Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize


25074204Martin John is not keen on P words. He isolates P words from the newspapers into long lists. For you, so you know he’s kept busy, so you don’t have to worry he might be beside you or following you or thinking about your body parts. So you don’t have to worry about what else he has been thinking about.

From Anakana Schofield, the brilliant and unconventional author of Malarky, comes a dark, humorous and uncomfortable novel circuiting through the minds, motivations, and preoccupations of a character many women have experienced, but few up until now, have understood quite so well. The result confirms Schofield as one of the bravest and most innovative authors at work in English today.


A warning right off the top – this book includes sexual… let’s call them non-consensual incidents.  Non-violent but disturbing.

This book is hard to review, mostly because I don’t want to ruin it for you.  The best part of the reading experience for me was discovering things as I went along – who Martin John is, what exactly is running through his head, and how he relates to other characters.  How smart the unconventional structure is, and how it leads to interesting places.  How the writing is perfect for what it needs to do – super close third person in some parts, very meta in others, but always connected and part of the whole.

Rules have already been broken in this book.  The index told us about refrains, not rules.  There was no mention of rules early on.  Martin John will not like this.

One thing you should know, though, is that this is an unsettling read.  Being in Martin John’s head can be disconcerting, and he does things that are unsavory.  We may be told about them in oblique ways but they are there.

You should know the things he does and doesn’t appreciate, if we are going to carry on with this.  If not – well, hang up now, as the operator would say.

That’s aggressive, but you see this hasn’t been an easy book for any of us.

There is much to admire but I still have quibbles.  I could have cut the second quarter of the book with no ill effects.  The subject area veers towards my field of work, so much so that at times I felt like I was at the office.  As a result I can’t say Martin John was a happy, fast read… but it was a deep, intriguing, meaningful read.

This is the first book I’ve read from this year’s Goldsmiths Prize shortlist and it’s exactly what I was hoping to discover – a novel that pushes the boundaries of the form.  The voice is amazing and the structure is engaging, perfect for the subject matter.  It’s more than worthy for the shortlist but I’ll have to read a few more titles to see how it stacks up against the competition.  Onward!

3 thoughts on “Martin John by Anakana Schofield

  1. Pingback: Finding a “Me” Prize – Always Doing

  2. I read this book last year when it was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in Canada. I thought she did a brilliant job with her subject matter. This Goldsmith Prize is intriguing… I hope you plan to read a few more, so I can decide which ones I would like to add to my list!

    1. I’m hoping that the rest of the shortlist is as good as Martin John – I’m so glad to hear you liked it, too. I’m currently reading my second Goldsmiths book so stay tuned! I’m going to get through as much of the shortlist as I can, though with two of the titles yet to be released in the US it may take longer than I would like.

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