Worth £10,000 to the winner, the Guardian First Book Award, as the name suggests, is open to new writers of both fiction and non-fiction. Several popular authors have had their first taste of literary fame through being short-listed or scooping the big prize: Zadie Smith won in 2000 with White Teeth and Jonathan Safran Foer with Everything is Illuminated in 2002.
This year’s long-list was released in August and rather excitingly included a first time novelist who hails from New Zealand, Eleanor Catton. Her novel The Rehearsal has been garnering glorious reviews, The Guardian reviewer Justine Jordan has described it as “smart, playful and self-possessed, it has the glitter and mystery of the true literary original.” The Rehearsal centres around a scandal, the illicit relationship between a young music teacher and an underage schoolgirl. Their tale is re-written and dramatised by a local theatre group for an end of year performance and the original and re-worked tales run both side-by-side and interwoven for much of the novel. Reviewers have been particularly taken by Eleanor’s ear for both the everyday and heightened theatrical dialogue used in the novel and her deft handling of the interchange between the play and the original scandal. The four other short-listed titles were:
A swamp full of dollars: pipelines and paramilitaries at Nigeria’s oil frontier by Michael Peel.
A former West Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, Peel examines the petroleum industry in the Niger delta and its impact on the people of Nigeria. The only shortlisted non-fiction title this year.
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey.
Already shortlisted for the Orange prize, longlisted for the Man Booker and winner of the Betty Trask Prize, Harvey’s novel centers around Jake Jameson a retired architect succumbing to Alzheimer’s.
The Selected Works of TS Spivet: A novel by Reif Larsen.
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is twelve years old and a compulsive cartographer. This novel includes charts, diagrams and ephemera to trace TS’s tale as he journeys from rural Montana to Washington.
An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah. This short story collection looks with both humour and sadness at the challenges of living in modern Zimbabwe.