And another welcome tradition on International Women’s Day is the announcement of the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which though it generally doesn’t influence my reading intentions, I do enjoy seeing what’s made the list, the familiar and the unfamiliar and becoming acquainted with them, whether read or not.
It looks like a real mix this year, with familiar names of authors I’ve read before, like Louise Erdrich, Elif Shafak and Ruth Ozeki and the titles that have been appearing often in reviews and then the lesser known surprises!
The only book I have read from the list, and likely to be one of the lesser known is New Zealand author Catherine Chidgey’s excellent historical fiction novel Remote Sympathy (reviewed here), published by Europa Editions.
This 4 minute video below gives very brief mini descriptions of the sixteen novels chosen:
Or if you prefer to read about them; the sixteen longlisted books are as follows:
Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith – (Debut historical fiction, set in Vietnam)(US/Philadelphia, lived in Vietnam for 2 years, her mother’s family fled Vietnam in 1975)
Two Vietnamese women go missing decades apart. Both are fearless, both are lost. And both will have their revenge. The fates of both women are linked, bound together by past generations, ghosts and ancestors, by the history of possessed bodies and possessed lands. This heart-pounding fever dream of a novel hurtles through the ghostly secrets of Vietnamese history creating an immersive, playful, unforgettable debut.
Careless by Kirsty Capes – (debut contemporary fiction) (UK) (inspired from being inside the care system)
Sometimes it’s easy to fall between the cracks… At 3.04 p.m. on a hot, sticky day in June, Bess finds out she’s pregnant. She could tell her social worker Henry, but he’s useless. She should tell her foster mother, Lisa, but she won’t understand. She really ought to tell Boy, but she hasn’t spoken to him in weeks. Bess knows more than anyone that love doesn’t come without conditions. But this isn’t a love story…
A new narrative of the care experience by a writer who grew up in foster care herself. Already snapped up by the makers of BBC One’s Call The Midwife.
Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé – (Fantasy/Paranormal) (US/Washington DC)
Nephthys is a taxi driver in DC, ferrying ill-fated passengers in a haunted car, with a ghost in the trunk. Endless rides and alcohol help her manage grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris.
Unknown to Nephthys, her estranged great-nephew, ten-year-old Dash, is drawn to the banks of the same river, where he talks with a mysterious “River Man.” When Dash arrives at Nephthys’s door bearing a cryptic note, she must face the family she abandoned and what frightens her most.
Threading stories of the living and dead it shows us an unseen Washington filled with otherworldly landscapes, flawed super-humans and reluctant ghosts, bringing together a community intent on saving a boy in order to reclaim themselves.
Flamingo by Rachel Elliott – (UK/Bath) (contemporary fiction)
A novel of love, homelessness, and learning to be fearless. In the garden, there were three flamingos, gateways to a time when life was impossibly good. They were mascots, symbols of hope.
A novel about the power of love, welcome and acceptance, a celebration of kindness. Set in 2018 and the 80’s, it’s a song for the broken-hearted and the big-hearted, a book full of wild hope.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead – (US/California) (historical fiction)
From days as a wild child in prohibition America to wartime London, from the rugged shores of NZ to a lonely iceshelf in Antarctica, Marian Graves is driven by a need for freedom and danger. Determined to live an independent life, she resists her childhood sweetheart, burning her way through a suite of glamorous lovers. An obsession with flight consumes her. As she is about to fulfil her greatest ambition, to circumnavigate the globe, Marian crash lands in a perilous wilderness of ice.
Half a century later, troubled film star Hadley Baxter is drawn to play the enigmatic pilot on screen. It is a role that will lead her to an unexpected discovery, throwing fresh light on the story of the unknowable Marian Graves.
Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey – (Historical fiction set in Germany) (New Zealander who lived some years in Germany)
Moving away from their Munich apartment isn’t as bad as for Frau Greta Hahn feared. The new villa is beautiful and life in Buchenwald seems idyllic. But beyond the forest is the looming presence of a work camp. Her husband, SS Dietrich Hahn has been assigned as the camp’s new administrator.
When Frau Hahn’s health leads her into a friendship with one of Buchenwald’s prisoners, Dr Weber, her ignorance about what is going on is challenged. A decade earlier Dr Weber invented an electrotherapy machine to cure disease, until politics interfered with progress. Did it really work? Might it save a life?
A tour de force about the evils of obliviousness, Remote Sympathy compels us to question our continuing and wilful ability to look the other way, in a world in thrall to the idea that everything – even facts and morals – is relative.
