Women’s Prize 2021 Longlist Reaction

The longlist is here!

As usual, I like to start off with some stats (if I’ve made any errors, please let me know!):

British: 6
American: 5
Irish: 2
Canadian: 1
Bajan/Barbadian: 1
Ghanaian-American: 1

White authors: 11
Authors of color: 5

1 trans author (for the first time!)

5 debuts

I got 5 predictions correct

I’ve already read 2 books: Luster and Exciting Times.

Reaction per title:

  • Because of You by Dawn French: I think I’ve been living under a rock because I hadn’t actually… heard of Dawn French until today?! No strong feelings about this one; I doubt I’ll read it though, it seems a bit twee for my tastes.
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi: Argh this is one that I cut from my predictions list at the last second and I’m kicking myself. Anyway, yes, very good, I’ve had an ARC for ages and I’m so looking forward to finally reading this.
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon: This is one of the titles that I’m most excited about. I haven’t read any Lyon before, though I’ve had her Alexander the Great novel The Golden Mean on my shelf for a while now, but I think this sounds fascinating and potentially very up my alley. I just checked this out from Overdrive, so it’s the one off the list that I’ll be reading soonest.
  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: I keep hearing how fun and brilliant this is so I’m very happy to see it here, and seeing a trans woman longlisted for the first time is lovely and exciting; I’m very happy for Torrey Peters.
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan: LOVED this book; it was one of my favorites of last year and one of my favorite debuts in a while. Very excited to see more people reading this one as I feel the initial hype around it tapered off rather quickly.
  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones: I’ve been seeing this around a bit but know nothing about it; I think I’ll reserve judgement until I read a few more reviews and get a sense of whether or not this book will work for me.
  • Luster by Raven Leilani: This book ultimately fell a bit flat for me, but I think that was more a fault in my expectations than in what the book was actually trying to do. I’m pleased to see it on this list and wouldn’t be surprised to see it shortlisted.
  • No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: Very curious about this; will definitely try to read soon!
  • Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon: I’ve heard of this but it’s probably one of the Irish novels published in the last year that I know the least about, go figure. Still, it’s Irish, meaning I’m contractually obligated to read it, I think.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: This is an exciting choice for the Women’s Prize, whether I personally end up liking it or not (I honestly can’t decide, but Hannah thinks I will and she gets my tastes better than most people, so, I’m going to trust her here).
  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers: I think this could be good, though it’s not one of the ones I’m going to reach for first.
  • Summer by Ali Smith: This was actually, hands down, the biggest shock of the list for me–I was under the impression that Ali Smith had stopped submitting her books for literary prizes, but I guess it must just be the Booker. Here is where I make the shameful confession that although I’ve massively enjoyed Ali Smith in the past, I haven’t actually read any of the Seasonal Quartet. I’d like to do that all at once, so I’m not sure if I’m going to use this as that opportunity, at long last, or if I’m going to wait a while. But yes, I’ll be reading these at some point.
  • The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig: So. I don’t know anything about this book, but Amanda Craig has been openly transphobic in the past (sources, easily googlable too: x, x), and I’m disappointed that the Women’s Prize would undercut the achievement of the first ever trans woman to be longlisted by forcing her to share the list with Craig. I won’t be reading this.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: To no one’s surprise. This one’s been everywhere and I’ve mostly heard glowing things, so I will try to read this sooner rather than later.
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: You may recall that in my predictions post I had mentioned that I wasn’t interested in reading this (for no strong reason other than that the summer didn’t jump out at me as something I feel compelled to read immediately), but then I had a rather interesting conversation with Anna James about this book and she completely changed my mind; now I’m very eager to get to it!
  • Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller: Fuller’s an author that I’ve enjoyed in the past and have been meaning to read more from. I think this sounds great and I have an ARC, so I’m happy.

Overall thoughts:

I think on the whole this is a MUCH stronger list than last year’s and certainly more suited to my personal tastes as a reader. That said, I find the lack of diversity on this list disappointing; only 5(!) out of 16 books by authors of color is a record low for the Women’s Prize in recent years, and I don’t see a reason for it when we’ve seen all of the following published in the past year, any of which would have made an exciting addition over the multiple British mystery/crime novels on the list*: If I Had Your Face, A Burning, We Are All Birds of Uganda, The Mermaid of Black Conch, Little Gods, White Ivy, A Lover’s Discourse, His Only Wife, and The First Woman.

