Why Isabel Waidner won the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize

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It is extremely rare to read the first paragraph of a novel that will make you flinch and say yes! This is what happened when I opened Isabelle Weidner’s third novel, Sterling karat gold, this year’s winnerJewelers Award for Fiction

“I’m Sterling. Father died of AIDS, mother – of alcoholism. I lost my country to conservatism, my language to PTSD. But there is this England. I have received this body, this pure heart. “

How could a declaration of loss be so energetic, so confident, so generous? It’s not easy to be generous or confident when, as the novel’s narrator, you are a non-binary migrant cleaner who has been attacked. But this discovery immediately defines Weidner’s ambition: to introduce us to the working class, a queer community that we have not yet encountered in literature, and to do it with a great sense of fun.

Weidner, who identifies as non-binary, writes about class, nationalism, and art with a blend of heated rage and surreal humor. They wrote two more novels Merry bauble (2017) and We are made of diamonds, which was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2019… Born in 1974 in Germany, they have lived in London for over two decades, where Sterling karat gold mostly installed.

After a spirited opening paragraph, Weidner leads us straight to the Camden Town bullfight. Sterling Beckenbauer, wearing a soccer shirt instead of a skirt and a black fitter, lashed out at picador, matador and some banderillero in the colors of the St.George cross. But it is Sterling, who came to the UK alone as a teenager and built a life out of nothing, is arrested, placed in a detention center in Margate and put on trial. As they are terrorized by absurd, often violent state officials (including a corrupt frog-like judge sitting on a toilet throne), it becomes clear that the game is rigged.

But they have other forms of escape. Sterling and their art colleague, Chachki, a student from Poland, run the Cataclysmic Foibles, a do-it-yourself theater troupe, putting on crazy plays in Sterling’s tiny apartment. Chachki introduces them to a friend who can hack the space-time continuum using Google Earth.

“The disadvantages of the cataclysm … began to symbolize a moment that was so incompatible and did not correspond to everything that seemed to be happening at first glance,” says Sterling, “he gave an idea of ​​the hidden reality, was very instructive, he taught us to trust it. we had the feeling that we are participants without the consent of the reality created by politicians, despots, more or less openly authoritarian leaders. “

The lives of marginalized people are often portrayed as miserable and gloomy, rather than cheerful and cheerful. But Sterling karat gold finds poetry and pleasure in this community, its creativity, its diversity, its defiance. His imagery and cultural references are rarely gleaned from literature other than music, art, fashion, football, and theater. The 15th century Hieronymus Bosch hell panel is discussed alongside the adidas White Angel sneakers by Jeremy Scott. And Weidner is as fascinated with the career of Justin Fachanou, the first (and only) gay British footballer, as well as artist Robert Colescott.

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Weidner believes that The British novel tends to reproduce the values ​​and aesthetics of the white middle class. They want to promote this and show that you can “critically interact with reality by offering creative exit routes.” Funny, fabulous, grotesque, Sterling karat gold sets its terms.

Joanna Thomas-Corr was a judge for this year’s Goldsmiths Prize. Isabel Weidner will talk in Cambridge Literary Festival Virtual Winter Festival November 18th.

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