Women’s Prize 2021 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

So it’s that time of the year again! The Women’s Prize winner announcement is right around the corner, on September 8. I did actually succeed in my resolution not to read the entire longlist this year, but I somehow ended up reading 10/16, including the entire shortlist.

On the whole, from what I’ve read, I’m pretty ambivalent about this list — there were a couple of real highlights for me, but also a lot of duds, and I think the huge delay between the longlist announcement (March 8) and the winner announcement (September 8) deadened some of my excitement.

Round up of my 2021 Women’s Prize coverage:

Now here’s the shortlist ranked from what I would least to most like to see win.

6. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

This book just fell flat on its face for me — I admired what it was trying to do in its excavation of the dark realities of a small-town Caribbean tourist paradise, but I ultimately felt like its graphic portrayals of trauma were so extreme that they swallowed up the fictional elements, leaving me unconvinced by this story and these characters. That this sort of trauma is true to life, I have no doubt; but in a novel, it wasn’t able to convince me or hold my interest. I also didn’t get on with the writing style at all, meaning I solidly enjoyed reading this book the least.

5. Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Another one that I felt did a poor job at balancing its social commentary with a compelling, convincing narrative; while reading both One-Armed Sister and Unsettled Ground I felt acutely aware that I was reading a fictional story about invented people; Jeanie and Julius never fully came to life for me, and I felt that this book was largely just spinning its wheels without really going anywhere. I felt like I ‘got the point’ fairly early on and then was just waiting for something bigger and better to materialize out of this story.

4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is the final entry to my ‘did not do a good job at balancing themes and story’ half of this list. While I felt that this book really excelled at its commentary on colorism and racial identity, it left a lot to be desired as a work of fiction. I had a lot of problems with this book — character development, writing style, heavy reliance on coincidence — but I think its biggest offense for me was how poorly it was structured. Of the three shortlisted books that I didn’t enjoy reading, The Vanishing Half would probably offend me the least as a winner: I think these are three really poorly written novels, if I’m being honest, but I felt that The Vanishing Half at least did the best job at its social commentary.

3. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

A really interesting thought-experiment on the inextricable nature of “reality” and “online life”, that I felt didn’t cut any corners in its development of a very harrowing narrative that runs parallel to its commentary on The Internet. I was so impressed by this book but what it didn’t have, for me, was staying power; much as I loved it at the time, I hardly ever think about it now, and when trying to recall the shortlist off the top of my head, this is the one I always forget.

2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

A richly imaginative work that really stuck with me in its poignant depiction of loneliness. I wasn’t sure about this one going in, but Susanna Clarke’s lush and confident prose lured me in and I ended up enjoying every second that I spent in this strange world. (I also recently realized something about what happens in my head when I read, which is that I visualize interior spaces very vividly, which is probably why this worked so well for me when I don’t tend to love descriptive writing.) But anyway, back to the Women’s Prize — I don’t expect this to win, but I think it would be an exciting and unconventional choice.

1. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

This book does what so many on this shortlist failed to do for me — it takes a heart-wrenching narrative and a wide array of themes and subjects and it synthesizes them into a singular, spectacular novel. This is one of the shorter books on the shortlist and still not a single one of its 264 pages is wasted — Gyasi’s prose is exquisite and her structure and pacing are impeccable. This manages to be both a hard-hitting exploration of the connection between science and faith, and also a moving story about a broken family, and I would love so much to see this exceptional book win next week.

Winner Prediction:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I don’t particularly want to see this book win, but I think it’s inevitable. The Vanishing Half has been lauded for its well-constructed characters, for its compelling storytelling, and for its heart-wrenching depiction of the fractured bond between two sisters. I didn’t personally see or feel any of that, but obviously the judges do, or it wouldn’t have made it this far. The fact that it’s topical, that it’s SO successful in the U.S., and that it’s supposedly a heartbreaking story is the right combination of factors that will give it the edge up above the other shortlisters, I think. It’s hard to describe something that you can’t even fully see, but so many readers are finding a real magic in this novel that I’m really expecting it to take home the prize.

So to recap: the only two novels I’m actively rooting for are Transcendent Kingdom and Piranesi; I don’t expect No One is Talking About This to win and I think I’ll be some sort of combination of impressed and bemused if it does; I’m resigned to The Vanishing Half; and Unsettled Ground and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House are the two that I’ll be the most actively irritated by.

