Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction

Since the Philippines is 7 hours ahead of the UK, I stayed up until 2:30 AM to wait for the shortlist announcement, and couldn’t even take a short nap beforehand because I was so excited. You can watch the official announcement here, but here is the shortlist:

2020-03 Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist

I was able to guess four out of six (Girl, Woman, Other, Dominicana, A Thousand Ships, and The Mirror & the Light), though guessing Dominicana right gave me no pleasure, as I didn’t like that one at all. But I was so pleasantly surprised when Weather made it; it’s my favorite read so far, so I’m glad that it’ll get more attention now that it’s advanced to the shortlist. I had to laugh when A Thousand Ships was announced—if there’s anything I can conclude about the judges’ tastes, it’s that they cannot get enough of Greek retellings—but a number of bloggers also found this to be a great read, so fingers crossed that this one deserves its spot there.

Overall, I don’t hate this shortlist, but I’m disappointed that Dominicana was chosen over the far superior How We Disappeared or even Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line for the ‘diversity’ book. I honestly don’t know what the judges saw in that one. I also wonder about why there seems to be just one slot for a ‘diverse’ book in the first place, and why a shortlist that honors women and women’s writing features two books with famous dead white men (though arguably Shakespeare is a peripheral figure in Hamnet).

Still, this shortlist is a LOT better than my predictions. I’ll still be reading the remaining books on my list, and I’m even considering giving Mantel’s intimidating trilogy a go, since I’m seeing even more positive reviews of it now. Besides, The Mirror & the Light and Girl, Woman, Other are the only ones with a real shot at the Prize anyway. I’m still firmly rooting for Evaristo, though—Mantel already has TWO Bookers to her name while Evaristo has only a half, so I think it’s only fair she gets this one. I’ll keep you guys posted if I ever do plan on reading it.

What did you think about the shortlist? Any thoughts or violent reactions? Did your favorites make it there? Let me know in the comments!

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19 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction

  1. Great post! I like the point you make about Hamnet and The Mirror & The Light – it didn’t even occur to me that even though those books are written by women, they are still about white men. And I’m also rooting for Girl, Woman, Other to win!!

  2. What is it about those Greek re-tellings that these judges love? I did love The Silence of the Girls from last year but reviews have seemed very mixed about A Thousand Ships. And you make a good point about the “diversity” slot. I really, really hope that they wouldn’t just be living one spot open for that but then why choose Dominicana over some of the other, stronger choices?

    1. You know, I was thinking that same thing so I looked up the judges – and found out that one of them, Ms. Eusebe, is Trinidadian-Dominican. Perhaps she was the one who championed this book? While it didn’t personally resonate with me it seems it did with a lot of other readers. It just reminds me how subjective this all can be!

  3. Well done on the predictions! Having followed your reviews, it seems that this year’s longlist was a bit of a disappointment. Are you thinking of reading it again next year?

    1. I’d love to follow along again next year, if my schedule permits! I’m hoping that after this year’s disappointment, it can only get better from here. How about you, would you ever be interested in following along with a prize?

      1. I certainly hope, it will be better, if you go ahead next year! I am not too bothered about reading longlists – I am not sure that the committees that decide on book prizes in general have the same view of what constitutes a good book as I have. This year, I have enjoyed following you and a couple of other bloggers reading your way through the longlist – excellent reviews and a good way of spotting, if I miss out on a good read! 🙂

      2. That’s true, the criteria can feel so subjective sometimes. This year I’ve definitely seen that their choices aren’t to my tastes. Yay, I hope you get to enjoy the great books! I hear the others will be putting out an formal list of their recommendations from the longlist. 🙂

  4. I tried to read Actress and didn’t get into it, but based on your review I’m planning to read Weather. I’ve mentioned this before to other bloggers, but doesn’t it seem like there should be a women’s prize for writing, and the only books considered are ones that haven’t won a prize before? It was so weird to see Queenie on this list because I could have sworn that book won everything LAST year. And Hilary Mantel? Most readers of these kinds of prizes already know who she is.

