novel is a tale of self-discovery, secrets, and search for the truth in a world where the line between madness and sanity seems perilously fine. (from the hardcover edition)
Have you read any of the ten novels on The Desmond Elliott Prize 2013 longlist? Which was your favorite? Comment below and let us know what we should read, and/or what we should avoid.