*not sure why we need Unsettled Ground, The Golden Rule, and Small Pleasures all on the same list–seems a little redundant? There are also more white British authors on this list, specifically, than there are authors of color.

Moving on: I also think The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is a shocking snub–Station Eleven, which didn’t make the shortlist the year it was longlisted, in my opinion is one of the best books published in the past decade and The Glass Hotel is arguably even better, so for these 16 books to supposedly be better than that… I have very high expectations. I also think The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue is a surprising omission; it’s a great book for plenty of reasons but I’m surprised the judges were able to resist the pull of heralding the pandemic narrative as “a book for our times.”

What’s interesting to me about this list is that it’s very light on debuts (only 5, if I counted correctly), but it’s also light on esteemed, big name authors. No Marilynne Robinson, no Joyce Carol Oates (sorry Eric), no Curtis Sittenfeld, no Emily St. John Mandel, etc. I guess Dawn French (the one I hadn’t heard of), Susanna Clarke, and Ali Smith are probably the closest thing, but it’s still surprising to see a list that seems to be prioritizing giving under the radar, young- to mid-career authors their moment. Not sure what to make of that, honestly, and I won’t until I read more; I can see this list either being an unexpected knock-out or falling flat. Time will tell!

Read: Luster, Exciting Times

Priority: Burnt Sugar, Consent, Detransition, Baby, Piranesi, No One is Talking About This, The Vanishing Half, Transcendent Kingdom, Unsettled Ground

Maybe: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Summer (will read eventually, just maybe not in the near future, TBD), Nothing But Blue Sky, Small Pleasures

No: Because of You, The Golden Rule

What are your Women’s Prize thoughts and plans? Comment and let me know!


42 thoughts on “Women’s Prize 2021 Longlist Reaction

  1. Anna was also the reason I became obsessed with reading Transcendent Kingdom! It was already on my radar but the way, but the way she spoke of it in her and Eric’s predictions video made me buy it instantly. We’ve already discussed the list, but thank you again for that breakdown of the list – definitely expected it to be more diverse.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This year’s list is definitely more suited to my personal taste as well, which is a welcome surprise! Definitely shocked by the shortfall in women of colour though, especially given this year’s judging panel. And ughhhh, I’m sure you don’t need me to say again how annoyed I am about a transphobe being on the list at all, let alone in the same year they finally recognize a trans woman 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The stats are so helpful!! It looks like we’re prioritizing pretty similar titles off the bat. I also think you will like Transcendent Kingdom, and am excited for more of the WP squad to read it! Nothing But Blue Sky is really not grabbing my attention but I’d be very curious to see what you think of it, if you do pick it up for being Irish. 🙂 Here’s hoping for the unexpected knock-out option, rather than the flop!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay I’m glad!!! I’m really looking forward to Transcendent Kingdom! Nothing But Blue Sky doesn’t really grab my attention either but I may end up taking a chance on it just for being Irish, I’ll let you know my thoughts if I do!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for being so fast, I was afraid I’d have to wait till tomorrow! And I’m missing all the Twitter snark.

    I agree, this seems a stronger list than years past. Also more interesting. I’m okay with a lot of debut and mid career novelists. Too many JCOs, Atwoods, Mantels etc gets boring. UNLESS they really wrote one of the best books that year I guess…

    I’m sure Rick or I or both have already told you to read The Golden Mean so I won’t repeat. I’ve only read her historical stuff so I’m a little wary of something modern!

    I will be controversial (maybe?) and say I don’t think including Craig undercuts Peterson’s achievment at all. They’re both women, they both (allegedly) wrote one of the best books by women this year. So they both belong here. Whether her book’s any good is another matter, and neither you nor I will find out 🙂 And the only thing I can find is her signing a letter supporting she who shall not be named… learning from Canada’s literary open letter drama, I think a good portion of the authors signing these things don’t even really know what they’re signing…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had a responsibility to the people!

      And yes, totally agree, I’ll take mid career novelists over the Atwoods of the world any day. It just strikes me as odd (the Marilynne exclusion particularly!) and I’m curious whether it points to quality of the novels selected or if it just points to the judges trying to do something Different.

