The Guardian First Book Award Longlist 2014

According to The Guardian, “The books that have made it on to this year’s longlist feature lives lived in exile, family sagas, the human brain and the supernatural”.


Young Skins by Colin Barrett (Jonathan Cape)

Colin Barrett’s uncompromising, urgent stories about growing up in Glenbeigh in rural Ireland have already seen him hailed as the “new, young, genius Irish writer”.

In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (Picador)

Zafar’s story, as told to an unnamed narrator, is epic and mysterious, spanning places – rural Bangladesh, academic Oxford, post-9/11 Afghanistan – and times to create a compelling picture of a life lived in exile. The ambition, ambiguities and themes (high-level maths, the class system, the nature of fidelity) make it an impressive debut.

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (Sceptre)

When Frida turns up to care for Ruth, an elderly widow living alone in an isolated house on the New South Wales coast, it seems an unexpected blessing. But does Ruth have more to fear from this stranger or the tiger she believes is prowling her house at night? A tensely atmospheric tale about identity, memory and old age.

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)

An other-worldly story of a man who comes across a house in the woods off the Norfolk coast during a heatwave and finds that all the inhabitants seem to know him and were expecting him. John Burnside in these pages praised its “unique vision, sophisticated characterisations, and creation of an atmosphere that will haunt readers long after the final page”.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (4th Estate)

It’s not hard to see why Matthew Thomas is being touted as “the new Jonathan Franzen” with this hefty US family saga and tender portrait of a marriage beset by Alzheimer’s disease.


Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan (CB editions)

These hard-edged stories follow a cast of misfits and outsiders – from a film star falling for her stunt double to a pole dancer called “Proust” – as they couple, uncouple and recouple with brutal intensity.


The Iceberg: A Memoir by Marion Coutts (Atlantic)

A devastatingly clear-eyed account of Tom Lubbock’s last years by his wife, the artist Marion Coutts. Lubbock, former art critic of the Independent, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in the area of speech and language, just as their 18-month-old son was learning to speak. Tessa Hadley, in the Guardian, described the book as “miraculous”.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

As Marsh approaches the end of his career as a brain surgeon, he puts aside the icy scientific deportment of his trade to reveal the all too human uncertainties, pleasures and costs. A revelatory insight into a world few doctors, let alone patients, ever witness.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos (Bodley Head)

Osnos’s attempt to understand the new China takes the form of a close study of a number of its 1 billion citizens, from the Taiwanese soldier who defected back to the mainland to Ai Weiwei via a celebrity teacher of English. Assiduous and stylish reportage.

American Interior: The Quixotic Journey of John Evans by Gruff Rhys (Hamish Hamilton)

The Super Furry Animals front man embarks on a transatlantic quest into a fantastical corner of family, Welsh and US history, delivered to the accompaniment of his own soundtrack. A bracingly fresh take on travel writing.

Bricks & Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made by Tom Wilkinson (Bloomsbury)

Taking as his starting point buildings including the Tower of Babel, the Ford car factory in Detroit, a London health centre and a Bavarian opera house, Wilkinson’s ambitious survey maps not only the economic, cultural, and political motivations behind the architecture, but also the unintended human consequences that resulted from the buildings’ subsequent uses.