book review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi





BURNT SUGAR
★★☆☆☆
Harry N. Abrams, 2021


I admired but didn’t particularly like this book. I’ve talked before about how I don’t really get on with books about motherhood, and sometimes the reverse is true too, I don’t always love books about daughterhood, especially when it’s the book’s main focus. (Something like Transcendent Kingdom is the exception, where the mother/daughter relationship is one thread among many.)

I was finding something salvageable in the first half of Burnt Sugar, but the second half just lost me. While I tend to enjoy ‘unlikable’ protagonists, Antara was often too much for me–I found her to be deliberately belligerent toward the reader in a way that I didn’t think was particularly interesting or well-executed. I think this book does have a lot going for it in terms of its chilly depiction of a strained mother/daughter relationship, but Antara herself staunchly refused to do any of the heavy lifting to earn my investment. I just didn’t find her believable or her actions comprehensible; this book is written in the first person and still I struggled to discern some of Antara’s motivations (this isn’t helped by the book’s awkward structure, flitting between the past and the present in a way that was occasionally challenging to follow and which I didn’t think ultimately did it any favors). 

Avni Doshi’s prose also failed to impress me, but, like most of my criticisms here, I feel that might just be a matter of personal taste. I do see why this book has been so critically well-received, it just really wasn’t for me.


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

book review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke





PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke
★★★★★
Bloomsbury, 2020


I’ve never read Susanna Clarke’s much-acclaimed debut Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and I don’t always do well with the sort of speculative novel where the reader is thrust into an undefined circumstance and spends the majority of the book waiting for the full picture to cohere. And that is… pretty much exactly what Piranesi is, so, it’s a testament to this book’s brilliance that I loved it despite how ill-suited it is to my personal tastes. So if, like me, you read the first page of Piranesi and groaned because it read like a bunch of gibberish, I’m going to have to implore you to stick with it for a hot second and let it work its magic. (It’s short!)

The thing that quickly won me over is Susanna Clarke’s writing and how beautifully-rendered this imaginative setting is. I think it’s best to go into Piranesi knowing as little as possible, so I won’t really talk about the plot, but suffice to say it’s set in a giant House which is essentially a labyrinth of halls, each lined with hundreds of statues, and in the middle of the House is an ocean. I’m usually not one to relish in descriptive writing but this setting was just so striking, so delightfully offbeat, that I was drawn in pretty effortlessly. As others have said, this book is kind of like a puzzle, but not one that you should race through the book to solve; it’s the sort of reading experience that’s better savored. 

Without saying too much, what hit me the hardest about this book is its depiction of loneliness. It’s ostensibly a cerebral, ethereal, illusory book, but the longer I think about it, the more current and relevant it feels and its inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist makes perfect sense to me. I’m delighted to have read it and it’s a book I know I’m going to want to return to.

wrap up: Quarter 1, 2021

In an effort to get my blogging rhythm back, I opted to forgo monthly wrap ups this year; once a month frankly comes around far too frequently for my liking and they feel a bit redundant when I review most books I read anyway.

But I don’t actually review every single book I read and I didn’t want the few I don’t review to slip through the cracks entirely, so I’ve decided to try quarterly wrap ups and see how this works for me. I also thought I’d group this thematically to try to make sense of some patterns in my reading habits rather than just giving you a chronological list.

So, let’s talk through everything I’ve read so far this year.

I’m reading through the complete works of Jane Austen with a book club and so far I’ve read these three: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey (a reread for me). While I’m not as enthused with Austen as I had hoped I would be, at least not yet, I’m glad I’m doing this and I’m particularly looking forward to diving into her later works. Mansfield Park is up next for April, and I’m hoping to review Northanger Abbey soon and talk about how I had quite a different reaction to it the second time around.

Shakespeare has been occupying considerably less of my time in 2021 than it did in 2020, which is to say… still quite a bit of my time.

