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The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again
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The Goldsmiths Prize > 2020 Goldsmiths Shortlist - The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

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Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments Wonderful to see this here. It really is a very different book and totally deserves its place.

I suspect his remarks on genre - and even on Lee Child - didn't help the Booker cause but the Goldsmiths is perfect

And Graham - if you're back in Norfolk next week, don't forget to borrow a copy of The Water Babies


message 4: by Sam (new)

Sam | 1713 comments Oddly, this is the one that interests me most and also one the the few available to me as an ebook an audio. (Lover's Discourse the other.) I probably won't attempt it till someone here has done so, but I am always interested when a literary genre writer gets acknowledged by literary awards.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments The author wouldn’t exactly describe himself as a genre writer.

My urge is less to transgress genre boundaries than insult them ... writing specifically for a genre isn't just reductive, it's an attempt to hide, a form of cowardice.

If anything he more argues there is a genre of the sort of book that wins the Booker:

This novelist’s characters are like himself. They speak in clever & rounded sentences. They have caught life in a linguistic net, & found some odd fish there, & now they are going to tell you about it: not really at length, but in the end at more length than you suspected in the beginning.

It isn’t possible at this distance–the distance between writer & reader–to tell how much of the novel is “biographical”. If some of it is, there’s nothing we can do about it; if none of it is, well that’s a joke some decades old by now, & perhaps a little less joyful than it seemed in 1980. What is possible to say is that the acknowledgements page, written in the same tone as the book itself, is a very self-indulgent piece of work.



Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments You have to love a book where the locals pass around samizdat copies of The Water Babies (my mother’s favourite book as a child)


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments For those who have read his collection You Should Come With Me Now: Stories of Ghosts, there is a very strong link with the piece Babies from Sand.

See here on Google books


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments To give a flavour, the main character. Shaw, finds himself contemplating paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw including this one:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fi...

Blurry, estuarine-seeming streets in the centre of nineteenth-century Leeds; a version of Hampstead set on vague bluffs above shallow water; ambiguous figures observed on a vast, sloping, otherwise deserted quay. Sea change, taking place in damp air, foul weather, at a distance, at night. Everything liquidised. Where it wasn’t the moon shining on water, everything looked like the moon shining on water: it was hard to see what the artist had been thinking. Bathed in the transformational odours of care-facility cooking and floor polish, the traffic rolling in on the A316 like surf or tinnitus behind him, Shaw sat captivated until visiting hours were over and he was asked to leave. If all change is sea change, he thought on the train back to Mortlake, then he could describe his own crisis – whatever it had been – as distributed rather than catastrophic. Sea change precludes the single cause, is neither convulsive nor properly conclusive: perhaps, like anyone five fathoms down into their life, he had simply experienced a series of adjustments, of overgrowths and dissolvings – processes so slow they might still be going on, so that the things happening to him now were not so much an aftermath as the expanding edge of the disaster itself, lapping at recently unrecognisable coasts.


message 9: by Sam (new)

Sam | 1713 comments Paul wrote: "The author wouldn’t exactly describe himself as a genre writer.

My urge is less to transgress genre boundaries than insult them ... writing specifically for a genre isn't just reductive, it's an ..."


I agree with you and the author, but I meant no disparagement in my comments. The Virconium material is what I think would come to mind with most people familiar with the name, and is well recognized and respected by critics in speculative fiction. I used to read a literary blog of his since it was linked to a series of literary blogs I would visit. I was happy to see it still going strong, though my time constraints have reduced my visits. On the blog, one can see a wide variety of interesting material and get some further examplew of his style.

https://ambientehotel.wordpress.com


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments I had very mixed feelings on this one - my review is about as close to reaching any kind of coherent conclusion as the book. Both a fractal novel (which I liked) and one where the only PoC is green (which I didn't).

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I can definitely see where you are coming from on the slightly iffy aspects of this book, particularly in the context of this year's Goldsmiths. Although I think it is still very very different from most writing and worth its place for that reason (and unlike Kingsnorth I think Harrison likely means well).


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments As Neil suggested I should trademark this description - I would describe this book as "Essex Serpent (by Sarah Perry), River (by Esther Kinsky), Fen (by Daisy Johnson) thrown in a food blender with a dash of Dr Who".


message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments That sounds pretty good to me - indeed it is pretty good. Offshore as well (by Penelope Fitzgerald) - "It's right for us to live where we do, between land and water."


message 15: by Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer (last edited Oct 23, 2020 01:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments I think it could have been a lot shorter (like a lot shorter). Pretty well every chapter if not every has the whole novel in microcosm - it’s a kind of fractal effect which is very clever if deliberate (and probably is) but meant I found it a bit of a chore to read at novel length.


message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments For me one of those rare books I almost wish were longer.


