Poignant, exuberant, gripping: Alan Hollinghurst on the 2019 Desmond Elliott shortlist


The Booker-winning author on the trio up for the best first-novel prize – Michael Donkor’s Hold, Claire Adam’s Golden Child and Anna Mackmin’s Devoured

I’d never judged a prize before, but felt, as I worked cautiously on my seventh novel, that judging a first-novel prize might give me a shot in the arm. The Desmond Elliott prize — £10,000 for the best first novel of the year — must be an exciting one to win. It’s also a very nice one to judge. You only have to read a longlist of 10 — there’s none of the novel-a-day pressure of the Man Booker — and while you know in advance that the standard will be high, you’re unlikely to know anything about the authors themselves. I decided to read without looking at blurbs, author biographies or, particularly, reviews: it was a real chance to encounter 10 books and their writers without preconceptions.

Some of them, it turns out, have already made a splash, some have gone unfairly unnoticed, but among them, no doubt, will be big names of the future. (Lisa McInerney and Eimear McBride are among earlier winners of the prize.)

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