      Both of you have, yes! I really need to get on that! I actually started Consent last night, I’m only 7% in but so far I’m LOVING it.

      I hear what you’re saying, but my feeling about this is that it’s unfair to Torrey Peters since including Craig refocuses the discourse away from celebrating Peters’ achievement (which is arguably what I’m doing right now… though in a very different way than UK media is bound to!). And given the rampant transphobia in UK feminism coupled with the WP’s messy statements about trans women over the past couple of years (the “legally defined as a woman” statement was… bad), I think listing a writer who’s signed that letter is sending a message to Peters that her work is being respected by the prize but her existence is still up for debate. Just my feeling–I have no intention of speaking for Torrey!


  5. Great post and again, thank you for the author break down. The longer I sit with the list, the less enthused I am but I agree, it certainly looks stronger than last year. I am very pleased for the first trans woman to make the list and would have loved for her to not have to share it with Craig. But when white British women make up such a big chunk of the list, it was probably inevitable.
    I am very excited for you to get to Piranesi, if also slightly worried to potentially have misled you. I am fairly certain you’ll appreciate it though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same, my feelings as the titles were revealed yesterday were very positive and now I’m like… what, that’s it? Definitely better than last year but it would be hard not to be!

      I don’t think you’ll have led me astray! I trust you! Piranesi seems like one of those books that ostensibly should not work for me, but also might work for me in spite of the odds against it? So, if you’re wrong I will not hold it against you, and if you’re right I’ll be very pleased!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have now had a proper look at the synopses and wow, there is so much overlap in themes and basic premises. That does make me hopeful that there will be truly inspiredly written books. Which is why I am waiting for more reviews for some books.
        Even if you won’t love love Piranesi I do think you’ll appreciate the way in which she constructs the story. Plus, if not, it’s short!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I find the longlist very interesting and full of reading opportunities 🙂
    Transcendent Kingdom is the only book I read, and I loved it!
    The Vanishing Half, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, and Burnt Sugar are high on my reading list. Looking forward to the shortlist!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I got six predictions right, and am lucky to have already read seven of the books. I agree with you that it’s rather perplexing how white and Anglo-American this list is; I thought with Evaristo at the helm we would see more diversity. Even just a few more Commonwealth authors would have seemed appropriate.

    DAWN FRENCH — I’m afraid some expletives may have left my mouth after her name was announced. She’s a 90s sitcom star, a celebrity long before she became an author. Maybe it’s unfair of me since I’ve never read a word she’s written, but this selection seems to me like a misstep, way too far into commercial women’s fiction. (There has to be at least one inexplicable choice per year, eh?)

    The only book on the list I had not heard of at all is the MacMahon, but my library has a copy so I’ll give it a try. I haven’t gotten on with Smith’s Seasons quartet, so I know I won’t read Summer or the French, and I’ll probably give the Craig a miss as well — I’ve read one of her novels before and it was entertaining enough but nothing that lured me to read more by her (and I don’t like her overall tone on social media; she comes across as very bitter and hard done by, all ‘I’ve been slaving away for decades and no one ever pays attention to my books…’).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of all the bloggers I added to my predictions Twitter thread you got the most right! Well done!

      I’m still not over the shocking whiteness of the list–definitely the most perplexing element of this whole thing. Because yes, Evaristo! I think we all had much loftier ambitions for this list.

      Hahaha I’ve been reading up on Dawn French and having had no idea who she was before this I’m ultimately rather amused by the whole thing, but I understand your frustration! I would be… SHOCKED to learn that that book is on the same caliber as authors like Emily St. John Mandel. I always prefer when the inexplicable/commercial fiction slot goes to something I hadn’t heard of, it really softens the blow I must say.

      I hadn’t even heard of Craig until yesterday but then spent a WHILE doing some digging and yes, agree wholeheartedly. Maybe I’ll wait to hear your thoughts on the MacMahon before I decide; I’m pretty sure it’s not published over here so I’d have to buy it and I’m not convinced yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Rachel!!! Dawn French is the best comic actress of her generation. LOVE. I don’t know what her novels are like, but French and Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley are essential watching. Re Small Pleasures, this was the last book I read in 2020 and I enjoyed it immensely; it’s really stuck with me. Very Pym-esque; I expected it to be a bit light, but instead it just has a light touch on emotions and events that are profound. Piranesi haunted my dreams for a few days after finishing it (in a really good way), so I’m delighted to see that here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha it’s shameful since I pride myself on being more up on British Pop Culture than the average American (and not in that annoying ‘I’ve seen Doctor Who so I’m British now’ kind of way, like, my favorite tv show is Coronation Street for fuck’s sake) BUT every once in a while someone like Dawn French slips through the cracks and I’m like, who the…? Anyway, VERY amused that the woman who played the Fat Lady in Harry Potter is now a Women’s Prize longlister. What a time to be alive.