But those are just my personal thoughts — as always, good luck to all the shortlisters.

What are you guys expecting and hoping to see win?

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!

Women’s Prize 2021 Longlist Predictions

I’ve already talked a little bit about how I don’t plan on following the Women’s Prize this year as closely as I usually do… but at this point it’s tradition to make a predictions list and get everything spectacularly wrong, so, let’s do this.

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.

As of now, here are my predictions:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure! I’ve heard mostly positive things and I’d like the excuse to finally read it. That said, I’d like to read Nella Larsen’s Passing first, which I understanding The Vanishing Act is sort of in conversation with, so I might not get around to reading it before the shortlist drops if it does make the list.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  YES. I loved this book and felt it didn’t get nearly enough attention. I thought it was a great snapshot of the withering effects of the Korean beauty industry on a group of young women.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Hannah loved it and thinks I also would, so yeah, why not.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  This narrowly missed out on being one of my top books of 2020 so yes, absolutely.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I’m not sure… I did mean to read this ages ago and was looking forward to it but since then my interest has waned a bit. I think I’ve read a few too many lukewarm reviews. I’d still probably give it a shot though.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I don’t think I’ll read this, at least not right now, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it on there; the consensus seems overwhelmingly positive.

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I mean, you know me and Irish lit. I don’t know a whole lot about this one but I’ve heard good things.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  I was honestly a little underwhelmed by this book, but yeah, if it makes the list I think it will have earned its spot.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  No. I can’t even explain why but I have a deeply intuitive feeling that I won’t get on with this.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  This was my favorite novel of 2020, so yes.

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Definitely. Would love the excuse to read this.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes! Haven’t read this yet but Moss is great.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes (winner).

Would I be happy to see it?  I don’t have a horse in this race. I’ve never read Robinson and I do intend to, some day, but also don’t feel an urgent need to do that next month. So if it’s on the list I won’t read it, but I also won’t begrudge the Robinson stans their happiness.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  You literally could not pay me to read this book, so no.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I know almost nothing about this, but it would be nice for at least one Australian novel to make the list.

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  Also know very little about this one. No strong preference here.


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

An Alternate Women’s Prize Longlist

As we all know, I’m a devoted follower of the Women’s Prize.  I tried my best with the 2020 longlist – I really did.  Here’s where I landed on this group of 16 books:

Shortlist

Remaining longlist

  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara | will not read/don’t care enough to prioritize this
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner | read ★★★☆☆
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams | will not read/don’t care enough to prioritize this
  • Actress by Anne Enright | on-hold for now; I read 50 pages, had to put it down when various library holds all came in at the same time, and now it’s been too long to pick it back up, so I’m going to wait a couple of months and start over
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie | will not read/don’t care enough to prioritize this/have heard it’s awful
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee | read ★★★★☆
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo | currently reading/suffering
  • Girl by Edna O’ Brien | read ★☆☆☆☆
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett | will not read/don’t care enough to prioritize this/have heard it’s awful
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson | read ★★★★☆

At this point, I’m just sort of fed-up.  I haven’t had a single 5-star read off this list, I’ve read two that I positively HATED, and if I have to read another book about motherhood I’m going to fucking scream.  Luckily the 3 shortlisted titles that I haven’t already read (A Thousand Ships, Mantel, Hamnet) are the 3 that I was most looking forward to off the longlist, so, that was fortuitous, and I’ll definitely be reading those.  As for the rest… nope!


So a group of blogging friends and I decided to take the initiative to create our own 2020 longlist.  In a perfect world where we were the judges, these are the books we would have longlisted this year (adhering to all the Women’s Prize eligibility criteria):

It’s a group of 8 of us, so we each put forward 2 titles.  (See if you can guess mine.)

The Judges: Callum, EmilyHannahMarijaNatySarahSteph, and myself.

The longlist:

  1. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy | review ★★★★★
  2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell | currently reading
  3. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  4. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo | review ★★★★☆
  5. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  6. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
  7. The Body Lies by Jo Baker | review ★★★★★
  8. The Fire Starters by Jan Carson | review ★★★★★
  9. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips | review ★★★★★
  10. Bunny by Mona Awad
  11. Supper Club by Lara Williams
  12. My Name is Monster by Katie Hale
  13. Actress by Anne Enright
  14. Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
  15. The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld
  16. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson | review ★★★★☆

All of us have a bit of literary prize fatigue at the moment, so we aren’t setting ourselves a deadline to read the list and come up with a shortlist.  It’s just something we’re going to meander through and hopefully revisit in a few months’ time.

