Women’s Prize 2019 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

Alright friends, it’s almost that time of year… the 2019 Women’s Prize winner will be announced on June 5, which is a week from today, so it’s time for my shortlist review.

Round up of my Women’s Prize coverage thus far:

Shortlist ranked from what I’d least to most like to see win:

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6. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Does it deserve to win?  No.  This is a hard-hitting yet woefully underdeveloped book whose impact is neutered by its unwieldy pace and execution. It has some great ideas and occasional moments of brilliance, but I’d solidly rank it in last place on this list while evaluating what each of these books is trying to achieve, and whether or not they succeed.
Will it win?  Probably not, and I blame the Oprah sticker.  How commercial is too commercial to win a literary prize?  I’d guess that this level of commercial is where the line is drawn. But who knows.

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5. Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Does it deserve to win?  No.  This is one of those books that I really enjoyed and appreciated while I was reading it, but, I’ll be honest: it’s ended up being one of the most forgettable things I’ve read all year.
Will it win?  No. I just don’t think this book makes enough of an impact.

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4. Circe by Madeline Miller

Does it deserve to win?  Who knows.  If you ask me, no; if you ask most other people who’ve read it, yes.  This book fell short for me but I understand its merits.
Will it win?  It certainly might. It’s an undeniable feminist achievement, and Miller would be the first author to win the Women’s Prize twice, which would be noteworthy.

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3. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Does it deserve to win?  Good question. This is an incredibly short book, and while it achieves a lot in its short word count it also leaves the reader wanting a bit more.
Will it win?  I think it has a very good chance.  It’s stylish, topical, and more ‘fresh’ than any of the other frontrunners on this list: An American Marriage has Oprah, Milkman has the Booker, Circe has worldwide bestselling acclaim, My Sister has room to make a splash right here.

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2. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Does it deserve to win? See, this is tricky. Where I thinks this excels as a Greek mythology retelling, it arguably fails as a feminist retelling, which, no, isn’t a Women’s Prize winner requirement, but it’s hard not to judge women-centric Greek myth retellings through an explicitly feminist lens when you have a prize specifically for books by women.  The bottom line here is Achilles: while I understood and respected the inclusion of his POV and its necessity to the story Barker was telling, many, many readers have taken issue with the few chapters we see through his eyes, ultimately arguing ‘if this book is about reclaiming women’s voices, why are we hearing from a man at all.’  I think ‘reclaiming women’s voices’ is a bit of a simplification of what Barker was trying to achieve in this retelling, and a simplification of how deeply entwined Briseis’s story is with Achilles’s, but I do understand the criticism and I think it’s what may ultimately hinder this one from taking home the prize.
Will it win?  But, I do think it’s a possibility.  Pat Barker has had an illustrious career and won the Man Booker in the past, but has never won the Women’s Prize.

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1. Milkman by Anna Burns

Does it deserve to win?  Yes, yes, unequivocally, yes.  This is one of the strongest books to come out of 2018, one of the most daring and fiercely original books we’ve seen in years, and it deserves all of the accolades.
Will it win?  … I don’t know.  If it weren’t for its Booker win, this would be a no-brainer, but a book has never in the past won both the Booker and the Women’s Prize.  It would be a historic first, but would the Women’s Prize judges just feel like they’re piggybacking off its recent success?

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Winner prediction: My Sister, The Serial Killer. I think it’s a strong candidate that examines themes that the prize has always valued – the delicate line between upholding and subverting gender roles, primarily – and it’s arguably the most original choice on this not terribly original list.

Which book would you guys like to see win, and which do you think will take home the prize? Comment and let me know!

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29 thoughts on “Women’s Prize 2019 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

  1. I’m so intrigued by your thoughts! I’m concerned that My Sister comes off as a little to shallow to win. I do not think it IS shallow, but it can so easily be read that way if you’re not digging deeper into what’s going on. It’s also difficult for me because I haven’t read Milkman yet, so I’m really going off your thoughts for that one, but it does make sense that they may not want to double up on it. It’s rough because with this shortlist, I don’t know that I’ll be happy with any of them winning?