      I saw your rating of Small Pleasures when I was looking these up yesterday so I was going to ask you about that. Glad you enjoyed it, I’d definitely like to read it once I get through the ones that I’m prioritizing more highly. And I’m definitely down for some dream haunting.


  9. Completely agree with a lot of this, especially the white British middle-class (middle age?) focus and the omission of The Glass Hotel and The Pull of the Stars. Anna is right about Transcendent Kingdom though, I loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still trying to reconcile the white British focus with the fact that Evaristo is such a brilliant champion of diversity, but I guess she only holds so much sway at the end of the day? And yay, looking forward to TK very much now!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I find it surprising. I thought Nesrine Malik would also ensure a diverse longlist. I have been speculating that the selection from publishers was especially limited this year, as Evaristo did express her disappointment about not receiving more experimental writing. We also don’t know what books presses chose to submit. Not saying this explains everything about the longlist, but it must have been a weird year for publishers and the Prize.


  10. Great post and I completely agree about the lack of diversity. I was hoping to see more authors outwith the Uk and US make the list so I was disappointed to read the stats. It feels like a missed opportunity.
    But on a (slightly) brighter note: I have 15 new books to read (currently reading Burnt Sugar) and will hopefully find some brilliant stories.


  11. I am happy for Susanna Clarke, but then again, it is a step down from her fantasy masterpiece “Jonathan Strange”. The second half of the book is disappointing, to say the least – it feels like a vey second-rate Dan Brown. I am also pleased to see on this list Fuller’s Unsettled Ground. I remember reading her “Bitter Orange” and enjoying it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have quite mixed feelings about the list, now that I’ve sat with it for a while. I was initially very excited because there are lots of books on there that I personally want to read, plus I was so happy to see both Exciting Times and Burnt Sugar make the cut. However, I am really disappointed by how similar some of the books seem, how few authors of colour were longlisted and by Amanda Craig being longlisted. I am delighted for Torrey Peters but longlisting Amanda Craig alongside her really sends a mixed message.

    I am very curious to see what you think of Consent! It is currently one of the books that I am not planning on reading but I could be swayed by a few good reviews 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree! My initial reaction to the list was very positive but the longer I’ve sat with it the more underwhelmed I am (the preponderance of white writers is pretty unforgivable), but I still want to read a pretty large chunk of the list? I don’t know, very mixed feelings!

      I finished Consent the other day and I ADORED it. It’s definitely not a book for everyone though so I’m sitting with it for a little while before reviewing!


  13. Only one I’ve read (The Vanishing Half) but a few more I’m interested in. I kind of like it when award lists have lots of lesser known authors. It can be a great way to get some new names out and highlight new talent. I love authors like Marilynne Robinson but she’s going to sell books regardless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I completely agree, I much prefer longlists with lesser known writers! If anything I wanted the list to be more obscure–writers like Claire Fuller and Yaa Gyasi and Annabel Lyon already have pretty established careers, even if they’re not Robinson-level successful. It’s interesting to me that they picked these writers over ones like Robinson because I feel like when longlists exclude famous names it’s often in an attempt to prioritize debuts and authors people have never heard of, so the fact that this list largely falls in between those two extremes is odd and intriguing to me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s a good point. Lyon is pretty well known in Canada but I wasn’t sure if she was was widely known outside of the country. I wonder if they leave some names like Gyasi and Fuller in to attract some attention while still trying to avoid the really long-established writers. Who knows?

        Liked by 1 person

      • She’s not very big in the US but I’m not sure about the UK! I’ve had her on my radar for years though so maybe my own sense of her career’s success is inflated. And yes, that sounds like a reasonable approach! In any case, I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of the list and seeing what it’s all about.

        Liked by 1 person

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