It’s Women’s Prize Short List week!!

Just that really! On Tuesday of this week the Short List for the 25th Women’s Prize for fiction will be announced.

The Long List this year is :

  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz
  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Led
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Girl by Edna O’ Brien
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Every year I set a completely unrealistic goal of reading each book before the Short List is announced and every year I fail spectacularly. I always forget how many other brilliant books I want to read that aren’t on the list!

This year out of 16 books I have managed 6. In fairness one was 900 pages long, so could actually count as 3 books! And I have 6 more waiting on my shelves.

But I can’t let Women’s Prize Short List week go by without marking it in some way, so I bring you my thoughts on those I have read.

Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson

I thought this was an incredible book. It was short and I read it quickly. Probably too quickly. I am convinced that it is one of books that you need to reread to pick up all the inferences and cleverness you missed first time around.

It is an inter generational novel, set in NYC, chronically the changing fortunes of one black family. It had a time frame that reaches as far back as 1920’s, detailing the Tulsa Massacre and encompasses the 9/11 tragedy.

For a book with relatively few pages it paints a detailed picture of a family beautifully and effectively. I love a long book, but I also really appreciate a book that uses words sparingly and makes every paragraph count. This is one of those rare books.

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

This one was a Christmas gift. I had heard lots of good things and was intrigued.

Set in London this is the story of Queenie, a young black woman whose life is spinning out of control. There is so much humour, love and life in this book.

And there is also darkness and pain.

It is a book that creeps up on you. At the beginning it seems light, easy to read, unassuming, but as the story develops it becomes clear that this a skilled exploration of mental struggles and the journey back to health. It is about how our past shapes us, can scar us but how sometimes the support we need can be found where we least expect it .

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

Twelve black women of Britain, all different ages, all with a different story to tell.

This book is a collection of perspectives and experiences bringing seemingly separate stories together; all cleverly intertwined through the characters within their tales.

When I heard about this volume I wondered if I would find it disjointed and disconnected. Nothing was further from the truth.

It is a glorious melting pot of sexuality, gender, politics and family identify. A triumphant representation of Black Women in Britain today.

I adored this book. It is going on the forever shelf.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

I might as well come clean now and say I am a huge fan of Ann Patchett. Her novel Commonwealth has stayed with me for a long time, so I had high hopes for this one.

Again, in the interest of transparency I think it is only fair that I admit that I listened to this book. With Tom Hanks narrating it was likely to be a winner, but it was so much more than that.

The story of Maeve and Danny, growing up in The Dutch House in the suburb of Elkins Park, Philadelphia. When their Father remarries, they find themselves increasingly isolated.

It is a story that spans five decades, told in detail, a beautiful portrait of siblings tied together through hope and adversity. In their lives the unique and beautiful house in which they spent their formative years becomes a symbol and a focal point.

This is a story that is told with the attention to detail and the understanding of family dynamics which is Ann Patchett’s own particular strength. It is a joy.

The Mirror and The Light – Hilary Mantel

This needs very little, if any introduction from me. The third book in her epic Trilogy documenting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, it is quite simply a masterpiece.

At over 900 pages it is a challenging read, but in all the right ways. A host of complex and vivid characters, each vividly painted and woven into the novel seamlessly.

The historical research and accuracy of this novel is quite simply staggering. But for all that attention to detail, nothing of the emotion of the situation is lost. Quite simply this novel broke my heart. Being a Tudor geek I knew in glorious technicolour what Cromwell’s end would be. But Mantel had me believing that we could rewrite the story, she summed in me a hope that was cruelly dashed.

Simply brilliant.

And have producing one volume of this brilliance seems impossible, to have produced three is staggering.

It is hard to believe that this won’t win awards. Possibly it will follow it’s predecessors and claim the Booker, completely the Triple. Will it win the Woman’s Prize ? Who knows, but I will be amazed if it isn’t on the Short List.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

And finally we come to Hamnet.

I am not sure where to start with this book. It may not be the 900 pages of The Mirror and The Light. But it is a little drop of perfection.

I love Maggie O’Farrell’s writing. I find her one of the most skilled and versatile contemporary authors whose work I have read. Hamnet is, I feel, her masterpiece.

The fictional account of Shakespeare’s son’s short life and death and the love of a mother, skilled in healing but unable to protect him. It is also a testament to the love between parent and child and how loss shapes our lives.

The characters of this novel, burst off the page. For example Agnes, his wife, individual, strong and devoted; looking into the future with her curious gift of sight, facing down demons and healing the sick. Agnes is a creation of such skill and empathy that it is hard to see another novel being able to topple this from my read of the year so far.

I am going to put my neck on the line and say I would love this to win the Women’s Prize. And I will throw quite an unseemly tantrum if it isn’t shortlisted!

And what of the rest…?

In addition to the six books I have read I have another six waiting for me on my shelves.

I am particularly excited by Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The publication of this novel as, due to ‘current circumstances’ been delayed. I am scheduled to be on the blog tour for this one later in the year and have a gifted copy waiting for me. For which, I am as always very grateful.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo is another one waiting in the wings. After seeing it described on Twitter as a cross between The Cazalet Chronicles and Little Woman, I knew I had to have it. Seriously hoping it lives up to that label!!

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes has been sitting on the book trolley for a while and I am pretty sure that is where I am heading next. Circe, The Song of Achilles and The Silence of the Girls have all been winners for me in the last couple of years; I quite fancy losing myself in Ancient Greece again for a bit.