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    • The thing about My Sister is that I thought its perceived shallowness would mean that it wouldn’t make the shortlist, but now that it’s made it I’m inclined to believe that the judges understand that it has more merits than meet the eye. But, you’re right, maybe they’ll be concerned that to someone who hasn’t been studying this book extensively for the past six months, it could come off as overly shallow. I think my cynicism with the shortlist means I’ve concluded that the judges don’t really care what anyone thinks of their choices lmao.

      I totally feel that. With the exception of Milkman, I think if any other book wins my reaction is going to be ‘hm, really?’

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  2. My thoughts are all over the place about which book I think will win, largely because I’m still woefully underwhelmed by the options we’ve been left with.

    I think the one I’d most LIKE to win would be Serial Killer, because it’s fun, fresh, topical, and has wide appeal. The one that most DESERVES to win from a literary perspective is Milkman. And the one I think WILL win is Circe, because clearly myth retellings are right up the judges’ street, and Miller doing the double would make this year’s Prize memorable historically.

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    • I’m sad that after all the work you put in this year you don’t even have a chance of being thrilled by the winner. At least I’ve got 1 in 6…. kind of 2 in 6 with Silence, but I selfishly don’t want that to win because SO MANY people I follow didn’t get on with it and I’m tired of the Achilles discourse already. (Which, like, I understand it. But I’m also tired of it.)

      Serial Killer and Circe were the two I was really down between so I think that’s an understandable prediction! And I think Miller being the first to win the WP twice would be more exciting for the WP panel than Burns being the first to win the Booker and the WP.

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  3. I don’t follow the Women’s Prize, but I almost feel like I have since I’ve enjoyed all your posts about it so much. I’ve only read half of the shortlist (An American Marriage, Circe and Milkman) and I’d rank the ones I’ve read exactly like you have, for exactly the same reasons. An American Marriage’s one of the most underwhelming books I read last year and I’d be really surprised if it won. Milkman’s brilliant, but already so acclaimed. Fingers crossed you’ll be happy with the winner!

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    • I’m glad you’re enjoying my (excessive) coverage even though you’re not following the prize! I just think literary prizes are fun in general, I know I love following the Hugos and Nebulas from a distance even though I never read those books.

      Ugh, if An American Marriage wins I will be very, very irritated. I’ve got a 2/6 shot of being happy with the winner, so not the best odds, but fingers crossed!

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  4. I’m cheering for Serial Killer, so I’m pretty glad it made your “who I think will win”. I agree that Milkman is one of the most impacting and powerful books of 2018, and I wonder how the judges feel about the Man Booker thing… The more distance I get from the shortlisted books, the more I feel like Milkman might just win.

    I see what you mean about Silence – it does not make me any less annoyed with the Achilles chapters, though. I wish I had loved this book, it had so many elements I love.

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    • I REALLY hope Milkman wins but I won’t hold my breath! I hope it’s not disqualified from the running for its Booker win alone, though I suppose we’ll never have a way of knowing.

      That’s definitely fair, and I do really understand that criticism even if I don’t necessarily agree! If that book wins, I think the discourse will be… interesting to say the least.

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    • Ditto. Which is SUCH a shame. What I’d give to be a fly on the wall in those judging sessions so I could know for sure whether its Booker win is being held against it! Because naturally if it doesn’t win I will make a long post complaining about that very thing, but who knows, maybe it won’t win for a different reason. Not that I can think of any. It’s brilliant.

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  5. Great post! I pretty much agree with your shortlist rankings, but I predict that The Silence of the Girls will take it. This is partly logic (I can see them giving the prize to an author like Pat Barker who has never won it) and partly wishful thinking (My Sister, The Serial Killer wasn’t a bad novel, but it’s so lightweight, and I’m frustrated by the author’s attitude to writing – according to an interview I read, she seems to have just dashed it off!) However, I agree that Milkman is by far the best novel on the shortlist.

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    • I definitely will not be surprised or disappointed if Barker wins! Looking at the authors alone I think Barker and Miller are probably in with the best chance – Barker to honor her career, Miller to make history as the only author to win twice – but looking at the books I do have to wonder about The Achilles Situation and whether or not that will influence anything. Still, I (obviously) love that book and would be happy to see it win. But, #teamMilkman, always.

      That’s frustrating re: Braithwaite though, it’s hard not to resent successful books that are written in such a hurry. Especially because while I really enjoyed that book I would have loved for Braithwaite to dig a bit deeper into some of the themes, which it sounds like she had time to do.