The only two plays I’ve reread in their entireties this year outside Project Shakespeare have been Hamlet and Julius Caesar, to prepare for playing Claudius and Cassius respectively. Still two of my top 5 Shakespeare plays, I adore them both.

I’m also making it a project to read every retelling of King Lear that I can get my hands on. I’ve already read The Queens of Innis Lear (meh), A Thousand Acres (brilliant), and the anthology That Way Madness Lies (the Lear story was horrendous but the collection on the whole was inoffensive). I’m currently reading Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, though I’m not very far into that one yet. Hoping to finish it by the end of April though.

I’ve read three books for BookBrowse so far this year: Dark Horses, The Project, and Edie Richter is Not Alone. I haven’t reviewed this third one yet, but it’s my favorite thing I’ve read so far this year, so stay tuned for that.

After adamantly stating that I will NOT be reading the Women’s Prize longlist this year, I have proceeded to… spend the last few weeks reading the Women’s Prize longlist. Though in my defense, this list is kind of a banger, and I’ve given 5 stars to all three books I’ve read since it was announced: Transcendent Kingdom, Piranesi, and Consent. I’ll review Piranesi soon.

My ARC situation is, as always, utterly out of control, but these are the ones I’ve managed to read so far this year: Open Water (adored!), Filthy Animals (liked, with reservations), The Art of Falling (mixed feelings), Milk Fed (LOVED and also wanted to throttle it), and Kink (not worth your time aside from Brandon Taylor and Carmen Maria Machado’s stories).

And here’s everything else: The Fire Next Time (obviously brilliant), Pages & Co: The Lost Fairy Tales (so sweet, so wholesome; I’ll review the whole series when I’ve read the third one), Real Life (perfection), Big Girl Small Town (underwhelming), Edward II (literally the gayest shit I’ve ever read–adored it), and Are You Somebody? (very by-the-book Irish memoir, lovely audiobook).


I have two reading regrets so far this year: that I haven’t read a single translated book and that I didn’t do more for Reading Ireland Month. So Irish lit and translated lit are both going to get a bit more attention from me in quarter 2, I’m hoping. Otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good about how I’ve managed to balance all my disparate reading interests.

book review: The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin






THE ART OF FALLING by Danielle McLaughlin
★★★☆☆
Random House, 2021


I started out loving this but it did eventually start to fall in my estimation. I adored McLaughlin’s writing: it’s clear-eyed and pacy and this is, on the whole, a fairly enjoyable read. I’m also a sucker for anything having to do with art or art history or museums, so I loved the plot thread involving a woman turning up out of nowhere and claiming to have been responsible for a sculpture supposed to have been created by the late, famous artist Robert Locke. 

Where I felt this novel fell short of its potential was in its domestic storyline: it follows art historian Nessa’s failing marriage (her husband has recently cheated on her and they’re trying to get past it for the sake of their teenage daughter), and it also introduces a figure from Nessa’s past who holds a secret about her. For one thing, the two threads (Nessa’s work at the museum and her home life) don’t dovetail in a way that I find satisfying or realistic (Luke’s hyperfixation on the statue was something I found almost absurd in how it was so transparently shoehorned in there). And for another thing, the secret about Nessa’s past revealed something that shone rather a different light on her husband’s cheating, which I felt could have added so much depth and complexity to that dynamic but which instead ended up feeling rather underexplored. 

On the whole this wasn’t bad but I also don’t think it quite showcases what Danielle McLaughlin is capable of.

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

Favorite Shakespeare Monologues

You didn’t think I was done posting about Shakespeare, did you?!

Roughly one year ago, Project Shakespeare was formed, and as a group we’re celebrating our anniversary tomorrow, by performing snippets of different scenes and each performing a monologue that we’ve done at some point over the past year. Everyone in the group voted for which monologue everybody was going to do, and I was voted to do Edmund in King Lear, because of course I was.