Salt Lick by Lulu Allison – (Visual artist/UK/Brighton) (Science fiction/Dystopia)
Britain is awash, the sea creeps into the land, brambles and forest swamp derelict towns. Food production has moved overseas and people are forced to move to the cities for work. The countryside is empty. A chorus, the herd voice of feral cows, wander this newly wild land watching over changing times, speaking with love and exasperation.
Jesse and his puppy Mister Maliks roam the woods until his family are forced to leave for London. Lee runs from the terrible restrictions of the White Town where he grew up. Isolde leaves London on foot, walking the abandoned A12 in search of the truth about her mother.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason – (NZ’er living in Australia) (Contemporary fiction/humour)
Everyone tells Martha she’s clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer loved by her husband Patrick. A gift, her mother once said, not everybody gets. So why is everything broken? Why is Martha – almost 40 – friendless, near jobless and so sad? Why did Patrick leave?
Maybe she is too sensitive, someone who finds it harder to be alive than most. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain at 17 leaving her changed in a way that no therapist has been able to explain.
Returning to her childhood home to her dysfunctional, bohemian parents, Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is too broken to fix, or by starting over, to write a better ending for herself.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki – (Japanese American) (literary fiction/magic realism)
After the tragic death of his father, 14-year-old Benny begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. As his mother develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow louder. When ignoring them doesn’t work, Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a pet ferret; a homeless philosopher- poet who encourages him to find his own voice; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
Blending unforgettable characters with everything from jazz to climate change to our attachment to material possessions, this is classic Ruth Ozeki – bold, humane and heartbreaking.
The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini – (Trinidad & Tobago) (contemporary feminist fiction)
Alethea is turning 40. Fashionable, feisty and fiercely independent, she manages a boutique, but behind closed doors she’s covering up bruises from an abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair. When she witnesses a woman murdered by a jealous lover, the reality of her own future challenges her.
Bringing us her truth in an arresting, unsparing Trinidadian voice, Alethea unravels memories repressed since childhood and begins to understand the person she has become. She must now decide the woman she wants to be. An engrossing, atmospheric novel with a strong feminist message at the heart of a page-turning plot.
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson – (British) (Contemporary fiction)
The Hanrahan family gather for a weekend as artist and notorious egoist Ray prepares for a new exhibition of his art – the first in many decades – and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good.
His three children will be there: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure Jess, who has her own momentous decision to make.
And then Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife, also an artist, who has always put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must make a choice.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton – (US/Florida) (Contemporary fiction)
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, a Black punk artist before her time. Despite her unconventional looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her one night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together.
In early 70’s New York City, as she’s finding her niche in a flamboyant creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues, set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but be a reminder that repercussions are harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak – (British Turkish living in London) (Contemporary fiction)
In 1974 Cyprus, two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, Greek/Christian and Defne, Turkish/Muslim, can meet in secret hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. It is where the best food, music and wine in town is. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its sorrows.
In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree witnesses their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and it will be there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart.
Years later in London, 16-year-old Ada has never visited the island where her parents were born. Looking for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller – (US/New York) (Contemporary fiction)
On a perfect August morning, Elle heads out for a swim in the pond below ‘The Paper Palace’ – her family’s holiday home in Cape Cod. As she dives beneath the water she relives the passionate encounter she had the night before, against the side of the house that knows all her darkest secrets, while her husband and mother chatted to their guests inside.
So begins a story that unfolds over 24 hours and 50 years, as Elle’s shocking betrayal leads her to a life-changing decision – and an ending you won’t be able to stop thinking about.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich – (Native US/Minnesota) (Contemporary fiction)
The Sentence asks what we owe to the living, the dead, the reader and the book. A small bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading ‘with murderous attention,’ must solve the mystery of this haunting while trying to understand all that occurs during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation and furious reckoning.
The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day and ends a year later. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during the year propel a narrative as rich, emotional and profound as anything Erdrich has written.
This One Sky Day by Leone Ross – (British/Jamaican) (Fantasy/Magic realism)
Dawn breaks across the archipelago of Popisho. The world is stirring awake again, each resident with their own list of things to do: A wedding feast to conjure and cook, an infidelity to investigate, a lost soul to set free. As the sun rises two star-crossed lovers try to find their way back to one another across this single day. When night falls, all have been given a gift, and many are no longer the same.
The sky is pink, and some wonder if it will ever be blue again.
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The judging panel will announce the shortlist of six novels, on April 27th. The winner of the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced on Wednesday 15th June.