Women’s Prize 2022 Predictions

I can’t believe it’s already this time of year, but the Women’s Prize longlist announcement is just around the corner! I’m scheduling this post to publish the same day as Anna & Eric’s prediction video, both to join in the excitement and to resist the temptation to borrow from Anna’s list more than I already have in the weeks we’ve spent talking about this (I only stole one from her, to be fair).

I will be updating my Women’s Prize Complete Longlist history post here and its corresponding Google Doc here as soon as the list drops, so you can look forward to that, if that is the sort of thing you look forward to.

So, without further ado, my 16 predictions for the longlist (chaotic mix of UK and US covers as always):

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? Yes! I’ve heard so many good things about this book and it seems very up my alley.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chen

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? No, no, no. Nothing about this appeals to me, from the premise to what I’ve seen of the writing style. I’ll probably pass if it’s longlisted.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? I think so. This one didn’t totally land for me for a couple of reasons, but I had fun reading it and I think its depiction of workplace microaggressions was phenomenal and deserves to be recognized.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? I’ll definitely pass if it’s longlisted. I’ve heard this is fantastic, so I won’t be mad to see it on the list, but it’s over 800 pages and the premise isn’t doing much for me so I just don’t see myself reading this.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? (This is the one I stole from Anna.) Anyway, I’m on the fence—this seems like it could be good but it might also be a bit ‘book of the month’ for my tastes, so I’ll wait and see what other people think first.

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Has the author been longlisted before? No (!!)

Would I be happy to see it? I think I’ll feel pretty neutral about it. I think it’s very likely—Groff is, obviously, a tremendously well-known writer and it feels like it’s time to see her recognized by this prize, especially for a book that feels more Women’s Prize-y than anything she’s done before—so I’m prepared for it, but I was a bit underwhelmed by this book and I’m not a huge Groff fan so I won’t exactly be jumping for joy.

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Has the author been longlisted before? Yes.

Would I be happy to see it? Sure? I haven’t felt very compelled to pick this up, but at the same time it does seem like the sort of thing I could enjoy. I’ve also never read any Sarah Hall which feels like something I need to rectify.

Devotion by Hannah Kent

Has the author been longlisted before? Yes.

Would I be happy to see it? I was a huge Burial Rites fan so definitely, I’d love to read this.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? Yes! I started hearing amazing things about this when it was nominated for the National Book Award, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it and would love the excuse to pick it up.

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? Yes! I really enjoyed McConaghy’s debut, Migrations; I thought it was a bit messy but mostly successful for me, and I’d love to read her followup novel at some point soon.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Has the author been longlisted before? Yes.

Would I be happy to see it? As your resident Sally Rooney stan, yes, of course. That said, I will be equally fine with seeing it snubbed. This book has gotten a truly absurd amount of exposure and I’d be happy for something lesser-known, especially by a lesser-known Irish author, to take its place. (Let the record show that I am specifically predicting that BWWAY will be longlisted but not shortlisted, for that reason. I think the judges will include it as a nod to its cultural significance, but ultimately want to award the prize to a book that they can leave more of a mark on.)

This One Sky Day by Leone Ross

Has the author been longlisted before? Yes (not since 1997!!)

Would I be happy to see it? Kind of neutral. I’ll probably give it a chance if it’s longlisted but for some reason it hasn’t been screaming my name. Actually, I see it is commonly shelved on Goodreads as ‘magical realism,’ so, that is probably the reason.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? Eh… meh. I thought this was an adequate, by-the-book, Circe-esque Greek mythology retelling. I enjoyed it well enough but I didn’t think it did anything particularly groundbreaking, and for it to be lauded as one of the 16 best books by women of the past year would honestly feel a bit silly to me, but I won’t be mad as long as it’s not shortlisted.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? Absolutely! This didn’t fully work for me but it came damn close. It’s a sprawling, ambitious book that I found mostly successful in its aims.

The Performance by Claire Thomas

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? Yes! I haven’t read this but I think I could love it.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Has the author been longlisted before? No.

Would I be happy to see it? No. This really underwhelmed me. But I will not be surprised at all to see it longlisted; the Women’s Prize loves motherhood, especially in recent years it seems.

To address the elephant in the room: no, I don’t see To Paradise being longlisted. It feels too divisive, too controversial, too literary, too ambitious, too weird for this sort of prize. And I am aware that my list is very debut and first-time longlister heavy; there are a lot of other notable heavy hitters I’m leaving off (Erdritch, Strout, Riley, Barker, Toews, Shafak…) I don’t know why, it just feels like it’s going to be a mostly new, young writers year with a couple of exceptions. But we shall see!

What are you hoping and expecting to see on the list? Comment and let me know!


book review: Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer

SLEEPWALKING by Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead, 2014; originally published in 1982

It feels a bit silly and pointless to critique the 1982 debut of a prolific and well-established author on the grounds that it reads like a debut, but I have to get my criticisms out of the way: this book was remarkably clumsy—it reads like two concepts for two different novels stapled rather than sewn together.

The first of the two concepts is the story of ‘the death girls,’ three Swarthmore freshman who are each obsessed with a different female poet who died by suicide (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and an invented poet, Lucy Ascher). The novel introduces the three girls with the striking opening sentence ‘They talked about death as if it were a country in Europe’ and the prologue continues on to explain their strange friendship, predicated on a similar reverence for death—but then this conceit falls away completely. Naomi and Laura, two of the death girls, barely factor into this novel at all—this is the story of Claire, coming to terms with the death of her brother as well as the death of her favorite poet; her story is shared only by the parents of Lucy Ascher, who have fallen apart in the years since their daughter died.