But this whole thing, preparing for the Anniversary Extravaganza and looking through monologues I’ve done over the past year, led me to compiling this list of my favorite Shakespeare monologues because damn, are there some good ones. One thing about Shakespeare is that he invented very few of his stories; the reason we still value his works isn’t for their artistic innovation so much as for their language, so that’s what I really wanted to celebrate in this post by going through a few of my favorites. I say ‘a few’ — it’s my top 15. Let’s do this.

Also, this order is kind of arbitrary. I saved my favorite one for last but otherwise I’m grouping plays together where there are multiples from the same play for contextual consistency. Also including some video links when there’s a good video version or one I particularly like.

15. Macbeth in Macbeth 2.1, “Is this a dagger”

Context: Macbeth has just resolved to kill the king Duncan in order to crown himself.

Video: Patrick Stewart

This one’s not that deep (my reasoning for it making this list, that is, not the monologue itself) — I’ve had it memorized for years so it’s the one Macbeth monologue I still gravitate toward the most, although there are plenty of great ones to choose from.

14. Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1, “How happy some o’er other some can be”

Context: Helena is in love with Demetrius, who’s in love with Hermia, who’s in love (mutually) with Lysander; those two are about to run off into the woods together. Demetrius used to love Helena and here she’s lamenting that his affections turned to Hermia, and she decides that she’s going to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are running off together, thinking it will bring Demetrius closer to her. Helena’s a mess, basically.

Video: Sarah MacRae @ 14:22

I think this is the only monologue from a comedy that made this list. I’m not so adamantly anti-comedy as I was at the beginning of my Shakespeare journey, but it is true that they tend to not hit me quite as hard. This Helena monologue isn’t even that special, objectively; I’d simply wanted to play Helena since I was 11, so I rehearsed the heck out of this monologue when I finally got the chance last month and it’s one of the ones that I most enjoyed spending time with. (Helena is incidentally also the character I’d most like to play on stage, so if you’re casting Midsummer in Vermont post-pandemic… call me.)

13. Constance in King John 3.4, “Thou art not holy to belie me so”

Context: Constance’s son Arthur, a claimant to the throne and a threat to King John, has been captured by John’s forces. Here Constance mourns Arthur’s death and dies of grief herself shortly after, though interestingly, Arthur hasn’t actually yet died in the play when Constance gives these speeches — it’s one of those weird Shakespearean puzzles.

Video: Camille O’Sullivan

Slightly less famous than a different monologue that follows (“Grief fills the room up of my absent child”), but if I had to choose just one for Constance, this wins hands down. I LOVE the language in this one: I love the visual imagery Shakespeare weaves in of Constance tearing her hair down while she’s giving this speech about grief and sanity, and “Preach some philosophy to make me mad,/ And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal” is one of my favorite lines full stop.

12. Lady Percy in Henry IV Part 2 2.3, “O, yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars!”

Context: Kate Percy’s father in law, Northumberland, is talking about bringing his troops into battle. Kate reprimands him and reminds him that his son Hotspur needed backup from his father, which he neglected to send, resulting in Hotspur’s death at the hands of Prince Hal (here referred to as Monmouth), and now that Hotspur’s dead there’s no point in going back into the war now. Northumberland agrees.

Video: random talented YouTuber named Elin Alexander (I ended up playing this character with a British accent because I watched this girl’s video so many times while preparing this monologue)

THE POWER OF THIS MONOLOGUE, I mean, imo the second best piece of rhetoric in all of Shakespeare?! Northumberland being STRUCK DOWN by his daughter in law and changing his military tactic because she just spends two minutes roasting his ass… incredible.

11. Hamlet in Hamlet 2.2, “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”

Context: Hamlet was told by his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius is guilty of his father’s murder, and here he resolves to set a trap for Claudius by putting on a play which mirrors Hamlet’s father’s murder, hoping to evoke a reaction in Claudius that will confirm his guilt.

Video: Andrew Scott @ 6:30

I mean… it’s famous for a reason and I’m not sure what I can possibly say about it. This whole monologue is a ride from start to finish and the simple admission of weakness in “Am I a coward?” just GETS ME.