That said, if you want to join us in reading any of these titles, please do!  The idea is ultimately to spotlight a group of books that we think either flew somewhat under the radar this year, or which we think are deserving of all the accolades they’ve been getting.

Comment and let me know your thoughts on the following: 1. the official longlist, 2. our alternate longlist, and 3. your own ideal longlist!

Women’s Prize 2020 Longlist Reaction

It’s here!  (The below are affiliate links – if you order any of these from this post I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Some quick stats:

6 UK authors/6 US authors/1 Singapore/1 India/2 Ireland

7 authors of color/9 white authors

4 debuts

I got 4 predictions correct

At the time the longlist was announced I had only read… 1/4 of one book!  A record low for me.

So, initial thoughts were that I was a little disappointed at all the heavy hitters on the list: I do love a good debut-heavy longlist.  That said, I’m getting more excited to read it and I cannot wait to discuss the list with you guys in the upcoming months.

My plans:

I have the following out from the library:

Weather: I’m halfway through this and so far I’m enjoying it but it’s not exactly knocking my socks off like it has done for so many other readers.  Full thoughts to come hopefully in a few days.

Dominicana: I started this last night and I’m not at all crazy about the writing style, but I’m also only 20% in.

Girl: I’m a little wary of this one but also a little excited?  Will start soon.

How We Disappeared: Possibly my biggest unpopular literary opinion is that I don’t mind a good WWII novel every now and then, so I have high hopes for this!

I have the following on hold:

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: This does not seem like my kind of book, but I’ve also heard it’s good and a quick read, so I’m fine with giving it a go.

Fleishman is in Trouble: Ugh.  This is the one I’m most annoyed about.  I have not heard good things and this does not seem like something I will enjoy at all.

Queenie: Ooh, yes!  Nearly made my predictions list.  I’m excited.

Actress: Never read Anne Enright but I’m really excited for this!

Girl, Woman, Other: FINALLY a concrete excuse to read this.  It’s such a shame that I haven’t made time for it before now.

The Most Fun We Ever Had: I must have read this summary four or five times and it has never made any impression on me.  It’s also very long.  We’ll see how this goes.

Hamnet: Very very very excited to read this.

The Dutch House: Meh?  I’ve not had the best history with Ann Patchett – I DNF’d Bel Canto and I 3 starred Commonwealth.  I do like the sound of this one though so hopefully it works for me.

Red At the Bone: Another meh.  I’ve only read one Woodson and it did absolutely nothing for me.

I ordered the following:

A Thousand Ships: I’d been holding out for a US publisher for over a year, but fuck it.  I am SO excited for this book and so happy to finally read it.

Nightingale Point: Never heard of it, didn’t even read the summary, I just placed an order.

Which leaves:

The Mirror & The Light: TBD.  I’ve not read Wolf Hall so that complicates things for me.  I’m going to save this one for last – if I don’t get around to it by the time the winner is announced, oh well; but who knows, maybe I’ll finish the longlist by early May and have ample time to devote to this trilogy.  We’ll see!


Finally, I just wanted to talk about some snubs real quick:

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson: My favorite novel of 2019 never got the attention it deserved, and this was really its last chance to show up on a big literary prize list, so I’m a little heartbroken.  Just – please read this.

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy: This is a brilliant brilliant BRILLIANT book – I cannot state that enough.  It almost definitely deserved a spot over some that made it onto the list.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: ding dong the witch is dead

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman: Mixed feelings about this not showing up; in a way I’d kind of have liked the excuse to read it!  But on the other hand, the length is pretty scary when it’s up next to 15 other books I’m also trying to read in a set period of time.


Other reaction posts:


What are your thoughts about the longlist?  What are you happy/unhappy to see and what are you happy/unhappy to see snubbed?  What are your reading plans?  Comment with all things Women’s Prize!

Women’s Prize 2020 Longlist Predictions

In case you missed it, I recently spent way too long on this post in which I compiled every longlist in the history of the Women’s Prize.  So just in case it wasn’t clear from that alone: I love this prize, a lot.  And I have been working on my predictions list probably for the last six months (sadly not an exaggeration).  So, here we go!