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WndyJW | 5709 comments Paul there's some typos in your last post...


message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I think not. Rare and “almost wish”. I am not saying I did wish it was longer!


message 19: by WndyJW (last edited Oct 24, 2020 03:20PM) (new) - added it

WndyJW | 5709 comments Even with those qualifiers this is high praise for a book coming from you.


message 20: by Neil (last edited Oct 27, 2020 11:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 1990 comments Just finished this and I liked it. Just reading through the comments already made makes me realise how inadequate my brief review is in terms of covering what the book covers. It does go to a lot of places and it's not one to read if you like loose ends tidied up (I like a book with loose ends).

I see where GY's reservations come from. But, like Paul, I think the writing here is very different which means it deserves its place on this list. I, too, would have been happy for it to be longer: I wasn't bothered by any sense of repetition, and, in fact, that probably added to my enjoyment.


message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I think your review summarises it perfectly Neil.


message 22: by Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer (last edited Oct 27, 2020 11:36AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments I don't think we disagree that much at all Neil - large sections of or review are I think very similar - for example when I say

"There is a lot to admire in the book – particularly its simultaneous air of a book where the author knows precisely what is going on and the reader has really very little idea at all but always feels on the verge of making sense of things. Which of course leads the reader very much in the situation of the two main protagonists.

It is also a book which is on the surface too repetitive but where in depth the repetition and replication is integral to the book. It felt very much like the text was so dense that even at a sentence level there was complexity which could be unwound, but that the complexity was of a self-similar nature: the book where pretty well any subset of the book contained and replicated the whole novel – perhaps I have invented a new way of describing this type of novel: a fractal novel. And that I think is highly appropriate for a book whose main location and theme is the liminal – the shifting and complex boundary of water and land. And also how appropriate that the depth of reading the book is very different to its superficial impressions."


It was just the additional reservations that I have which marked me down.


message 23: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 1990 comments Just read your review, GY. I agree - I think you are right about us being basically in agreement. I think you saw more in the book than I did (that’s happened before!). I really liked the writing here.


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I liked the author's description this evening at the reading of the plot - the ostensible one and the larger one - a much larger event is taking place, fragmentary and open to interpretation, in the corner of the reader's eye.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 697 comments This is the only one I've read so far and did it in audio. I had to re-wind occasionally, thinking I'd missed something - I hadn't. I sort of liked it, although as GY says, there's a lot going on under the surface, not only of the water but also of the page. I think Neil's review captures the spirit quite well.


message 26: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 1990 comments I think he pinched the “corner of the reader’s eye” comment from my review.


message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments Well I did wonder that actually!


message 28: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 1990 comments Well, this time last year Vesna Main was quoting my review to the New Statesman, so...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments Although not quite so positively ...


message 30: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments A detailed review of the novel in the LARB placing it in the context of the author’s overall works and suggesting it marks a “late style” (per Said of course, although novelistically that concept has been best explored in my experience in the works of Kenzaburo Oe)

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/d...


message 31: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments A very good write up in the New Statesman (registration required) on Why M John Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again won the Goldsmiths Prize

At first glance, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, winner of this year’s Goldsmiths Prize for innovation in fiction, doesn’t look as though it is doing anything out of the ordinary. It is not, like last year’s winner (Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport), the extension of a single sentence over a thousand pages; or, like Anakana Schofield’s Bina, written as a series of warnings on the back of envelopes. Nor does it, like DBC Pierre’s Meanwhile in Dopamine City (shortlisted for this year’s prize alongside Bina), split the page into dual narrative threads; and there are no Oulipian constraints for the author to contend with, such as missing out the letter “o”, as in Alice Lyons’s Oona.

But M John Harrison’s masterpiece, composed of regular chapters in which regular sentences form regular paragraphs, is precisely about not noticing when things are out of the ordinary. Framed as a conventional narrative, it contains nothing conventional whatsoever. The novel’s inventiveness is embedded in its very DNA, and the resurfacing of a primeval genetic coding also happens to be its subject.



