Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Reflections and Shortlist Predictions

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:

2020-03 Women's Prize for Fiction Books 1

  1. Weather by Jenny Offill – ★★★★
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – ★★★★
  3. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – ★★★★
  4. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – ★★★★
  5. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – ★★★★
  6. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – ★★★
  7. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – ★★½
  8. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – ★★
  9. Dominicana by Angie Cruz – ★★
  10. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – Currently reading
  11. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – TBR
  12. Actress by Anne Enright – TBR
  13. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – TBR
  14. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – TBR
  15. Girl by Edna O’Brien – Will not read; no rating
  16. 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

Girl, Woman, Other

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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24 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Reflections and Shortlist Predictions

  1. I absolutely agree that Girl, Woman, Other will probably win this year – also it deserves. I’m sorry that you started reading the longlist this year, it’s so, so disappointing and flavorless. Last year we had some duds but it was a far more interesting list. I have hopes for 2021.

    Very fun post to read 🙂 Crossing my fingers that Dominicana does NOT make it to the shortlist because I surely don’t want to read it, and hopefully Girl doesn’t make it either. But it would be great the How We Disappeared made it, because it was such a surprise for me – I didn’t love that it was another WWII story about women suffering because of war and such, but it was so sensitive and new and blew me away.

    1. Yes, and it seems it’s also everyone’s darling! Thanks, but I’m glad because this way I’m optimistic that things can only get better from here.

      Same, I didn’t like Dominicana and Girl has been dragged through the mud so many times by other bloggers. It would be GREAT to see How We Disappeared on the list! I’m hoping I’m wrong about how I think the judges will choose the books so we can have more deserving books on the shortlist.

      1. I have no idea how the judges really choose the books, honestly, considering that last year we had 6 book which were so similar to each other it felt like such a lazy shortlist… and this year’s longlist has me a bit baffled and bored, really. So one can only hope the shortlist is better!

  2. Great predictions! I love your ideal shortlist, though I agree with you that we’ll probably get something more like your predicted shortlist. Fingers crossed for a good shortlist though! It would certainly make up for the disappointing reads on the longlist.

  3. Great post! Our ideal shortlists are very similar – I was torn between Fleishman Is In Trouble and Queenie, so could definitely see the former up there.

    It would be ridiculous if yet another Greek myth retelling was shortlisted after last year, but no-one thought both Circe and The Silence of the Girls would be shortlisted last year, so WHO KNOWS.

    1. Thanks! I’ve seen your post predictions but haven’t read your rationale – will head over there in a bit. And lol, that definitely surprised me too. Two Greek retellings felt redundant, though this year the judges might overcorrect and decide not to include another retelling after all.

    1. Yeah, Emily @ Literary Elephant also mentioned in one of her posts about how similar the themes are for this year. I have never read along before so I thought having an informal theme per year was standard. Apparently it’s not.

      Yes, I’d still want to, if my schedule permits! (If all goes well I’m going to defend my thesis this time next year, but I’m hoping I can squeeze in some time to read.) Have you ever read along before, and do you plan to? I would be very interested in your thoughts – I love how you break down the themes in the books you’ve read.

      1. I’ve never read along with the Women’s Prize and don’t plan to. I have a few goals that I try to meet each month, and I don’t see a big prize list fitting in with that. I try to read the book I’ve owned the longest, the book I most recently purchased, a book starring a fat woman, and a fantasy novel (about one book per week).

        Plus, many of the summaries of the WP titles don’t appeal to me. I don’t want to keep reading about messed up relationships and kidnapping and broken families, and that seems to be the focus.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Wrap Up 14 – 20 April 2020 + Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Prediction | Naty's Bookshelf

  5. Pingback: Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist Update & Shortlist Predictions – Inside My Library Mind

    1. Thanks! Greek retellings are pretty popular so it looks like it has a good chance of that. Ugh, until now that book and Hamnet are proving to be the hardest to find, but I hope to read them before the winner announcement!

      1. Neither have been released in the US as of yet. I had to do some international shopping for my copy of A Thousand Ships and then pass it around my friends.

  6. Cara Teo Ong | thebookingchild

    I’ve seen a lot of good things about Djinn Patrol – good to know it’s made your shortlist!

  7. Literary Elephant

    Great post! It’s such a shame that your first year following along has been so underwhelming, though I hope you’ll find some more high ratings in the books you haven’t finished yet. (And better luck next year for all of us, I hope!) My shortlist prediction looks similar to yours, and I’d be happy enough with either. Last year I really enjoyed the longlist and yet was very underwhelmed by the shortlist, so I’m trying to brace myself for worst case scenario outcomes this year while also hoping more of my favorites make the cut! Soon we’ll know. 🙂

    1. From everyone’s comments, it seems like this year has been the most disappointing one so far, so I’m actually optimistic that things will only get better from here! I’ll head over to yours in a bit, but I’m secretly hoping my guesses for the actual shortlist will be proven wrong. I’d really love to see more deserving titles there. YES, SO EXCITED!

  8. Great post – I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s thoughts about the longlist! I loved Girl, Woman, Other as much as everyone else seems to have. Sort of hoping it will have a second win!

  9. Pingback: Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction – Books and Bakes

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