I’m going to start with a wishlist of sorts – only 8 books – that I will explain in the paragraph down below, then I will move on to my predictions.

Wishlist

My wishlist falls into 2 categories: books I’ve read that I think deserve to make the list, and books I haven’t read, that I’m desperate to read, and I hope to see them on the longlist so I finally have an excuse to read them.  Some of these will show up on my predictions list below; some will not.

Have read/adored:

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
The Body Lies by Jo Baker

Have yet to read:

Bunny by Mona Awad
Supper Club by Lara Williams
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
The Island Child by Molly Aitken

Now let’s move on to the main event.

I told Hannah I would not look at her list until I posted my own, but I cheated and peaked at it and I loved that she included whether the author had been longlisted in the past and whether she personally wanted to see the books longlisted, so I am stealing that format.

Longlist prediction

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Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

This National Book Award winner has been incredibly Marmite, which I have to say I’m intrigued by.  While I personally know quite a few people who hated it, the widespread literary praise it’s received can’t be ignored, which I think makes it a solid contender.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Honestly, it would not be my first, second, or third choice.

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The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

This historical mystery about a maid accused of murder was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, and I’ve seen so much other praise for it, especially in the UK.  I think it’s a solid contender.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes!  I’d love to read this.

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The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

I don’t know too much about this, but I keep seeing it crop up in ‘2020 debuts to look out for’ lists.  I think it’s a Nigerian coming of age tale about a young girl advocating for her education – seems very Women’s Prize to me.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure!

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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This co-Booker winner is a bit of an obvious choice.  It’s received so much praise, and I think the general mood about it is indignation that it was not the sole Booker winner.  (That also explains my omission of The Testaments from my own predictions – while there are hardly American Dirt levels of ill-will toward it, I do think on the whole people are a bit tired of it, and I have to wonder if Atwood herself may have asked that it not be submitted to the Women’s Prize.  She seemed a bit embarrassed by the Booker co-win, honestly.)

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES.  It is a crime that I haven’t read this book.

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The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

I think it’s fair to assume that this one is going to show up on just about every prize list this year.  I haven’t actually read Mantel yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which The Mirror & The Light will be concluding.  Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies made the Women’s Prize shortlist in years past, and – notably – both won the Booker.  I think this one is a pretty safe prediction.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Shortlisted 3 times and longlisted 1 time beyond that.

Would I be happy to see it?  It’s inevitable but no.  I really, really, really want to read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but I also want to read the entire longlist and the thought of reading a whole trilogy on top of 16 books stresses me out.  I should have read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies this month to prepare.

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Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride

I also think this one is a safe prediction, and if it doesn’t make the longlist, I think it will be because the word count fell short.  It seems to be borderline, so it’s hard to predict without knowing the exact word count, but I’m going out on a limb and throwing it on here.  McBride’s debut A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won, and her sophomore novel The Lesser Bohemians was also longlisted.  I’ve heard excellent things about this one too.

Has the author been longlisted before?  1 time winner, 1 time longlister beyond that.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES.  I am DYING to read this.

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The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Another one I don’t know too much about – Italian invasion of Ethiopia, I think?  This made its way onto my predictions list when I felt I was lacking those ‘epic length historical fiction’ picks.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Not really.

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Long Bright River by Liz Moore

One thing that struck me when I was scrolling through past longlisters was just how many crime novels have been longlisted in the past.  I feel like the Women’s Prize has been moving away from mysteries and thrillers in recent years, but the fact that Paula Hawkins is on the judging panel this year gives me an inkling that we might see at least one literary thriller on the list.  Long Bright River seems the obvious choice for a lot of reasons – Moore is a versatile author who’s written literary fiction in the past, this novel tackles Serious Issues (the opioid crisis, namely), and it was blurbed by – you guessed it! – Paula Hawkins.  It was a great, solid, well-written thriller that I would not mind seeing on the list, even if my personal choice for a thriller would be The Body Lies, if we can just have one.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure, I think it’s deserving.

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Inland by Téa Obreht

Obreht won the Women’s Prize for her brilliant novel The Tiger’s Wife back in 2011, and her follow-up Inland had been a long time coming.  It sounds incredibly different, other than both of them being historical fiction, but Obreht is such a strong writer I would not be surprised to see this on there.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Winner!

Would I be happy to see it?  Not really.  I loved The Tiger’s Wife but the summary of this one does not appeal.