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WndyJW | 5709 comments They didn’t know Paul Griffiths’s had an Ouilpian constraint?


message 33: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments Yes that was an odd omission.


message 34: by Paul Griffiths (new)

Paul Griffiths (paulgriffiths) | 70 comments It has more than one.... What about the chapter telling the story of Job in words of one syllable? But honestly, though the ten grand would have been nice, the prize doesn't matter at all as much as getting on the shortlist. That gave the book a big push in reaching more readers.


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WndyJW | 5709 comments Winning is good, but books sales aren’t bad either, and people who liked Mr Beethoven will look for previous your books.

I can’t imagine how much time and focus it takes to write an Oulipian paragraph, much less an entire novel and write it so that the story is more enjoyable than clever.


message 36: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments For small press fans, Comma Press issued a new collection of M John Harrison stories this summer spanning 50 years of his career:
https://commapress.co.uk/books/settli...

His earlier collection is also available from them:
https://commapress.co.uk/books/you-sh...


message 37: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments Author news…

Serpent's Tail has bagged a post-apocalyptic novel and a memoir from 2020 Goldsmiths Prize winner M John Harrison, who is leaving his long-term publisher Gollancz after 40 years.

Commissioning editor Luke Brown bought UK and Commonwealth rights for two new books from Will Francis at Janklow & Nesbit.

Serpent’s Tail will publish Fall Lines, a memoir that sets out to subvert the genre in 2023, and Anabasis, a post-apocalyptic novel the author describes as an "anti-The Road", and which is his follow-up to The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again (Gollancz).


message 38: by WndyJW (new) - added it

WndyJW | 5709 comments Subverted post apocalyptic, I’m very curious what that will be. I’m not a fan of apocalypse, post-apocalypse, or dystopia.


message 39: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I think Sunken Land could be described as in that category.


message 40: by Alwynne (new)

Alwynne | 363 comments I've been wondering about reading 'The Sunken Land...' but one of the reviews on here put me off, think it was GY's? But now there's a follow-up I'll wait for that. Is it supposed to be an actual sequel or more something set in the same imaginary world?


message 41: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I only know what I quoted. I suspect set in the same sort of world. I lot of his novels and stories have been set previously “in and around the fictional city of the Viriconium … However, variations of the city appear throughout … in an attempt by Harrison to subvert the concept of thoroughly-mapped secondary worlds featured in certain works of fantasy” (per Wikipedia) so I suspect same approach here.

The Sunken Land won the Goldsmiths and deservedly so I think. He is a fascinating writer.


message 42: by Alwynne (new)

Alwynne | 363 comments Thanks Paul, think I'll chance it in that case, I was definitely intrigued by the extract available.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments Definitely don’t let me review put you off - there is plenty to like in the book


message 44: by Alwynne (new)

Alwynne | 363 comments Good to know, although it was a very persuasive review, but I also seem to overlap a lot with Paul where contemporary fiction's concerned, so looks as if I should at least try it and see.


message 45: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments It’s an odd book. Think that is why I liked it. Can’t imagine many other authors writing it and while I found his “definitely not science fiction” usual work fascinating it was too science fictiony for me.

It also suffers from the same issue for which I criticised and GY defended Zorrie - GY review iirc correctly read something like “the only non white characters are green”.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6255 comments “The only people of colour were green. “

So of course it won the Goldsmiths.


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WndyJW | 5709 comments I started Sunken Land, but it didn’t hook me. I don’t know if it was a timing thing or if it’s just not my kind of book.

I read the review in message 31 and think I didn’t give the book enough time, it sounds like a book that reveals more layers as it progresses.


message 48: by Robert (new)

Robert | 2142 comments WndyJW wrote: "I started Sunken Land, but it didn’t hook me. I don’t know if it was a timing thing or if it’s just not my kind of book.

I read the review in message 31 and think I didn’t give the book enough tim..."


I didn't get on with either - which makes it the only Goldsmiths winner I DNF'd

It's definitely a matter of timing but also I thought it was too conventional for that type of prize and I got bored - like I said it wasn't the right time.


message 49: by Hugh (last edited Dec 22, 2021 02:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3391 comments Mod
It had already won the prize by the time I read it, and perhaps my expectations were unrealistic, but I didn't really connect with it either, though there were elements I liked, particularly the setting of the parts loosely based on the Severn valley area.


message 50: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9840 comments I think my like for this might be coloured by having it down early on pre-reading as a Goldsmith contender and hence wanting to feel vindicated!


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