Despite being initially unsure as to whether I’d be able to commit to reading the whole of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, I managed to finish doing so recently – and just in time for the shortlist announcement on 21st April!
I’ll follow the same format I used to wrap up last year’s prize, starting with a list of the longlisted titles in the order I read them. For each, I’ve included my star rating and a link to my full review in case you’d like more in-depth thoughts.
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Girl by Edna O’Brien | ⭐
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Dominicana by Angie Cruz | ⭐ ⭐
- The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Weather by Jenny Offill | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett | ⭐ ⭐
- Actress by Anne Enright | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel | ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
It’s a shame to start things on a negative note, but if I could sum up my thoughts on this year’s selection in a word, it would be ‘underwhelming’. My average star rating across the 16 longlisted titles was just 3.06 (and it’s worth pointing out that whenever I was torn between two ratings, I always chose to round up rather than down, meaning this figure is generous, if anything). I would never expect to love every title on such an extensive longlist, but it’s clear I have very different taste (and a different opinion on what constitutes a great ‘Women’s Prize read’) than this year’s judging panel. Alas, that’s the subjective nature of art.
Despite there being several solid enough reads, I didn’t find any stand-out favourites, and few felt like they warranted a place on a major literary prize longlist. For comparison, I didn’t award a single 5 star rating this year, while last year I gave two books from the longlist a 5 star rating (Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, and Normal People by Sally Rooney). While both of them ended up on my top reads of the year list, several reads from this year’s batch are already fading from memory, such was their lack of impact.
On a more positive note, it’s not a terrible list in terms of diversity of authorship (considering the rules stipulate that the books must have been written in English and published within the UK, at least). Six authors are from the UK, six are from the US, two are from Ireland, one is from Singapore, and one is from India. Nine of these authors are white, and seven are people of colour. (shoutout to Rachel for compiling these figures, which I stole because I have no shame.)
As with last year’s list, however, there is quite a bit of crossover in theme and content, which seems an odd choice when aiming for broad appeal and diversity of perspective. Many of the books paint a dire picture of motherhood, several explore the struggles of rich, white people, several are family sagas, and the inclusion of both Girl and How We Disappeared is frankly baffling, considering they both explore the exact same primary themes, but where the latter excels, the former falls flat on every front.
THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY
On that note, here are some of the eligible titles that weren’t included that I think were deserving of a place on this year’s longlist, with each offering a certain quality that I felt was missing. For the sake of fairness, I’ve only included titles that I’ve read personally, so I’m sure there are lots of others that were unfairly snubbed – many of which I’m still excited to get to myself!
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; an evocative piece of historical fiction, inspired by the real-life witch trials of Norway. A beautifully written, emotionally compelling look at the toxic history of othering, and the enduring strength of sisterhood.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore; a hugely readable novel that offers a seamless blend of gripping narrative and wider commentary on contemporary socioeconomic issues.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins; a rich and transporting read that looks at the historic trappings of race, class, gender, and sexuality, when a former slave is accused of murdering her master.
Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford; a dark and visceral exploration of women’s bodies, and the vilification of female power. Bold and singular, it leaves a haunting impression, and would have brought a welcome touch of experimental, fabulist fiction to the list.
A few others: What Red Was by Rosie Price (a painfully honest look at recovery and friendship); Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (a look at the interconnectedness of community, through the lens of a mystery); Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (a playful riff on Frankenstein that looks at gender, identity, and the relationship between man and technology); My Name is Monster by Katie Hale (a dystopian novel that looks at the notions of survival, belonging, the enduring influence of societal roles, and the complexities of motherhood); and 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (a structurally unique look at found family).
HOPES FOR THE WINNER/SHORTLIST
As I said, there wasn’t really an obvious frontrunner for me this year, but I’d be happiest to see either Actress by Anne Enright or How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee take the win. They’re very different, but both are well crafted and offer a level of emotional depth and thematic nuance I found lacking in many of the other titles.
Taking into account how much I enjoyed each book, as well as factors such as literary merit, originality, thematic variance, social commentary, and how well each has stayed with me over time, my shortlist would look as follows:
- How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
- Actress by Anne Enright
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
- Weather by Jenny Offill
These aren’t necessarily my six ‘favourites’. There are a couple I enjoyed reading more than Weather, for example, but its look at the idea of living with constant anxiety about the state of the world is so timely, and its stream of consciousness, vignette style brings an experimental touch to a list that would otherwise feel very conventional.
If the above list would be my favoured shortlist, which titles do I actually think the judges will select? Based on the qualities they seem to be looking for, and the critical and commercial successes the books appear to have enjoyed, this is my prediction for the official list:
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
- Weather by Jenny Offill
- Dominicana by Angie Cruz
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
The list may not have been the strongest the prize has ever put together, but there’s definitely still a feeling of satisfaction that comes with having completed it in full. Big shoutout to my bookish friends for keeping me sane with our endless chats and rants throughout the process: Emily, Hannah, Marija, Naty, Rachel, Sarah, and Steph.
Have you read the longlist? What did you make of it compared to previous years? Which title would you most like to see win? What book that didn’t make the list are you most salty about?