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  6. Oooh, interesting! I am still in my mad-dash to the finish line, hoping to finish the books I have left to finish before Wednesday, but I have now read enough of the shortlist to have opinions.
    I would be fine with MSTSK winning, because I did really enjoy it but I am unsure whether it will. I am obviously keeping my fingers crossed for Silence (god, I have SO MANY THOUGHTS!) I love it. As an exploration of agency, of feminism, of war, of so many things. I cannot believe I have to help my sister unpack instead of finishing this brilliant book.
    I would also cheer if Milkman won – I don’t care that it already has the Booker. It is the stylistically most interesting one of the shortlist and I am nothing if not a sucker for interesting narrative structures. Even if I didn’t love this.

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    • I guess the only interesting thing about this shortlist is that there isn’t really a clear frontrunner? Because I have been hearing winner predictions all across the board, and I think they all make sense. The one that would probably surprise me the most is Ordinary People, but I could even make an argument for that one. And while I REALLY don’t want An American Marriage to win, who knows, some people really adore that book.

      I am right there with you in throwing a party for Silence or Milkman! Any other conclusion will leave me very dissatisfied I think. I liked My Sister and Circe and Ordinary People, but not enough for this.

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  7. I haven’t read any of these books yet, but I’ve been following along at Callum’s blog and reading his reviews of each of the candidates. Though you put it at the bottom, An American Marriage is the title that intrigues me most, possibly because I worked in a correctional facility for a while.

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  8. I’d be happy with a win for Barker, and quite annoyed about a win for Braithwaite, although I think the latter actually has a strong chance. To be honest, I’m struggling to bring myself to care about any of the shortlisted books in particular–apart, of course, from Milkman, which is terrific but which, having won the Booker Prize, one feels in a vague sort of way ought to be DQd from winning another major award.

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    • The three I imagine have the best chance are Barker, Miller, and Braithwaite, the former I’d be very happy with and the latter two… not so much. I did really enjoy both of those books but to see them win over Milkman I will be VERY IRRITATED. But of course the irony is how anticlimactic a Milkman win would feel, even when I fully believe it’s the most deserving. Despite my obsessive coverage of this prize I’m at a point where I almost don’t even care who wins, this shortlist just took all the wind out of my sails.

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  9. Due to my suddenly busy life and my moody reading habits, I haven’t been able to devote any time to reading any of the longlisted books I wanted to read and now, I am almost uninterested in knowing the results because of the mess with the shortlist. But I do hope you aren’t too disappointed with the results whatever they may be.

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    • I hope so too!! This shortlist is still such a disappointment to me after a really promising longlist 😦 But I have my fingers crossed for my two faves!

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  10. I kind of feel like Pat Barker will win, though I haven’t read anything on the shortlist except An American Marriage (which I’d be shocked to see the winner). I’m just about to start Milkman so we’ll see if I get through it before the 5th! It seems sort of unfair to count other awards won against a book yet it is nice to see the prizes spread out amongst multiple authors.

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    • I could definitely see Pat Barker winning! And I’d be really pleased with that result. I hope you enjoy Milkman, whether or not you finish it before the winner announcement! I totally agree – on the one hand I think it’s unfair to hold other prize wins against a good book, but on the other hand we can’t exactly pretend these prizes are being judged in total isolation.

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  11. Great post! I think My Sister is the only possible win that wouldn’t feel underwhelming to me (aside from Ordinary People, which I agree with you about being enjoyable but forgettable, and not very likely to be a real contender for the win). Milkman does seem like the most deserving winner, and even though it seems the most obvious and predictable choice I would be happy to see that happen. Anything else would probably be a disappointment, even though I didn’t actually dislike anything on this list. But as strange and underwhelming as the shortlist has been, it’ll be interesting to see where the judges go with it.

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    • I’m still so keen to see who the winner will be! Even if I fear that I’m going to feel a strong sense of anticlimax when it happens. I feel like since we got our way with the Booker we’re not going to get lucky with two prizes in a row, so I’m not holding my breath for Milkman even though I’d really love to see it win. Any of the others… I don’t even know, I guess we’ll see what my reaction is when it happens!

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