We may well be back to calling it the Women’s Prize for Fiction as it was known in 2013 after the exit of Orange, as Bailey’s sponsorship of the literary prize comes to an end this year and the search is now on for a new sponsor for 2018 and beyond. As co-founder, Chair and Author Kate Mosse put it:
“The Women’s Prize is now 22 years old and about to enter a new chapter, but our aim remains the same: to celebrate the very best writing by women in English from all over the world and to champion diverse voices – in every genre, of any nationality, race, age, country of origin or birth, from any storytelling tradition.”
She reminds us of its origins, a year in which 60% of novels were written by women (70% read by women) and not one shortlisted for the Booker Prize, a time when less than 9% of novels shortlisted for major literary prizes were by women. In a new era of challenges against women, initiatives like this are just as necessary as they were at its conception.
Reading informs, entertains, helps us understand, makes us reflect, allows us to hear little known or heard voices while fiction makes history, issues and multiple perspectives more accessible by channelling what may be dry subject material into consumable stories. Mosse communicates that so succinctly when she says:
“Novels can reflect our lives, yes, but also help us to stand in another person’s shoes. Show us another way to see the world. They are about empathy, about imagining, about the courage to speak out. Novels slip between the gaps in understanding and help us to listen to voices other than our own.” Kate Mosse
As I did for the 2016 Baileys long list, I will share here a short summary of the nominated books, to help give you an idea of what you might be interested to read. Summaries are from the Women’s Prize for Fiction website.
So, this year it was said the long list would be reduced from 20 titles to 12, however today the announcement has revealed sixteen titles from the 189 novels submitted. I have only read only one, the longest book of the group, Barkskins by Annie Proulx, a book that took ten years of research and writing to complete, and I have two others already on the shelf to read, The Essex Serpent and
The long listed books are as follows:
Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo (review) – Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. A devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.
The Power, Naomi Alderman – Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – girls find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of this extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed, and we look at the world in an entirely new light. What if the power were in women’s hands?
Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood – A modern re-working of Shakespeare’s Tempest. Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director for the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And brewing revenge.
After twelve years, his chance finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Little Deaths, Emma Flint – It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery. It’s every mother’s worst nightmare. But Ruth Malone is not like other mothers…
The Mare, Mary Gaitskill – Ginger is in her forties and a recovering alcoholic when she meets and marries Paul. When it becomes clear it’s too late for her to have a baby of her own, she tries to persuade him to consider adoption, but he already has a child from a previous marriage and is ten years older than her, so doesn’t share her longing to be a parent at any cost. As a compromise, they sign up to an organisation that sends poor inner-city kids to stay with country families for a few weeks in the summer, and so one hot July day eleven-year-old Velveteen Vargas, a Dominican girl from one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighbourhoods, arrives in their lives, and Ginger is instantly besotted.
The Dark Circle, Linda Grant – It’s 1949, the Second World War is over and a new decade of recovery is beginning, but for East End teenage twins who have been living on the edge of the law, life has been suspended. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, they are sent away to a sanatorium in Kent to take the cure and submit to the authority of the doctors, learning the deferential way of the patient.
The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride – An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story.
Midwinter, Fiona Melrose – Father and son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter are Suffolk farmers, living together on land their family has worked for generations. But they are haunted there by a past they have long refused to confront: the death of Cecelia, beloved wife and mother, when Vale was just a child. Both men have carried her loss, unspoken. Until now.
With the onset of a mauling winter, something between them snaps. While Vale makes increasingly desperate decisions, Landyn retreats, finding solace in the land, his animals – and a vixen who haunts the farm and seems to bring with her both comfort and protection.
The Sport of Kings, C.E. Morgan – Hellsmouth, an indomitable thoroughbred filly, runs for the glory of the Forge family, one of Kentucky’s oldest and most powerful dynasties. Henry Forge has partnered with his daughter, Henrietta, in an endeavour of raw obsession: to breed a champion.
But when Allmon Shaughnessy, an ambitious young black man, comes to work on their farm after a stint in prison, the violence of the Forges’ history and the exigencies of appetite are brought starkly into view. Entangled by fear, prejudice and lust, the three tether their personal dreams of glory to the speed and power of Hellsmouth.
The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso -Hortensia and Marion are next door neighbours in a charming, bougainvillea-laden Cape Town suburb. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers behind them. Both have recently been widowed. Both are in their eighties. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility pruned with zeal.
But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. Could long-held mutual loathing transform into friendship? Love thy neighbour? Easier said than done?
The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill – Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry – London 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.
When they take lodgings in Colchester, they hear rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species.
Barkskins, Annie Proulx (reviewed) – In the late seventeenth century, two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a ‘seigneur’, for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters – barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business.
Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years – their travels across North America, to Europe, China and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions: the revenge of rivals; accidents; pestilence; Indian attacks; and cultural annihilation.
First Love, Gwendoline Riley – Neve is a writer in her mid-thirties married to an older man, Edwyn. For now they are in a place of relative peace, but their past battles have left scars. As Neve recalls the decisions that led her to this marriage, she tells of other loves and other debts, from her bullying father and self-involved mother to a musician who played her and a series of lonely flights from place to place.
Drawing the reader into the battleground of her relationship, Neve spins a story of helplessness and hostility, an ongoing conflict in which both husband and wife have played a part. But is this, nonetheless, also a story of love?
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien (review) – In Canada in 1990, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-ming.
As her relationship with Marie deepens. Ai-ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent to the Shangahi Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-ming – and for Marie.
The Gustav Sonata, Rose Tremain – What is the difference between friendship and love? Or between neutrality and commitment? Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in ‘neutral’ Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo. But Gustav’s father has mysteriously died, and his adored mother Emilie is strangely cold and indifferent to him. Gustav’s childhood is spent in lonely isolation, his only toy a tin train with painted passengers staring blankly from the carriage windows.
As time goes on, an intense friendship with a boy of his own age, Anton Zwiebel, begins to define Gustav’s life. Jewish and mercurial, a talented pianist tortured by nerves when he has to play in public, Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav’s are entwined.
Lots of interesting titles to consider! I’d like to read Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo after reading an excellent review by Eric at Lonesome Reader (click on the link to read his review). He will be reading all the books along with the other members of the Shadow Panel, organised by Naomi at The Writes of Women.
So which titles are you interested in reading?