Speaking in the wake of his success, Mike McCormack explored the creative process in crafting his 2016 Goldsmiths Prize winning novel Solar Bones. As an inventive and experimental work, McCormack’s novel surpassed the criteria to ‘open up new possibilities for the novel form’ and as the fourth winner of the prize, McCormack follows in the line of distinguished previous winners including Eimear McBride, Ali Smith, and Kevin Barry.
Being McCormack’s third published novel, he professed his fluctuating successes that eventually bred Solar Bones. McCormack’s first edition of short stories Crow’s Requiem published in 1986 emphatically “divided the world”, receiving what McCormack confessed as the worst review he has ever seen; lamenting the felling of trees for the book’s print and despairingly noting ‘I can think of nothing good to say about this book’. What proceeded was what McCormack describes as “ten years of nothing” following being dropped by his publisher after the publication of Notes from a Coma. To Morrison however, the arresting opening of Solar Bones was what set the novel apart from others on the shortlist, highlighting the vivid depiction of a deconstructed tractor that marks the protagonist Marcus Conway’s fascination with the fragility of the universe and the process of disassembling.
As a novel written in a single sentence, McCormack was keen to shy away from the labels of stream of consciousness narrative, marking the continuous fluidity between thoughts of the ghostly narration that fails to lapse. In spite of McCormack’s absence of grammatical punctuation, he utilises white space as a means of punctuating and describes the novel as “easiest understood as an Aria”. Whilst radical in form, McCormack blends an amalgamation of high and low brow culture, making biblical allusions alongside reference to Radiohead albums that he declared as following in the tradition of Thomas Pynchon; the “giver of license to low comedy”.
Through McCormack’s brief experience having trained as an engineer, he foregrounds the importance of working characters to stimulate “pulse and routine”. “Engineers build the world” he declared, “they facilitate every moment, this lecture hall is conceived through an engineer”. As a graduate of English and Philosophy from the University of Galway, McCormack also commended the influence of artists and creatives on his craft that manifests in the novel through Marcus’ artist daughter. The fragmentation of form and dispersion of words across the page within Solar Bones is therefore indebted to the influence of McCormack’s artistic tradition and the visual aesthetic of paragraphs that tend to “stand and stare”. McCormack also attributed his visual awareness of artistic forms to the influence of his wife as an artist and the process of staring at a white canvas waiting for images to emerge.
As a novel that charts the male experience, McCormack was keen to mark the shades of masculinity that are present within the novel and stressed that the heroes of the novel are all women. The dominance of women throughout the creative process was touched upon by Morrison through McCormack’s female agent and the publishing of the novel by the Irish publishing company Tramp Press run by Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff- as well as the process of selection for the Goldsmiths prize, with Morrison being the only male member of the panel.
McCormack communicated a deep familiarity with the environments and routines of his characters and there is a Joycean geographical precision to the locations they inhabit, informed by the epidemics of water contamination near Galway that resonate within the novel. Whilst Morrison marked the British publishing industry ‘the most conservative in the world’, McCormack praised the presence of platforms such as the Goldsmiths prize for championing innovative fiction such as this. Despite the shortfalls of the British publishing industry that did not wholly mesh with the Irish imagination, McCormack honoured his own publishers for “getting it” and not having to explain the condition of the novel and later recognising the rising movement of young Irish writers such as Clare Louise Bennett and Eimear McBride with her open acknowledgement of the influence of Joyce upon her work.
The evening invited a thoroughly intriguing introduction to an original and organically artistic work of innovative fiction.