A novel written in a single sentence has won the 2016 Goldsmiths prize, becoming the third Irish winner in the four-year history of an award set up to reward fiction that â€œbreaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel formâ€.
Mike McCormackâ€™s Solar Bones is set on All Souls Day in November 2008 and takes place inside the mind of Marcus Conway, a middle-aged engineer from County Mayo in the west of Ireland, who is brought back from the dead to contemplate â€œa county with a unique history of people starving and mortifying themselves for higher causes and principles [â€¦] blistered with shrines and grottoes and prayer-houses and hermitages [â€¦] a bordered realm of penance and atonementâ€.
The novel emerged as winner at a ceremony in London on Wednesday from a six-strong shortlist, which included Deborah Levyâ€™s Booker shortlisted Hot Milk and The Lesser Bohemians by the first winner of the Goldsmiths, Eimear McBride.
Blake Morrison, who chaired the judges, said: â€œPolitics, family, art, marriage, health, civic duty and the environment are just a few of the themes it touches on, in a prose thatâ€™s lyrical yet firmly rooted. Its subject may be an ordinary working life, but it is itself an extraordinary work.â€
Solar Bones is published by the small Irish independent Tramp Press, and is the third novel by a writer who has also produced two collections of short stories. Previously published by Jonathan Cape, McCormack has been â€œshamefully neglectedâ€, according to Irish Times columnist John Waters, who named his 2005 Notes from a Coma as the novel of the noughties. Solar Bones was ineligible for the 2016 Man Booker prize as it was published in Ireland, not the UK.
As well as being the third Irish winner of the Â£10,000 prize â€“ after McBride and Kevin Barry â€“ 51-year-old McCormack was one of three shortlistees this year with roots in Ireland, along with McBride and Anakana Schofield, who was shortlisted for Martin John.
Morrison told the Guardian books podcast: â€œThere is, without getting too sentimental about it, the great tradition of Irish literature â€“ thereâ€™s Joyce and Beckett â€“ and thereâ€™s almost an expectation that you will be a modernist or a postmodernist. Also, there are smaller presses in Ireland and support of literature is more generous than in England, so thereâ€™s more possibility for risk and daring.â€
Reviewing Solar Bones for the Guardian, Ian Sansom wrote that it â€œstutters into life, like a desperate incantation or a prose poem, minus full-stops but chock-full of portentâ€. It was, he said, â€œa hymn to modern small-town life, with its â€œrites, rhythms and rituals / upholding the world like solar bonesâ€.