    1. That’s true—it seems like the books getting on these prizes are already the ones with so much publicity. I read somewhere before that the same sorts of writers usually win the same literary prizes (e.g., a lot of white men, like John Updike). It makes me a little sad to know that even lit-fic is susceptible to the whole popularity contest thing.

  5. Literary Elephant

    Great post! I completely agree re: Dominicana and re: your comments on diversity in the shortlist. I thought the Lee and Anappara novels would’ve been decent shortlist choices this year and it hurts a little to see those overlooked while SO MANY UK and US writers are being highlighted.
    I’m reserving my thoughts on a winner prediction until I’ve actually finished The Mirror and The Light, but I do think Hamnet may have a chance as well- I think the WP likes to choose a winner who’s not already been acknowledged by the Booker (since the WP was founded in response to women being overlooked by prizes like the Booker). That said, I definitely think both Mantel and Evaristo still have a chance, since Evaristo’s win was shared and thus giving her this one would still make a powerful statement; and giving Mantel the win would maybe steal a bit of the Booker’s thunder since this trilogy has done so well with the Booker in the past. I’ll have a hard time making a prediction between the three of them!

    1. That’s a good point re Hamnet — I’ve not read it so I didn’t consider that they might want to highlight it. Another of the bloggers (Laura, I think?) also mentioned that it was about time O’Farrell got some attention for her work, though this might not be her strongest work. Also, I am ignorant about the book world, but why would they want to steal the Booker’s thunder? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

      1. Literary Elephant

        I did see that remark from Laura as well, and it leaves me very excited to check out more of O’Farrell’s work! I know she’s been a big reader favorite and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her win a big lit prize at some point.

        I’m not super well-informed on the politics of it, but I know the Women’s Prize was founded in response to the Booker failing to highlight female writers. The ratio of women longlisted, shortlisted, and winning the Booker compared to men was ridiculously low at the time, and thus the WP was born as a sort of rival to the Booker. The Booker claims to highlight “the best overall” fiction of the year, the WP says “you’ve not been fair in that assessment.” So the WP getting a chance to make a statement this year with Evaristo, who the Booker shortchanged, or with Mantel, who’d be a shoo-in for the Booker this year after winning it with both of the previous books in her Cromwell trilogy, seems to me like an opportunity that would appeal to the WP committee. They could make the bigger statement (with Evaristo) or the first statement (with Mantel), and either way it would be an interesting crossover where the two prizes have mostly seemed to ignore each other in the past. But, that’s just my opinion! The fact that Evaristo split the Booker with another woman makes that controversy about race and fame rather than gender, and I’m not sure whether giving Mantel the WP win would hurt her chances with the Booker (I don’t think any author has won both with the same book?)- it would admittedly be very satisfying to see her win the same prize with all three books. Honestly I’m just speculating though, this is all just based on the books I’ve seen acknowledged by each prize and comments I’ve come across, I have no idea how the prize committees feel about each other at this point! The nature of competition behind the prizes perhaps gives an impression of competition between them that might not actually be there, I couldn’t say.

      2. I’ve also heard about the way the WP was formed as a sort of protest to the Booker, but I wasn’t aware that there might still be some bad blood between them! Either way, choosing Mantel or Evaristo would be very controversial, from how you make it sound. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see! Honestly the wait for the winner seems so far away, I hope I can still be hyped for it.

      3. Literary Elephant

        I’m definitely not the authority on whether there is still bad blood between them, but to my knowledge no book has ever won both prizes, which makes me think they are still impacting each other in some ways. September does seem so far for the winner announcement, but by that time the Booker should be ongoing (assuming the pandemic doesn’t delay it) which will keep things interesting! I will pause and resume my hype level if I have to, ha. I hope it will still end up being an exciting time!

  6. I’m awfully late reading your reaction! Ugh I am still sour about reading Dominicana and although I did not think Djinn Patrol had much of a chance, it would have made me much happier to see it on the list. And yes, it’s frustrating that the list ended up so white and about dead white men. Still resentful of the fact that My Dark Vanessa didn’t make it!

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