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Girl by Edna O’Brien

O’Brien is such a prolific and esteemed author I was a bit shocked to see that she’s only been longlisted once in the past, but I still feel confident that her newest novel, Girl, is going to make the list this year.  Set in Nigeria, this follows the girls who are kidnapped by the Boko Haram.  It sounds harrowing, but I also think it will spark some conversations about #ownvoices in literary fiction should it get longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  Torn.  I desperately want to read more Edna O’Brien (I’ve only read one short story, but it was brilliant), but I’m not convinced this is the best place to start for me.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Her upcoming novel inspired by Shakespeare and his son is quite a departure for Maggie O’Farrell – I don’t think she’s written historical fiction before?  It’s been getting quite a bit of buzz and I would not at all be surprised to see it longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No, surprisingly!

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes!!!

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Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

This literary-mystery hybrid set in a remote Russian peninsula is such a brilliant depiction of a culture and community that is so often neglected by western literary fiction.  I think it’s a brilliant depiction of a rural community torn apart by tragedy and also by racism against its indigenous population – I would be delighted to see it longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES YES YES.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Another literary thriller of sorts, this one explores the long-lasting psychological damage on a young woman by the teacher she had been involved with in high school.  This has been on my TBR for so long that I’ll be a little gutted if it doesn’t make the list, but I do intend to read it soon either way.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  God yes!

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Bina by Anakana Schofield

Requite Canadian pick!  I honestly don’t know a whole lot about this other than that people have been raving about it and that it was blurbed by Eimear McBride and Rachel Cusk.  Seems like a safe bet.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  No strong feelings either way.

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Supper Club by Lara Williams

Williams’ sophomore novel is about a secret society of women who meet after dark to feast.  I don’t know anything more and I don’t need to.  I just desperately want to read this.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Absolutely!

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Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson’s novel is a sort of playful retelling of Frankenstein that ticks so many feminist boxes that I will be incredibly surprised if it’s not longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes, twice.

Would I be happy to see it?  It wouldn’t be my top choice for the Booker crossover (team Levy!!!), but I did enjoy it, so sure.


There you have it.  If you’ve done your own Women’s Prize longlist predictions, please link me!  Otherwise, comment and let me know what you expect to see on the list!


Other longlist predictions on my radar:

Women’s Prize for Fiction – Longlist History

Something a bit different for today’s post…

This is a bit of a passion project inspired by Hannah, Callum, Naty, Emily, Sarah, and Marija.

In case you were not aware, I’m more than a little invested in the Women’s Prize for Fiction, an annual literary prize awarded to the ‘best’ book by a women written that year, awarded by a panel of judges.  The above group of bloggers and I were discussing which authors have been longlisted in the past, which is actually a deceptively tricky thing to find anywhere online, as the Women’s Prize Wikipedia page only lists the winners + shortlisters.  The Women’s Prize website does have detail the prize’s complete history, which is where I got all of the information from for this post; however, the layout is a bit tricky to navigate and involves a lot of clicking around; there’s really no clean, easily digestible list for this information.

That’s where this post comes in.  For posterity, I wanted to record the complete list of Women’s Prize longlisters, shortlisters, and winners, all in one post, easy enough to scroll through.

I realize this is a bit niche, but I hope it’s of interest or assistance to someone out there, even if it’s just the 7 of us who came up with this idea!

Enjoy!

Read More »

Booker 2019 Longlist Reaction

It’s here, pals – the Man Booker 2019 longlist has been announced!

The full list from the Booker website, with links to Book Depository:

So, let’s go through this:

Already read: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.

The two Women’s Prize titles.  I’ll start with the one whose inclusion befuddles me the least: I predicted that Lost Children Archive would make the cut and it comes as zero surprise.  I had a mixed experience with it (review here), but I do think it’s a very accomplished book and I completely understand the love that others have for it.  My Sister, The Serial Killer… is actually the book that I liked more, of these two, but looking at some notable snubs (Ocean Vuong! Jan Carson! Colson Whitehead!) I can’t say that I understand why it made this list, other than that it appears to be the literary prize darling of the moment.  Make no mistake, I think it’s a good book.  But, good enough for the Booker, and better than On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous?!  Hm.

Will definitely not read: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.

