Randall, or What if the YBAs had really existed?


My novel, Randall, or The Painted Grape, is published in the UK by Galley Beggar Press, in the Netherlands by Podium, and in France by Buchet/Chastel.

It was longlisted for the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize. The judges said: “More than mischievous satire, Randall freeze-frames for private censure that commercial merry-go-round, the contemporary art market.”

It was also shortlisted for the inaugural Figaro Prix du Livre de Voyage Urbain.

Randall is a counterfactual novel about the art world in London and beyond in the 90s and since, about the fuss the YBAs made, and the strange trajectories their careers took in the years that followed. It is about how to balance friendship with adulation, and desire with doubt. It is not a satire, or not only. It is an insider novel written from the outside. It takes the form of a memoir, of the artist Randall, by his friend, Vincent, and it begins like this:

The first time I laid eyes on Ian Randall Timkins, better known to the world as simply Randall, the most celebrated and reviled artist of the 90s and 00s, was at the opening of his degree show at Goldsmiths, in the summer of 1989. I went to the show not because I had any interest in up-and-coming artists – I was a trader at LIFFE in the City and the only art on my bedroom wall was a framed and signed poster of supermodel Cindy Crawford…

If you’ve read the book, and are perplexed by the concluding riddle, then this page is for you. If you’ve read it, and want to join the GoodReads conversation about it, you can do so here.

I wrote a few things to accompany the publication:

And here’s what people have said about it:

Firstly, click here for what readers have said about it on Twitter.

Then, writers and reviewers:

Long awaited and well worth the wait. Geoff Dyer

Told in luminous, biting prose, Jonathan Gibbs’ debut novel is a rare delight. Brilliant on art and money (neither of which are easy subjects), this is a novel that is at once funny and heartbreaking, intelligent and fiercely gripping. A book whose characters sing on the page – I missed them as soon as I finished the last few beautiful paragraphs. This will be yet another hit for Galley Beggar Press. – Alex Preston (This Bleeding City, The Revelations)

A cool book with a big heart. Anjali Joseph (Saraswati Park, Another Country)


The sort of novel you pray for as a reviewer – one that you can actually enjoy and not have to search through desperately in order to find something to praise. Balzac was the first to do justice to the dance between art and money, and Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence is hard to beat on the artist’s life. When it comes to modern art, the conceptual con and its critical abettors, Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel The Burnt Orange Heresy is, in my opinion, the final word on the subject, but Gibbs gives his predecessors a run for the money in all these areas.Tibor Fischer, The Guardian (read full review)

Gibbs has worked a double shift, disguising a well-turned tale of family secrecy as an acerbic essay on recent cultural history without short-changing the demands of either form.Anthony Cummins, The Observer (read full review)

Both absurd and eerily believable… Gibbs’s novel is more than mischief: as with all the best lampoons, it dissects things that really matter and have gone awryToby Lichtig, The Sunday Telegraph (read full review)

Picked as a Debut of the Year in The Independent by James Kidd: “contains two of 2014’s more appealing fictional premises: Damien Hirst’s imaginary death in 1989, and a stash of paintings depicting the art world’s major players in pornographic splendour. This portrait of a Young British Artist as a Deceased Man is vibrantly assured.” (read full article)

An extremely funny satire of the dirty business or art curation, archiving, buying and selling […] slowly reveals itself as a moving account of friendship, love and loss, coupled with the desire to sift the authentic from the inauthentic, This clever and accomplished transition is relayed in Gibbs’ charming voice, rich in depth and confidence and as knowingly precise as the deftest of brush strokes. – Lee Rourke, The New Humanist (read full review)

In many ways Randall doesn’t feel like a debut, or rather doesn’t feel like the many debuts which have been written too early, before the author knew what they wanted to say, how to say it and most importantly, how the two meet. It has style and aplomb, and is brimful of brilliance. John Self, Asylum (read full review)

This is not a conventional novel, and Jonathan Gibbs is not a conventional writer […] Randall is exciting and energetic even as it stymies its readers. The questions circling around the near-mythical figure at the book’s center, filtered through Vincent’s eyes or through his artworks, are never fully resolved—but the point of satire has never been to provide answers.Jeffrey Zuckerman, 3:AM Magazine (read full review

Randall not only captures the slightly hysteric mood of this period, but also nails its target with deftness and a degree of affection. It is perhaps successful because that hint of amused fondness balances its satirical offensiveness. But don’t take that to mean that Randall’s satire is insipid, it is exquisitely cleansing and gloriously funny. Anthony Brown, Time’s Flow Stemmed (read full review)

The artistic practice that Gibbs invents is gloriously wicked and clever – ranging from the scatological to the destructive – and it embodies countless art school debates that I’ve either overheard or (to my minor embarrassment) been a part of. […] What makes this an extraordinary novel though, and something else it has in common with What I Loved, is that it is essentially about friendship. About how a shared passion, a point of contention, can be fertile soil for friendship. – a lovely comparison of Randall and Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved by Bianca Winter, While The Ink is Still Wet (read full review)

Fuck me, this is a fucking good book. Aside from having the obvious perks of ‘shit that I like to read about’ (very few characters, mad thoughtful leading man, scandal, just being generally a bit fucked up) it is written so fucking beautifully that you feel like this man actually existed (read full review) – Book Cunt

Randall is an ambitious debut novel, if an imperfect one, and it is exciting to see an author engaging with the spectacle, finance and the role of art. Thom Cuell, The Literateur (read full review)

Randall is a rare novel in that it manages to do a number of things very well. One of those things is to explore meaty questions about art, like what it really means to be original, or what it means to be an artist, or what art is really for. It manages to be cerebral enough to explore, but without leaving you feeling you’re adrift in Derrida. – Alice Furse (read full review)

An intensely readable and fascinating book that dissects the idols, false or otherwise, of the modern art scene with sharpness and a hint of affection. The chances are Hirst would love it – Kayleigh Anne, Bibliodaze (read full review)

A highly intelligent deconstruction of the world of art – and fiction – a dissection of the destructiveness of creation, the creativity of destruction. As such it’s viciously and abrasively funny but also deadly serious. – Simon Lavery (read full review)

Really a superb novel about what it is to make art, to be part of a cultural moment, and to make sense of that moment long after its clamor dies down – Steve Himmer, on Goodreads (read full review)

  • Here’s a vlog review by William Rycroft

  • And here’s me talking about the book a bit, and my buddy Neil Cole reading from it (he filmed it all, too)



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