My Bailey’s Women’s Prize Shortlist

On Monday 7th April, the judges of the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction will announce their shortlist. Trying to second guest the books those five women will decide to put through to the second round of the prize is not my aim here – I would no doubt be wrong on several counts. However, having read sixteen of the longlisted books and partially read three (at the time of writing), were I to be one of the judges fighting for the books I love to be included, these are the six I’d be fighting for (click on the covers to read my reviews):

I was stunned to discover that the longlist included two of the best books I’ve ever read. Stunned because the older you become and the more you read, the less often a book is the ‘best’ book you’ve ever read. However, Americanah is an incredible book. It has a fresh, direct tone; its subject matter is intelligent and thoughtful but doesn’t detract from the love story at its core; it’s quite an achievement. The Lowland is a masterpiece. Skilfully written with carefully layered sentences and ideas of loss at its centre, it’s deeply affecting.

The Luminaries makes the list because it combines a cracking detective story with a interesting structure. When I reached the second half of the book, the plot and the decreasing length of the chapters meant I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing is another novel with an interesting structure – the present day story is told forward, while the past is presented to us in reverse. This leaves the reading feeling like a detective looking for the protagonist’s motive and being wrong-footed at several points.

Then I have two debuts: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is an incredible piece of literature. Again, the sentences are layered, although in this case they are staccato and dense – an odd juxtaposition that you have to completely immerse yourself in. This could have been a fairly straight-forward (although very grim) coming-of-age story but the style and structure transcend it. The Undertaking also transcends a genre, in this case, war fiction. Two things make this a good book as opposed to a good debut – the use of dialogue and the point of view. The novel’s mostly dialogue, not an easy thing to write, and it works; it’s snappy and clear, while leaving room for ambiguity of meaning. Point of view wise, this is a story of a family of Nazi sympathisers and a soldier in the battle of Stalingrad. Again, this was a book that felt fresh.

It’s worth pointing out here that of the nineteen longlisted books I’ve read (or partially read at the time of writing) there isn’t a bad one amongst them. I was going to post some ‘near misses’ too but I found myself wanting to post all of them. The full list of my reviews is here (hopefully this will be complete shortly); I’m sure there’s something there you’ll enjoy.

Now for the excitement of waiting for the actual shortlist…


(The only book I haven’t read any of is Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam as I want to read the whole trilogy.)

10 thoughts on “My Bailey’s Women’s Prize Shortlist

  1. Great reading your thought-process behind what you think will be on the shortlist. I cower in shame that I still haven’t read Americanah or The Lowland – especially since you think they are two of the best books you’ve ever read. How extraordinary. Have you ever seen Ngozi speak? She’s so fascinating & intelligent in person. Half a Yellow Sun is a brilliant book.
    I’m reading McBride’s book at the moment. I love how bold and striking it is. Unapologetically blunt and sticking to its own rules.
    I’ve only read 10 books of the long list but I’ll probably try to make short list predictions as well. I’m sure I’ll be cheering for Evie Wyld as well.


    • Thanks, Eric. Yes, it was very odd to find two such incredible books – I don’t find one to add to the list very often. I haven’t seen Ngozi speak – yet; she’s back in the UK at the end of May and I intend to see her then. I haven’t read either of her others but will do shortly.

      Looking forward to seeing what you think will be there.


  2. These books have been in my TBR list for such a long time. I ‘ve heard great things about them, especially Americanah. I’ve had it since last year but sadly, I haven’t read it. It would be interesting to know who will end up shortlisted. I’ve not read the Maddaddam trilogy too because I want to start with the first book in the series.


  3. I think reading all but one of the longlisted books since March is an incredible feat! Once upon a time I read the whole longlist, plus the New Writer’s prize shortlist (since discontinued, and much mourned by me), before the final announcement, but can’t imagine doing it in a month. 🙂

    I would definitely like to see The Luminaries on the shortlist, if only as an incredible structural feat, but that’s the only one of your six I’ve read. I *have* to read Americanah and All the Birds, Singing soon, and I think I will add The Lowland to my list too after such a ringing endorsement.


    • Thank you. I’ll be very surprised if The Luminaries isn’t on there although, like Hilary Mantel last year, I can’t see it doing the double. Hope you enjoy the other books.


  4. I must admit that the Orange/Women’s/Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is growing on me year after year, maybe because, as you wrote about this year’s longlisted novels, they do choose really good books.

    I can’t wait to see what ends up in the official short list later today.


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