The 2014 Prize

Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing wins “the most prestigious award for first-time novelists”

Eimear McBrideA Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride is this evening (Thursday 3rd July) announced as the winner of the annual Desmond Elliott Prize, the “most prestigious award for first-time novelists”(Telegraph). Emerging triumphant from a shortlist of three, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was described by author and Chair of judges, Chris Cleave as “the kind of novel that is written once in a generation and takes the art to an entirely new place. Eimear McBride’s novel – which let’s not forget is a debut – stands shoulder-to-shoulder with The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita and The Road as a masterpiece that some love and some loathe, but which has a greatness that few will deny.”

Speaking at the ceremony at Fortnum & Mason, Cleave went on to say: “It is the most untamed, most expertly crafted, most daring, most challenging and most moving human story I’ve read in years. Its language pulsates and adapts, disintegrating and resolving at will. Above all it is a seditious act of storytelling that does what only the greatest works of fiction do: irresistibly it pulls you in to the story, leans close to your ear and whispers you something true about yourself.”

McBride was chosen as the winner of the £10,000 Prize from a shortlist that also featured The Letter Bearer (Granta) by Robert Allison and Ballistics (Bloomsbury) by D.W. Wilson. Cleave said: “All three authors on this year’s shortlist write with the confidence and flair that we might expect from veterans of the craft. Allison’s premise in The Letter Bearer is wholly original, his emotional range tight, and his prose consistently elegant. Wilson’s Ballistics is a masterclass, a great sweep of hard-bitten philosophy wryly and poignantly delivered.”

Fellow judge and Associate Editor of FT Life & Arts, Isabel Berwick said: “The Desmond Elliott Prize prides itself on seeking out and championing the best new voices in literary fiction, and all the judges felt that this shortlist represented that ideal. They would have all been dignified and deserving winners of the Prize, but we could only pick one. McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a game-changer, a disruptor, a grenade of a novel, and we all agreed this had to win.”

Shelved for nine years and consistently rejected by every major publisher for its challenging form, McBride’s novel, which tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour, was finally published by Norfolk-based independent Galley Beggar Press in 2013. It has since received mass critical acclaim – which led to a publishing partnership with Faber & Faber on mass market paperback and e-book editions – and gone on to win three other literary awards, including the prestigious Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Speaking about McBride’s struggle to get published, Cleave said: “Debut fiction is the bravest, most exciting and purest form of the art, but today’s forces in book retail are lethal to new talent. Publishers are much less able to take risks on unconventional first novels, so I believe that it is now up to established authors to seek out, champion and amplify the best new voices. Eimear McBride has had widespread recognition for her achievement, but she is the exception after a fight of almost a decade. We writers now have a responsibility to raise up the next generation of novelists – to be an antidote to the short-sighted venality that seeks to crush publishers and their flair for taking risks. Otherwise the McBrides of the world will go unheard and – crucially – unread. It is up to us now to make McBride’s triumph a rallying cry, and not the novel’s last stand.”

Now in its seventh year, the Prize is presented in the name of the acclaimed publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, whose passion for finding and nurturing new authors is perpetuated by the Prize. The award has an outstanding record in spotting up-and-coming novelists, and aims specifically to help advance their burgeoning careers. Previous winners, including Anjali Joseph, Nikita Lalwani and Edward Hogan, have gone on to further critical acclaim and continued success.