10. Claudius in Hamlet 3.3, “O my offense is rank”

Context: After the play has been performed, Claudius storms off and confesses in this monologue that he’s plagued with guilt over his brother’s murder, and he attempts to pray but is unable to.

Video: Patrick Stewart

Such a moment of vulnerability from such a detestable character — that Shakespeare goes to such lengths to humanize even terrible people is one of my favorite things about his works; you’re never spoon-fed a moral as you never see a conflict from only one side. We spend most of this play inside Hamlet’s head and still we get this tender, intimate moment of grief and guilt from the chief antagonist; it’s brilliant.

9. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 3.3, “‘Tis torture, and not mercy”

Context: Immediately after his marriage to Juliet, Romeo murders Tybalt Capulet while avenging his friend Mercutio’s death. He finds out here that his punishment is banishment from Verona.

One of my most unpopular Shakespeare opinions is that I am far more drawn to Romeo than to Juliet — reconciling his passion and his tender heart with the violence he’s forced to commit is just devastating and that comes to a head in this monologue, full of both gentle and violent imagery. The only thing I can fault the Zeffirelli film for is cutting this.

8. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 5.3, “In faith, I will”

Context: Romeo has just killed Paris in Juliet’s tomb, and Paris’s final words were pleading that Romeo buries him with Juliet, which he promises to do here before killing himself.

This monologue is just so unbearably sad and weighty and lovely; after I read this for the first time I decided that I would die if I couldn’t play Romeo, I just wanted the excuse to sit with these words.

7. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “Thou, Nature, art my goddess”

Context: Edmund is the bastard son of Gloucester, and here he’s lamenting that his bastardy prevents him from receiving his full inheritance, so he’s coming up with a plan to frame his brother Edgar to cheat him out of his inheritance.

Video: Riz Ahmed

MY BOY. This is the one I’m doing in PS tomorrow, which I haven’t practiced, lol, but I have it memorized so… that should get the job done. Anyway this is just SO GOOD, Edmund raging against the social customs that prevent him from inheriting, and then the terrible turn it takes when he decides to frame his unwitting brother. “Now, gods, stand up for bastards” is a god tier villain mantra.

6. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “This is the excellent foppery of the world”

Context: Edmund thinks astrology is bullshit.

Basically I adore every single word out of Edmund’s mouth and this deliciously sarcastic soliloquy about human nature is just hard to beat.

5. Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra 5.2, “Give me my robe, put on my crown”

Context: Antony has been defeated and Cleopatra has been captured by Octavian; she kills herself and her maids to spare them being paraded before Rome as a part of Caesar’s victory.

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have/ Immortal longings in me” is like… almost too good of a line to be real. This whole thing is just exceptional. She’s such a vibrant character meeting such a hollow end, it’s devastating.

4. Queen Margaret in Henry VI Part 3 1.4, “Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland”

Context: We’re in the Wars of the Roses now — Richard, Duke of York has been captured by the Lancastrian Queen Margaret and here she mocks him before having him executed, offering him a handkerchief with his dead son’s blood to dry his tears and putting a paper crown on his head.

Pretty much the most savage scene in all of Shakespeare. The way most people stan Lady Macbeth, I stan Margaret of Anjou.

3. Richard in Richard II 3.2, “No matter where; of comfort no man speak”

Context: Richard has just received word that his army has deserted him and that the people have accepted Bolingbroke (his successor, Henry IV) as ruler and he kind of has a breakdown about it.

Video: David Tennant

Richard II is the gorgeous writing play and that’s best encapsulated here. “Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;/ Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes/ Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,” “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/ And tell sad stories of the death of kings,” “I live with bread like you, feel want/ Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus/ How can you say to me, I am a king” yes I’m just quoting the entire thing but COME ON!!! This monologue is one of the best pieces of writing ever penned in the English language.

