Ruminations on Literary Prizes…

and my reading plans for the Women’s Prize 2019

I confess to being a bit of a sucker for Literary Prizes. I know full well there are thousands of other books out there. Believe me when I say that a whole chunk of these books are piling up in all the corners of my life! Yet I am still drawn to the long and short lists of popular Literary Fiction.

To be honest my interest in Literary Prizes was no more than passing until a couple of years ago when I read, quite by chance, George Saunders masterpiece Lincoln in the Bardo. It was one of those books that sweeps you up, takes you in and refuses to let go. I became a ‘Bardo’ bore, recommending it everywhere, seeking out like minded souls to worship with and struggling to maintain any composure at all in the face of criticism.

When, a couple of months after my devoted reading, Lincoln was long listed for the ManBooker Prize 2017 I made it my mission to attempt to read the list. Simply because I didn’t believe there was anything out there that could hold a candle to Saunders.

So I cheated on my TBR pile, ignored all the backlisted books that had been patiently awaiting my attention and embarked on a summer of brand new literary reads.

And I almost fulfilled my self imposed mission. By the day of the winner’s announcement in early October I had only Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones left to read. (Confession time – still haven’t read it !!) Lincoln in the Bardo, of course won, I felt vindicated in my devotion and found I had also developed a new reading habit that was going to be very hard to break .

I know that some people love to guess at what the long lists for important prizes will be. I don’t even pretend to have that level of literary prowess. I am quite content to wait passively, if some what hungrily, to see what is served for my literary feast.

And to that end here is my take on 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction Long List.

Those I have read…

At the time of the Long List being announced I had read only 4 of the 16 books within it.

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker. This retelling of the Trojan war and the myth of Achilles from the female perspective of Brises, was quite brilliant. By unpicking and subverting the motivations of war and it warriors, Barker was able to bring to life that dark, moving and human side of the Greek heroes and, most importantly, it’s forgotten women.
  • Circe – Madeline Miller Continuing with the theme of Ancient Greece this reimagining of the myth of Circe was as beautiful and captivating as it’s cover promised it would be. Following on from her hugely successful Song of Achilles, Miller takes Circe’s tale and makes it accessible. From a sidelined and often despised witch figure, Circe arises empowered and magnificent, a metaphor for all self educated women. In my humble opinion a perfect pick for the prize.
  • Ghost wall – Sarah Moss For a slim volume this novella certainly packs a punch. Having only discovered Moss in the last 12 months with the Night Waking and the magnificent Bodies of Light I have been rationing myself, not wanting to binge read an author who deserves savouring. So this was a little slice of dark deliciousness. It has so much to say about family dynamics, hidden secrets and asks difficult questions about the treatment of women both now and in the distant past. Set in one of my favourites English landscapes, this book is haunting and hard to shake off.
  • Milkman – Anna Burns Published in 2018 to international acclaim, this novel set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles was the Man Booker winner. Hands up, I did not find this an easy book to read. The unrelenting prose, almost but not quite a stream of consciousness, required a level of concentration which at that point in my busy life I just wasn’t able to give it. I found that if I could devote a significant period of time to the book – i.e. the 2 hours waiting for my son’s MRI(!) then I became immersed, on the edge of commitment. Any short period of time resulted in frustration. But these were, very likely, short comings of my own rather than the book’s. So while I can appreciate the skill on display here, I personally am yet to connect with it’s brilliance .

Those I intend to read …

This time around I am trying to manage my own reading expectations and admit that I am very unlikely to read all of those long listed. Below are those which have piqued my interest, this may change as the Short List and all it’s hype unfolds! I am, if nothing else a fickle creature where the choosing of reading matter is concerned.

Books from this list that are very much on my radar are listed below.

  • Lost Children’s Archive – Valeria Luiselli – A family from New York embark on a road trip, heading out on the trail of the Apaches. Meanwhile other families, some clinging together and some fragmented, are making the perilous journey to the North American border. This novel feels too relevant and bang up to date to ignore.
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn – I am intrigued by the concept of flash fiction, so this novella set in communist Romania looks fresh and inviting. Alina is walking a fine line and when her husband’s brother defects to the West the line is in danger of disappearing.
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones – A story of wrongful conviction and it’s wider implications on an African- American couple. Reviewed and recommended extensively, not least by Barack Obama, whose many reviews have never lead me wrong yet!
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite – The title alone here was enough on it’s own to hook me in! Add to that one very funky cover and a nurse who has cleaned up after not one but three murders committed by her sister and quite frankly what’s not to like!!!
  • Remembered – Yvonne Battle- Felton – Set in 1910 in Philadelphia, Spring is at the bedside of her dying son. Edward is under suspicion and his mother is desperately trying to get to the truth and make peace while she can. Comparisons to, and echoes of the magnificent Toni Morrison, are more enough to draw me in.

So there it is, my humble thoughts on the Women’s Prize offerings of 2019. Reviews of my ‘want to reads’ will follow in due course and as always I would be interest to see what you make of the list in general.

Books mentioned in this post…

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
  • Remembered – Yvonne Battle – Felton
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Milkman – Anna Burns
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella
  • Solar Bones – Mike McCormack
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
  • Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss
  • Night Waking – Sarah Moss
  • Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss
  • Normal People – Sally Rooney
  • Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders.

6 thoughts on “Ruminations on Literary Prizes…

  1. Well, I’ll definitely have to add all of these to my to-read list! As if there’s not enough already on there haha. It’s so hard to find time to read when working full time and trying to be a successful blogger, ugh.


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