I’m one of those heathens who actually hated The Handmaid’s Tale, and I also hate sequels/prequels/spin-offs of things that were originally imagined as standalones (I loved The Hunger Games in college but I have no interest in the new book; I still haven’t read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, etc), so nothing about The Testaments appeals to me.  I’ll admit that I’m curious about Ducks, Newburyport, but not curious enough to read 1000 pages of like, four sentences or whatever it is, especially over a number of other books I’ve been wanting to read recently.  Of these two I’m more likely to read Ducks, Newburyport eventually, but certainly not by October.

Will definitely read: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, Lanny by Max Porter, Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson.

Night Boat to Tangier sounds so up my alley it’s not even funny (it’s the only Irish book on this list, and I’ve heard it compared to In Bruges, which is my favorite film – say no more), UK booktube has been raving about Lanny for months and I’m not convinced that I’ll love it but I’m curious enough to give it a try, and I’ve been wanting to read Jeanette Winterson for ages, and I love Frankenstein so this seems like a good place to start.

And… the rest.

Of these I think I’m most likely to read The Man Who Saw Everything.  I’m kind of curious about Girl, Woman, Other, but it’s a bit long so I’ll wait to hear some more assessments of it before making my decision.  Apparently An Orchestra of Minorities has something to do with the Odyssey, so I should probably be excited about it, but I’ve heard a few too many lukewarm things.  But, maybe.  Sci-fi/dystopia isn’t my thing, so The Wall isn’t at the top of my list, but who knows.  I didn’t even know there was a new Salman Rushdie, which makes me feel like I’ve been living on another planet, but at a glance I can’t say I’m terribly interested by it.  I think the Elif Shafak sounds kind of terrible (I’m really, really not into ‘in the moments before they die’ stories), but I could probably be convinced to read it if I read enough rave reviews.

So, overall?

Needless to say, I will not be reading this entire longlist, which I’m actually really happy about.  I’ve already publicly pledged my allegiance to Women in Translation Month, and I’m really looking forward to my TBR.  I was so nervous that I was going to see a list of 13 titles that sounded super enticing to me, so I’m selfishly pleased that that’s not the case.  (Also, apologies if you follow me specifically for my Booker coverage – but for my own sanity, I can’t do this every year.)

But once I take a step back from my selfish happiness over not loving this list, I must confess to being disappointed.  This is certainly a list of literary heavy hitters, which makes a radical departure from the 2018 list which was filled with debuts and genre fiction, but honestly, I found myself much more inspired and intrigued by the freshness of last year’s list.  This list is… about what I was expecting.  There’s nothing egregiously awful about it at a glance, but there’s nothing that really excites me, either.

Also, moment of silence for The Fire Starters, hands down the best piece of fiction I’ve read so far in 2019.  I guess the Booker couldn’t do Troubles Lit two years in a row?

What are your thoughts on the Booker longlist?  Which titles are you most and least excited to see her?  What are you planning on reading?  What do you think was snubbed?  Let’s talk in the comments!

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!

Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist Reflections

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?

Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019, photographed by Sam Hol
Photo from Women’s Prize website.

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:

★★★★★ (6)

Milkman
Ghost Wall
The Pisces
Normal People
The Silence of the Girls
Freshwater

★★★★☆ (2)

My Sister the Serial Killer
Ordinary People

★★★☆☆ (4)

Lost Children Archive
Bottled Goods
Circe
An American Marriage

★★☆☆☆ (4)

Remembered
Swan Song
Praise Song for the Butterflies
Number One Chinese Restaurant

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:

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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.

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Circe & The Silence of the Girls & Swan Song: feminist retellings in a broader sense, reclaiming women’s voices.

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Milkman & Bottled Goods: women under surveillance living under strict governmental regimes.

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Remembered & Praise Song for the Butterflies: slavery and rape in historical fiction that are underscored by a note of resilience.

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An American Marriage & Ordinary People & Normal People: relationships crumbling under the strain of contemporary life and the inability to communicate with one’s partner.

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The Pisces & Freshwater: incisive commentary on womanhood and a revitalization of their respective genres (romance and bildungsroman) by introducing a theme of magic.

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Lost Children Archive & Ghost Wall: children and parents, the relationship between the individual and society, commentary on how the past has shaped the present.

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Ghost Wall & My Sister, The Serial Killer: short and punchy novellas with commentary on gender roles.

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Number One Chinese Restaurant & Remembered: family sagas.

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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!