We are delighted to announce that Ian Penman has been awarded the 2024 RSL Ondaatje Prize for Fassbinder Thousands Of Mirrors this evening on Tuesday 14 May.

‘I can’t believe it,’ Ian said on collecting his prize from Jans Ondaatje Rolls, overseeing the ceremony on behalf of her father Christopher. ‘I’d like to thank Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who I think is astonishing and created a culture very much not like our own. Without him there wouldn’t be this book, and I dedicate this award to him. Thank you so much.’

Chair of judges Xiaolu Guo praised Penman’s ingenuity and originality: ‘This is the only book I have read twice this year. Truly it is thousands of mirrors in terms of the thoughts, images and references running through this reflective and wonderfully interior work. The world of European cinema, especially Fassbinder’s film seen through Ian Penman’s eyes, has transported me to a tantalizing place called post-war Europe. The book brings me back to my youth and my film school years in the east and west, and it reminds me of how powerful images have shaped our very understanding of love and life.’ 

Fellow judges Francis Spufford and Jan Carson, who helped whittle down 194 entries which included novels, poetry and non-fiction, were equally delighted with their eventual winner.  

‘Stendahl once described the novel as “a mirror being carried up the street”, but Ian Penman’s extraordinary critical memoir is more like a whole convoy of the things,’ says Francis Spufford. “The 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.’ 

‘I’m so keen for more readers to discover this incredible little book,’ says Jan Carson. ‘Every sentence is explosive. Every page left me reaching for my notebook to jot down things which required further thought. There are so many ideas, perspectives and tiny nuggets of deep insight contained within this book, I’d struggle to put a label on it. It’s biography. It’s philosophy. It’s critique. It’s flighty enough to read like fiction and yet it’s one of the most grounded books I’ve read in years. Yes, it’s about German cinema, but German cinema’s simply the mirror Penman’s holding up to force his readers to look long and hard at themselves.’ 

Ian Penman is a British writer, music journalist, and critic. He began his career at the NME in 1977, later contributing to various publications including The Face, Arena, Sight & Sound, The Wire, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Harper’s, the New Yorker and City Journal. He is the author of the collections Vital Signs: Music, Movies, and Other Manias (Serpent’s Tail, 1998) and It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2019). Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors is his first original book.

We’d like to thank this year’s judges Jan Carson, Xiaolu Guo and Francis Spufford, and the Ondaatje family for their continued generosity.

You can buy a copy of Fassbinder Thousands Of Mirrors here: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/rsl-ondaatje-prize-longlist-2024?