A collaborative writing duo have won the £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize for the first time in the prize’s history, for a book that spanned 10 years.
Luke Williams’ Natasha Soobramanien and Diego Garcia, described by Judge Ali Smith as an “extraordinary achievement”, were named winners of the award on Thursday night. It was the first in-person ceremony in three years for the award, which “celebrates fiction at its newest.”
The book is about two writer friends, Damaris and Oliver, who move to Edinburgh from London, where Oliver’s brother died.
There they meet the poet of the book’s title, who tells them that it is named after her mother’s island in the Chagos Archipelago, which she and her community were forced to leave by British soldiers in 1973.
The couple become obsessed with the episode and the Chagossian people, and want to write about the community’s experience of togetherness. The book questions the powers of literature alongside the crimes of the British government.
Soobramanien, who is Anglo-Mauritian, and Williams, who is Scottish, both lived in Edinburgh. Soobramanien now lives in Brussels and Williams in Cove, in the west of Scotland. Diego Garcia was a long-term collaboration, spanning 10 years, co-written across countries.
Jury foreman Tim Parnell said the novel is “in turn, funny, moving and angry” and “as compelling to read as it is complex”.
“Against the dogmatism of one-voice fiction that informed the British government’s expulsion of the Chagossian people from their homeland, they respond not only with rigorous criticism, but also with an understanding of the relationship between voice and power that shapes the very form of Diego Garcia,” he added. “A marvelous book that expands the field of novelistic form.”
Author Natasha Brown and New Statesman Culture Editor Tom Gatti joined Parnell and Smith on the judging panel.
Smith said that at the heart of the novel “is an experimentation with form that asks what fiction is, what art is for, and how, come hell or high water, to make visible, debatable, and communal the structures, personal and politics, contemporary society, philosophy, lived history”.
Reviewing the book in the Observer, Anthony Cummins said: “Intimate yet expansive, heartbroken yet rebellious, and a book about writing that is anything but solipsistic, this is a moving novel that lights the way to follow for politically conscious fiction.”
Other books on the prize’s shortlist, which premiered with the New Statesman in 2013, included two early titles: Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer, and Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi.
Also on the shortlist were Helen Oyeyemi’s seventh novel Peaces, Seven Steeples by Sara Baume and There Are More Things by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.
The 2021 prize was won by Isabel Waidner for Sterling Karat Gold..