Ian Penman’s ‘glittering’ book about Fassbinder wins Ondaatje prize

Ian Penman’s ‘glittering’ book about Fassbinder wins Ondaatje prize
By: Culture Posted On: May 14, 2024 View: 21

British writer and music critic Ian Penman has won the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize for his study of the late German film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Penman’s book, Fassbinder: Thousands of Mirrors, was announced as the winner of the £10,000 prize – awarded to works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evoke the spirit of a place – at a London ceremony on Tuesday evening.

“The world of European cinema, especially Fassbinder’s film seen through Ian Penman’s eyes, has transported me to a tantalising place called postwar Europe,” said judging chair, the writer Xiaolu Guo.

Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors by Ian Penman.

Guo was joined on the judging panel by the writers Francis Spufford and Jan Carson. Spufford said Penman’s book “captures not only scenes both gross and beautiful from the 1970s life of the workaholic Fassbinder, but a glittering array of thoughts and moments from his own long fascination with Fassbinder’s place and time and historical moment – which was also the time of Penman’s youth, not as a German film director but as a London music journalist, hungry for Europe and all that it then represented to England, assembling a wider world for his imagination from clues and scraps and cherished frames of German movies.”

Penman, a well-respected music writer, began his career at NME in 1977, and has gone on to write for publications including the Wire and the Guardian. His previous books – It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track and Vital Signs: Music, Movies, and Other Manias – are collections of his journalistic essays.

Fassbinder: Thousands of Mirrors is “a freewheeling, hopscotching study of the Fassbinder allure and an investigation of Penman’s younger self, from peripatetic RAF family to lonely Norfolk autodidact”, wrote Anthony Quinn in his Observer review. “It’s a book about a film-maker but also, hauntingly, about the way our tastes and passions change over time”.

Other titles shortlisted for this year’s prize were Falling Animals by Sheila Armstrong, Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad, A Flat Place by Noreen Masud, Cuddy by Benjamin Myers and No Man’s Land by David Nash.

Judges chose the winner from 194 entries. The prize is funded by its co-founder, the financier and writer Sir Christopher Ondaatje.

This year marks the award’s 20th anniversary. Previous winners include Lea Ypi, Peter Pomerantsev, Hisham Matar and Edmund de Waal. Last year, Anthony Anaxagorou won the prize for Heritage Aesthetics, his poetry collection exploring British imperial history and present-day racism.

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