2. Brutus in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Be patient till the last.”

Context: Brutus and the other conspirators have just killed Caesar; Brutus delivers this speech at Caesar’s funeral saying that they killed Caesar for the good of the Roman republic, and that Antony, who is about to speak, will corroborate this.

I played Brutus in PS, and when I was rehearsing, reading the lines alone in my room, I was more drawn to his soliloquies (namely 2.1, “It must be by his death”), but while I was in the moment, this is the speech that really stuck with me. Brutus is just such a brilliantly crafted character; one of the most notorious traitors in history defined here by honor is just navigated with such finesse throughout the play; I love the passion and sincerity here, especially contrasted with what’s about to follow.

  1. Mark Antony in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”

Context: And then Antony takes the stage and things do not go to plan.

Video: James Corrigan

How fucking cliché for this to be your favorite Shakespeare monologue, but unfortunately it can’t be beat. Just an absolute masterclass in rhetoric and manipulation while still being able to withstand performances that vary wildly in their degree of sincerity. I just love everything about this speech.


I also became uquiz famous with this Which Shakespearean monologue should you memorize quiz, so, obviously you should all take that and tell me what you got. And then memorize the monologue… haha jk unless…

Anyway, what’s your favorite monologue? Comment and let me know and make me feel bad about all of the brilliant ones I had to cut from this blog post!

some brief thoughts on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen



PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
★★★★☆
originally published in 1813




Pride and Prejudice is a lovelier, funnier, and more confident book than Sense and Sensibility and I certainly enjoyed it much more than its predecessor. Very glad to have finally read this one and I’m just as charmed by Lizzy Bennet as most readers have been for centuries. I still feel like I’m missing something though, I must confess. While I chalked up some of my Sense and Sensibility apathy to that book’s relative messiness and immaturity, Pride and Prejudice is inarguably an air-tight work–and yet, one that I can’t say I loved reading from start to finish. I’m not sure what this is. I don’t get on with Austen’s writing style as well as I do with other classic authors but I’m also wondering if the stakes in her books are simply too low for me–this is a personal taste thing, not a criticism. Stay tuned for more installments of me articulating my muddled thoughts on Austen over the next few months. 

book review: Consent by Annabel Lyon



CONSENT by Annabel Lyon
★★★★★
Knopf, 2021


Well, this was a weird one and its relatively low Goodreads rating is hardly a mystery; what I’m finding more difficult is talking about how brilliant I thought it was. Due to its title I was expecting Consent to be a book about sexual violence, which seems like a reasonable expectation, so I think it’s good to say upfront that it’s not at all — instead it’s a sort of domestic drama about two sets of sisters, Sara and Mattie (Sara is older and cares for her intellectually disabled younger sister) and Saskia and Jenny (twins). 

I’m not going to say anything about the plot, because reading the summary gives away a good chunk of the book, which I found sort of odd. It does take quite a while for Annabel Lyon to get to ‘the point,’ so to speak, but to summarize what happens at 20% is to do a huge disservice to the preamble, which, far from being irrelevant, is a wonderfully mesmerizing and offbeat introduction into these characters’ lives. This was one of the most pleasurable books I’ve read in ages; Lyon’s writing goes down easy but there’s also something acerbic just below the surface. The story itself twists and turns, but it’s still more literary than thriller; the mystery aspects are almost window dressing to the darker, weirder thing living at this book’s center. 

I can imagine what the critiques of this book look like: unfocused, joyless, slow, unresolved, odd. It’s not for everyone. It has no interest in answering the reader’s questions. But still it’s a striking, affecting examination of obligation and shame and guilt. I don’t really see it advancing to the Women’s Prize shortlist, but it’s one of the smartest and most confident books I’ve read in a while and destined to be one of my personal favorites off the list.

book review: The Project by Courtney Summers | BookBrowse




THE PROJECT by Courtney Summers
★★★★☆
Wednesday Books, 2020



Bea and Lo Denham are inseparable sisters until their parents die in a car crash that Lo narrowly survives. Bea, depressed and desperate after the accident, falls into the arms of The Unity Project, a religious community that embraces her as she abandons her sister to the care of their great aunt. Years later, alone in the world after the death of their aunt and working as a secretary for a prestigious journalist, 19-year-old Lo is determined to unmask The Unity Project for what she believes it to be: a cult that indoctrinated her unwitting sister.