And finally, Girl by Edna O’ Brien, Actress by Anne Enright, and How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Led have all been waiting for me while. Plenty to be getting on with as always, and plans might well change when the short list is published !

So, a couple of predictions from me, but I haven’t read nearly enough of these stunners to predict the whole short list. I will be watching and waiting with anticipation, and as always really interested to hear your thoughts.

Rachel x

Yet another Women’s Prize Short List reaction! Don’t all cheer at once!

So it’s Monday night and I am blogging after a day at work, ending with a full staff meeting. What could possibly go wrong? Currently typing this whilst cooking meatballs, feeding dogs and trying not to forget that tomorrow is bin day! So, disclaimer; don’t expect Chaucer! I am going for coherent!

Why am I risking ruining any credibility I might have build up in the 2 weeks or so I have been blogging?? Because the WOMEN’S PRIZE SHORTLIST has been announced and if I can’t drag my weary carcass to a computer on that occasion I might as well give up this book blogging lark.

Less rambling, more book chat. Lets start with…

What would my list have been…

Time to come clean now, I only got around to reading 7 from the 16 longlisted books. In my usual way I got distracted by other lovely shiny books. Also, in my defence, and this is genuinely an important point, literary prize lists are just the tip of the iceberg. So many backlisted, new, undiscovered authors out there, you have to mix up it a little.

Anyway, I digress. I did warn you blogging on a Monday night would be a bit of a risk.

So, having read only 7 books, my preferred short list that I posted on Twitter (@bookbound2019 blog) and Instagram (@bookbound2019) only had 5 books.

And they were…

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

The actual Short List was…

Thoughts on what’s there…

  • American Marriage – Tayari Jones – Having not read this one I obviously can’t add too much, beyond saying it is on my TBR list. It has also gained a lot of praise from other book bloggers and vloggers, whose opinions I respect and often reflect my own. Excited to get to this one . (If I ever finish A Little Life!)
  • Ordinary People – Diana Evans – Again another ‘no read’, pretty hopeless so far. But again lots of love for this so watch this space!!!
  • Milkman – Anna Burns – One I have read. Finally I hear you cry! (If you have even got this far!!) This was of course the Man Booker Prize Winner last year. I mentioned in my early blog about the Prize that I found this a difficult read. I read it when I was really busy and I found it hard to connect with the style. So it wasn’t on my personal short list. But it is no surprise that a ManBooker Winner and such an innovative novel would make the short list. I actually think this one was a given.
  • Circe – Madeline Miller I am thrilled that this one is here. This bold and empowering retelling of the myth of Circe is as beautiful and tantalising as it’s gorgeous cover. If you haven’t read this one please do. It is so refreshing and gives new depth and perspective to a classic tale.
  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker In all honesty I didn’t think that two re-imaginings of Ancient Greek literature would make it to the short list but, on this occasion, I am absolutely delighted to be wrong. In a similar vein to Circe this book takes a well known story and gives it new and very real credence by using the female perspective. Gritty and honest in true Pat Barker fashion, this absolutely deserves it place on the short list.
  • My Sister the Serial killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite Of those on the list this is definitely my stand out. Having reviewed it just days ago, there seems little point in waxing lyrical about it again here. All I will say is that Braithwaite is a master wordsmith who uses her tools sparingly but with a precise and dark beauty. This is the one from the list that has stuck with me, and it is the one that I am recommending to any poor fool who will talk to me about all things books.

Thoughts about those that didn’t make it…

In terms of those that didn’t make the list I think I am most disappointed about Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. I really love this author’s work and for a novella Ghost Wall was so multi layered. I am still thinking about it months later. Bonus points for being set in my go to happy place, wild and beautiful Nothumberland.

Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn was a recent read for me. Pretty sure this is my first taste of Flash Fiction and it really packed a punch. Another little book filled to the brim with life and so much to discuss. The setting of Romania behind the Iron Curtain and everything that entails was absolutely fascinating. I don’t think this is the last time this author will be around a list such as this.

Finally I must say something about Normal People – Sally Rooney. Just about everywhere I go people are raving about this book and there is so much admiration for her work in general. I am going to out myself here and say I breathed a small sign of relief when this wasn’t on the short list. Rightly or wrongly I always try and read at least the short list and…

…I didn’t like Conversations with Friends, her first novel. I am well aware that I am in a small and, probably, shrinking minority, however there it is. I can quite see what people admire about her skill as a writer but I found the characters so intensely irritating that I couldn’t move beyond that. I don’t mind an annoying character but this felt overloaded with self absorbed people living vacuous lives. More than that I didn’t like the way I felt when I was reading the book. For someone who likes to think that I am pretty easy going, I felt old and judgemental and staid.

Having said all of this I am quite a nosy article and hate to think I am missing out so who knows. Feel free to convince me…

So what’s next? My new Women’s Prize reading plans.

Well in reality they aren’t all that different to the ones I published last month. I have read three from the list in my earlier blog post

  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella (More of that in a later blog post)
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

I will definitely be reading Remembered – Yvonne Battle-Felton. Heard so much good stuff about this and it’s themes have been really prevalent in lots of my reading over the past couple of years. May have just ordered this online today…possibly…maybe.

And of course I will be reading the remaining two novels on the Short List – Ordinary People and An American Marriage. No doubt I will be blogging about them in due course.

So, from a sunny Cumbrian Monday evening, I hope you have made at least something of my barely coherent ramblings. Off to throw ‘beans-on-toast’ down my neck and start up Mum’s taxi!

Always want to hear your thoughts, so please comment below or get in touch via Twitter or Instagram.

Happy Short List Day!