Only one more day to go before the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced, and I’m very excited to see what books will turn up! Unfortunately, because of the quarantine, I’ve only been able to obtain 9 of the 16 books on the list and I’m currently reading the tenth on Kindle, so I’ll be cobbling together my predictions from the books I have read along with what I’ve heard from the other Women’s Prize bloggers.
Once again, here’s a snapshot of the books on longlist, followed by my rankings so far:
- Weather by Jenny Offill – ★★★★
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – ★★★★
- Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – ★★★★
- Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – ★★★★
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – ★★★★
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – ★★★
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – ★★½
- The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – ★★
- Dominicana by Angie Cruz – ★★
- How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – Currently reading
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – TBR
- Actress by Anne Enright – TBR
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – TBR
- Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – TBR
- Girl by Edna O’Brien – Will not read; no rating
- The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel – Will not read; no rating
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always followed the Women’s Prize announcements on their website, but this is my first time reading my way through the longlist itself, and so far I’m not exactly impressed. My average rating is 3.28, and this is considering I chose not to read Girl (which was uniformly disliked) and The Mirror & the Light (which everyone says is good but I feel I won’t get along with). I’m also not usually in the habit of giving out low ratings out of respect for the effort it took to write the book, so the fact that I’ve given out three 2-star ratings is really something.
This being said, most of the reads were not bad—I had five 4-star reads—but I just wasn’t blown away. Maybe this is because I expect books nominated for a literary award to be “smarter” than me BUT without being smug about it. I want compelling reads that are also challenging enough to leave room for interpretation long after I’ve finished them, not ones I can “get” in one sitting. From the books I’ve read, I found that Weather, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and Girl, Woman, Other hit that criteria; other books like Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line and Queenie aren’t exactly brilliant on a stylistic level, but are important enough in subject matter and adept enough at its treatment to make them worthwhile reads.
Anyway, I’m glad I’ve read enough books to hazard a guess at the shortlist.
My Ideal Shortlist
- How We Disappeared is a heavy read that sheds light on the women sold into sexual slavery for the benefit of the Japanese soldiers during World War II. I’m only about 20% in, but I’m already warming up to it; it seems carefully told and very well-researched.
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line looks into the disappearances of children from the slums of India from the point-of-view of a nine-year-old child. It’s also a grim read, but I find that it side-steps the slide into sentimentality and avoids being ‘poverty porn’ through the author’s discerning choice of narrator.
- Fleishman Is in Trouble gives us a portrait of an unhappy marriage and the bitter divorce of a rich, white, upper-class couple. I didn’t always enjoy reading it, but I it was trying to do something interesting with its structure.
- Red at the Bone is probably the shortest family saga I’ve read, but I also think it’s the most successful one on the list. Its nuanced exploration of teenage pregnancy and motherhood made it a compelling read for me.
- Weather is a short novel about climate change, but it can also be read as a book on how people cope with the anxiety of facing disasters that are beyond our control. It’s a bleak but unexpectedly funny novel that I enjoyed reading.
- Girl, Woman, Other is a series of loosely connected stories following the lives of twelve black British women. I think it’s both relevant and stylistically innovative, and I’d be offended if this isn’t at least shortlisted for the Prize.
My Guess for the Actual Shortlist
- I think that Girl, Woman, Other and The Mirror & the Light are obvious choices. I’ve not read Mantel, but she’s won the Booker Prize twice already for her trilogy, so she must be doing something right.
- I haven’t read A Thousand Ships, but I put it here because the judges seem partial to Greek retellings. Last year, two of them made it to the shortlist (Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls), and back in 2012 Miller won the Prize for The Song of Achilles. So based on historical evidence, I think A Thousand Ships has a pretty good chance of being shortlisted.
- For my three remaining choices, I thought to include books that not only talk about the experiences of being a woman, but also discuss those experiences with an eye towards illuminating wider current issues. I organized my choices according to the micro, meso, and macro levels of context.
- On the micro level, I thought that Fleishman Is in Trouble was the best and most scathing attack on gender roles, specifically within the context of marriage and family.
- On the meso level, Queenie tackled the issues of racism, sexism, and mental health within the contexts of family, dating, and the workplace. This would also be a good choice if the judges are looking to reach a wider audience, since it’s a very accessible and ‘millennial’ book.
- On the macro level, Dominicana explored sexism, racism, and domestic abuse in the context of immigrating from a third-world to a first-world country. This novel didn’t explore its wider themes as thoroughly as I hoped it would, but a number of readers found it relevant and moving, so the judges might too.
- Honourable mention: Because of the pandemic, I think Weather has also has a shot of getting shortlisted.
My Guess for the Winner
It really goes without saying that Girl, Woman, Other is the best choice for the winner. It already won the Booker Prize last year, but I feel it deserves to hog the spotlight. It’s just that good.
Aaand that’s it for my predictions! We’re in the last leg of revising our paper so I have less time to blog-hop at the moment, but I’m really looking forward to reading everyone’s predictions. Do you have any hunches or conspiracy theories about the shortlist? Let me know in the comments!
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