You can read my full review HERE on BookBrowse, and you can read a piece I wrote about cult psychology HERE.

reviewing two books by Brandon Taylor: Real Life and Filthy Animals



REAL LIFE by Brandon Taylor
★★★★★
Riverhead, 2020

I can’t believe it took me so long to read this and I’m very appreciative for Rick’s Booktube Spin and the lucky number #15 for finally making this happen for me. I thought Real Life was tremendous. It follows Wallace, a Black student in a predominantly white biochemistry master’s program at a midwestern university. 

Brandon Taylor captures two things with unerring precision: the first being the microaggressions that Wallace faces at the hands of his friends, mentors, and colleagues. There’s an infuriating scene toward the end where Wallace is in a situation where he’s been falsely accused of something, and rather than standing up for himself he quietly accepts his punishment. What’s infuriating isn’t that Wallace doesn’t speak up, but rather, that the reader knows exactly why he doesn’t, because Taylor has shown the reader that systemic dismissal, belittlement, and scorn does more than infuriate: it wears you down.

The second thing Taylor captures beautifully is academia as a suspension of reality, an almost liminal space between young adulthood and adulthood that exists somehow within the real world while following its own set of logic and social norms. Campus novels often glorify this lifestyle in a way that can be fun and deliciously indulgent, but Taylor leans into the opposite–digging into the way some people use academia as a crutch, accepting all of its quiet, mundane horrors in an effort to avoid ‘real life’.

I guess the prose in Real Life is very love-it-or-hate-it; I’ve seen a lot of people refer to it as labored and overwrought, and as someone who frequently cites overwrought prose as an offense, I don’t really see where that argument is coming from. The language is often poetic but to me ‘overwrought’ implies a certain lack of control over word choice and sentence structure; Taylor’s writing is on the other hand rather exact. This was a horrendously sad book in many ways, but also one that was pleasurable to spend time with.

And I think that sentiment will segue nicely into my review of Filthy Animals, because while I thought this was mostly brilliant, I did have a few more problems with it than I had expected to.



FILTHY ANIMALS by Brandon Taylor
★★★★☆
Riverhead, July 2021

I read Taylor’s short story Anne of Cleves ages ago (which appears in this collection), and I quickly fell in love. In some ways it’s a melancholic, heavy story, but there’s also a playfulness to it, and I found that tone so refreshing that I was sure that Filthy Animals was going to end up as one of my favorite books of the year.

Instead, this book is unendingly bleak. Anne of Cleves offers a brief respite from the misery, but it’s otherwise a weightier collection than I had expected. Every alternating story in this collection follows the same narrative: a depressed Black man named Lionel has just met a white couple at a party, Charles and Sophie, who are in an open relationship; he hooks up with Charles and then gets drawn into their lives. I loved the choice to anchor the collection to a single narrative, and without fail these stories were my favorites and the ones where Taylor most succeeded at accessing the characters’ complex emotional landscapes. 

The other stories left less of an impression on me, and I think it’s because we just don’t spend enough time with the characters to fully earn the emotional impact that Taylor is aiming for, and that he nails so well with Wallace’s story in Real Life. I finished this a week ago and Lionel’s story is really the only one that has stuck in my mind since then.

I still really enjoyed reading this–a discussed, I love Taylor’s writing–and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s a skillful exploration of the intersection of loneliness, trauma, and intimacy–it just wasn’t entirely what I needed it to be. But that is a-okay! Will still devour whatever Taylor publishes next.


Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced copy of Filthy Animals provided in exchange for an honest review.

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!