I was hoping to finish the longlist and get this post up before the shortlist announcement, but that didn’t end up being in the cards, so here we are – hopefully better late than never?
If you missed my shortlist reaction post (spoiler alert: I’m not happy) you can check that out here. But if you’d like to hear some more in depth thoughts on the longlist, read on…
So I finally finished reading the longlist this week, and here’s my star rating breakdown for the entire list, with links to my reviews:
Average star rating: 3.63
This really was a list of halves for me: half of the list I really enjoyed, half I felt strongly ‘meh’ about. Half I read before the longlist announcement, half I read after. And I think that’s why I’m feeling largely underwhelmed: not only was the half of the list that I read before the longlist announcement far superior in mind (you can see that breakdown here), but even though I enjoyed so many of these books individually, a solid half of the list felt a bit like a waste of my time. And naturally I didn’t expect to love everything, that’s just statistically impossible, but I did hope to find a few gems that I wouldn’t have picked up in a hundred years if it weren’t for reading this list.
Because that’s the thing – the books I expected to like, I ended up liking (with a couple of exceptions – looking at you, Remembered). The books I expected to dislike, I ended up disliking. Nothing really challenged me or took me outside my comfort zone only to reward me for my efforts, which tends to be my favorite kind of bookish discovery while reading prize lists. So I think that’s ultimately what I feel like I’m missing; that one book that made this self-imposed project worth the effort. Because all of those books in my 5 star category I had already read before this list was announced.
So, I don’t know. Am I disappointed that I read the longlist? Not particularly, especially as I had a very fun Women’s Prize group chat that gave me some interesting discussion fodder as well as a place to air my grievances when it was taking me 2 months to get through Swan Song. But was I hoping to get something more from this whole endeavor? Sadly, yes.
But the other thing I wanted to talk about was the actual content of the longlist. As a lot of people have pointed out, one of the noteworthy things about this list is how many of the books have a ‘partner,’ so let’s run through that:
Circe & The Silence of the Girls: very literal Greek mythology retellings that take a traditionally male dominated story and reframe it through a feminist lens.
Circe & The Silence of the Girls & Swan Song: feminist retellings in a broader sense, reclaiming women’s voices.
Milkman & Bottled Goods: women under surveillance living under strict governmental regimes.
Remembered & Praise Song for the Butterflies: slavery and rape in historical fiction that are underscored by a note of resilience.
An American Marriage & Ordinary People & Normal People: relationships crumbling under the strain of contemporary life and the inability to communicate with one’s partner.
The Pisces & Freshwater: incisive commentary on womanhood and a revitalization of their respective genres (romance and bildungsroman) by introducing a theme of magic.
Lost Children Archive & Ghost Wall: children and parents, the relationship between the individual and society, commentary on how the past has shaped the present.
Ghost Wall & My Sister, The Serial Killer: short and punchy novellas with commentary on gender roles.
Number One Chinese Restaurant & Remembered: family sagas.
Circe, The Silence of the Girls, Freshwater, Remembered, Praise Song for the Butterflies, An American Marriage: Books about Big Issues: rape, slavery, immigration, incarceration, etc.
The reason I’m bringing up the content and all the overlap is because I’m always curious about what exactly goes into the decision to put a book on a longlist: how much are these books being evaluated in isolation, and how much are they being judged collectively? Because it seems significant that with a few exceptions, these books only have one lone thematic partner: was Washington Black left off because they felt they’d already ticked the slavery box; was Everything Under left off because they felt they couldn’t have three watery magical realism books? Was Severance left off because futuristic zombie dystopia would have been too much of an oddball compared to the rest?
After reading all of these books, I’m left with the impression that this year’s longlist feels a bit too curated. I feel like the judges had certain salient themes in mind that they wanted to see represented on the list, and weren’t willing to stretch too far outside those parameters. Of course, this could all be coincidental, maybe the judges truly believe that these 16 books are the ‘best’ books by women published in the last year. I just… find that doubtful.
I think the bottom line is that when I saw the shortlist, I saw a few daring choices on there – Freshwater, The Pisces, Bottled Goods – and erroneously concluded that it was going to be a daring list, which I think is partially why I’m disappointed that it ended up feeling so safe. ‘Safe’ is a word I kept coming back to while talking about the shortlist, but after finally finishing the longlist, it seems relevant here too.
So that’s it from me – please do let me know your thoughts on the longlist, shortlist, or any and all things Women’s Prize. I’ll post my winner prediction closer to the winner announcement!