The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Nightingale Point

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of The Women’s Prize for Fiction, an award that aims to celebrate the best full-length fiction written by women internationally. The short-list for the prize will be released on the 22nd April, and the final winner announced on the 3rd June. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie features on the long-list for the award.

Throughout the pages of Nightingale Point, Luan Goldie finely crafts a story that offers a voice to a group of people that are so rarely heard. Inspired by a tragic event at high-rise flats in Amsterdam in 1992, it is also a timely publication in that the content pays tribute to both the victims and survivors of Grenfell Tower. Whilst time and the North Sea might separate these two events, the unfolding of the aftermath is paralleled in the world of Nightingale Point.

The multi-narrator structure of the novel allows for the story to hone in on individuals and their personal relationships. The stories are told through the eyes of several residents from the London flats. There is Malachi, who is both suffering from heartbreak after having been separated from his first love, Pamela, and has been caring for his younger brother Tristan since the passing of their mother. These stories overlap with that of Mary, their middle-aged Filipino neighbour, who is simultaneously battling with her guilt at having cheated on her unfaithful husband and keeping an eye on the brother. Their lives seem completely distant from another resident: Elvis. Elvis has severe learning difficulties and has been recently placed in Nightingale Point as part of a care in the community scheme. Goldie’s depiction of such a myriad of individuals demonstrates her remarkable ability to capture voices that other writers would struggle to, while maintaining the simple flow of the book. 

Goldie clearly thought it was, for better or worse, wise to leave parts of the characters’ lives untold.

These lives, however, quickly crumble as a horrific accident destroys the tower block, plunging all the characters into completely new lives, and forcing them all to forge new relationships between them. The pace of the narrative quickens after this, at which point I began truly relishing the story. The short chapters and the swift change between character perspectives makes Nightingale Point both an easy but engaging read. 

The nature of the text, however, means that some storylines are left unexplained. I found that the behaviour of Jay, Pamela’s father, was difficult to understand, while Mary’s behaviour and Elvis’ backstory are not substantiated by further explanation in the text. Goldie clearly thought it was, for better or worse, wise to leave parts of the characters’ lives untold. Perhaps the incredibly effortless read would otherwise be spoilt if this were developed even further. 

Already the winner of the Costa Short Story Award for ‘Two Steak Bakes and Two Chelsea Buns, it is evident why Goldie’s debut novel Nightingale Point has been long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020. You should expect tears, anticipation, and an inability to put the book down; I finished it in a day. 

Image: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

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