Enter the second concept: an unsentimental excavation of the many faces of grief. In spite of the obvious thematic parallels between these two narratives that Wolitzer thought up, she is unable to integrate them into one another in a way that doesn’t feel forced and unnatural. The ‘death girl’ setup (as well as the introduction to Claire’s narratively pointless boyfriend, Julian) is ultimately the framework for the novel’s real aims, but it’s flimsy and unconvincing and honestly a bit of a letdown to anyone who approaches this looking for a Secret History-esque campus novel about close-knit friendships. (The bulk of the novel takes place off campus, to add insult to injury.)

But that’s all okay—again, it’s a debut by an author who’s been working for 40 years, so it’s hard not to give Wolitzer the benefit of the doubt. And in spite of all the aforementioned clumsiness, I really enjoyed reading this book. Wolitzer’s meditations on death and grief are surprisingly fresh and insightful, and though the other death girls don’t leave much of an impression, Claire is a remarkably well-drawn character. This was actually my first Wolitzer, and I’m interested to see how her style has evolved through the years.

book review: Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park | BookBrowse

LOVE IN THE BIG CITY by Sang Young Park
translated by Anton Hur
Grove Press, 2021

Set in Seoul, South Korea, Love in the Big City is a warm, playful, emotionally rich novel that weaves together four interconnected vignettes to tell the story of its narrator, Park Young, as he matures over the course of his 20s and 30s. Split into four sections—each of which could conceivably stand alone as a short story—Love in the Big City first introduces the friendship between Park Young and Jaehee, a fellow student who, like Young, spends most of her free time drinking and hooking up with random men. The two move in together, sharing everything, and the platonic love between them is palpable; Young keeps Jaehee’s favorite Marlboro cigarettes stocked and Jaehee buys him his favorite frozen blueberries. When Jaehee uncharacteristically decides to settle down and get married after years of the two sharing their young and free lifestyle, Young feels betrayed and unmoored, which leads to a series of inauspicious romantic trysts.

You can read my full review HERE on BookBrowse and a piece I wrote about contemporary Korean literature in translation HERE.

book review: Voting Day by Clare O’Dea

VOTING DAY by Clare O’Dea
Fairlight Books, April 1, 2022

Set in 1959 against the backdrop of Switzerland’s failed referendum for women’s suffrage, Voting Day is split into four sections, each dedicated to a different Swiss woman, all of whose lives end up intersecting. This novella is short, sweet, and to the point: O’Dea deftly carves out a rich inner life for each of her four protagonists, and the story crescendos bittersweetly during the anticlimax of the result of the vote. 

The only problem I had was with the sentence-by-sentence writing, which felt overly modern, simplistic, and occasionally under-edited:

Oh God, she saw Luigi. I can’t say he’s a work colleague… maybe a neighbour? I’m so disappointed in him. He was up front all along, so why did he have to get so secretive in the end? It doesn’t do justice to what we had together.

Well, seeing as I was in that special situation with Herr Fasel, and not looking for anything serious, I thought, why not? I have no time for all this fuss people make about love and heartbreak and bagging a man. I’m a modern woman, and I don’t have to fit into some outdated mould.

(This seems to be a theme with a lot of my recent reading, doesn’t it: liking the idea of a story more than I like the prose.)

As this only takes about an hour to read, I have no hesitation in recommending it if this is a premise or period of history that particularly interests you, but unfortunately I don’t think this was as brilliant as it had the potential to be.

Thank you to Netgalley and Fairlight for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

Saga Press, 2019

I was so sure I was going to love this short story collection—modernized mythology is a conceit that excites me—but ultimately found it pretty one-note and heavy-handed. This is a YA collection in adult clothing, and I think it’s a shame that it wasn’t edited with a young adult audience in mind (characters are all adults but feel like teenagers, and a few passing references to sex are clearly made to age it up; it doesn’t work). Anyway, it leaves me in this awkward place where I don’t like to criticize YA books for being YA (they just weren’t written for me, and that is a-okay!), but this book was explicitly marketed as adult and I did go into it expecting that it had been written for me so here we are.

I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to get on with this from the author’s forward, which ends with the words: ‘Turn the page. I have miracles to offer you.’ If that isn’t the most self-aggrandizing way to begin a book, I don’t know what is. I was just at odds with Kat Howard’s style prose style the whole time, with lines like that as well as ‘There had been a woman, Madeleine, he thought her name was, who smelled of paper and stories.’

This whole collection can pretty much be summed up in this line, from the story The Green Knight’s Wife (hey, I like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, maybe that story will finally be the one for me… never mind):

He feels more comfortable in a place that is like him: forest, secret, overgrown.
No one ever asked me what my comforts were[…]

This collection is just a mindless chorus of similar female voices lamenting being overshadowed by men; a theme I can absolutely love when done well, but here it isn’t executed with particular craft or purpose. I could pretty much hear Howard’s internal monologue as she was writing: “What if The Green Knight… but feminist? What if Orpheus and Eurydice… but feminist? What if Macbeth (kind of)… but feminist?” Like… ok, great, good start—and then what? Feminism is just an idea, an ideology, not a fully-constructed narrative. Each story just felt like a rough sketch of something and each ended in an anticlimax.

Thankfully the story that I enjoyed the most was the longest one—the novella-length Once, Future, a meta retelling of Le Morte D’Arthur. I thought this one was fun, at least: I think Howard’s strength is plot, which is why it was frustrating to see so little of it across these stories. I don’t think she excels at theme, atmosphere, or descriptive writing, and that’s pretty much all these stories purportedly have going for them.

This just wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. It clearly works well for the right reader, so if it interests you at all I’d absolutely encourage you to read a sample and see what you make of the writing style, but I just didn’t get on with it at all and I hope Marija forgives me.