M John Harrison’s “realist fantasy” novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again has won the speculative fiction author the Goldsmiths prize, which rewards “fiction that breaks the mould”.

Harrison beat authors including DBC Pierre, Xiaolu Guo and Monique Roffey to win the £10,000 Goldsmiths prize. The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again follows Shaw, a man in his 50s whose sense of reality begins to shift after a breakdown. There are rumours that a new green, part-human species is migrating into Britain. His girlfriend Victoria moves to a town on the Severn where the inhabitants sink into ponds and where copies of The Water Babies keep appearing. It is, said chair of judges Frances Wilson, “a literary masterpiece that will continue to be read in 100 years time, if the planet survives that long”.

Fellow judge and author Will Eaves called it “a brilliant realist fantasy about love in middle-age and the dissolution of the postwar settlement”.

“In a series of startling knight’s moves across our inner and outer landscapes, M John Harrison quietly overturns all grounds for supposing we know who we are and where we have come from,” said Eaves.

Harrison, who regularly reviews books for the Guardian, has described the novel as not “science fiction or folk horror or psychogeography, but it contains parodic elements of all three, and more”.

“A story of lovers so self-involved, they not only fail to make a relationship but also fail to notice a mysterious political takeover going on around them. It’s a novel about conspiracy theory in which you can’t tell what’s theory and what’s real,” he said. “It’s set in the UK now and it refers to the UK now.”

Widely acclaimed for his science fiction and fantasy, Harrison has been described by Robert Macfarlane as “a writer to whom the question of genre is an irrelevance”. Reviewing The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again in the Guardian, Olivia Laing called Harrison the “missing evolutionary link between William Burroughs and Virginia Woolf, bringing together new blooms of language, gathering up advertising copy and internet lingo and arranging them in startling hybrid forms”.

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