The Bailey’s Prize – A Guide to the Shortlist

The Bailey’s Prize is announced this week. At this point the only thing that’s certain is the five judges are going to have a tough time choosing a winner; the shortlist is exceptional. Here’s my guide to the six remaining books (if you click on the covers it’ll take you to the full reviews):


Americanah is the story of Ifemelu and Obinze’s enduring love but also a tale of racial inequality and the West’s racial narrative.

Best for: A new perspective and a cracking love story.

Any flaws? I loved it so but I could see why people might find it slightly too long.




Burial Rites is a fictionalised version of the story of Agnus Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

Best for: Incredible descriptions of the Icelandic scenery; giving a voice to a marginalised woman.

Any flaws? The conversations Agnus has with the Reverend Thorvadar become an expositional device towards the end.



The Lowland is the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, and their lives. Initially the action takes place in Calcutta and then moves to America. There is also a third character, a woman, Gauri, who becomes central as the novel progresses.

Best for: Incredible layered prose that builds into something spectacular.

Any flaws? A slow starter.



The Undertaking tells the story of Peter Faber and Katharina Spinelli’s marriage. It’s 1941 and Peter is a soldier fighting at Stalingrad. Katharina is the daughter of a family of Nazi sympathisers.

Best for: The dialogue is superb; the viewpoint is unflinching and relates without condemning.

Any flaws? It’s grim, oh so very very grim.




A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a coming-of-age tale of an unnamed Irish girl who tells her story to her younger brother who is dying from a brain tumour.

Best for: Fragmented prose which builds images in an almost poetic way. It’s like nothing you’ve read before.

Any flaws? It’s grim; the darkest book on the list. It will leave you broken.



The Goldfinch is Theodore Decker’s story following his mother’s death in a terrorist bombing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It follows him through New York, Vegas and Amsterdam along with the painting from which the book takes its name and Theo takes from the museum.

Best for: A cracking good yarn you can immerse yourself in.

Any flaws? The ending’s ludicrous.


The Winner? For me, it has to be Americanah; it’s an incredible book – a book that changed my perspective while making me will the lovers on.

However, if I was in the judging room and forced to compromise, The Lowland and A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing would be my alternative choices.

14 thoughts on “The Bailey’s Prize – A Guide to the Shortlist

  1. I’ve only read half of the shortlist now, but if I could choose out of those, I would go with The Undertaking. It has to be one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year.


  2. I like your summaries, they’re very helpful. I’ve only read two from the shortlist: The Lowland and Americanah. Both great books, but preferred The Lowland. There’s just something about Lahiri”s slow-burning style that I loved, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters.
    Looking forward to seeing who wins!


      • Yes, I really do need to read A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I have it here, and I tried to read the first few pages before embarking on the IFFP marathon, but I could tell I’d need to give it more attention than I could afford at the time. My issue rather than any reflection on the book itself!


  3. Good summaries. When I was persuaded to read Burial Rites I remembered your review and looked out for the exposition at the end – I have a horror of exposition in books and on screen so amateur :-0 But actually it was OK with it in Burial Rites, I thought at the very end the presence of the priest as an outsider made for a stronger ending and therefore made up for it.


    • Hi Denise, thank you. Good point and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Interesting point about the priest and something I’ll bear in mind if I go back to it – which I might as much of it is very vivid still.


  4. I’ve read only one of the shortlisted novels, so I can’t choose a favourite. But what I can say is that The Goldfinch left me underwhelmed. It never really clicked for me. Probably my expectations were too high and there was no way Donna Tartt’s book could meet them.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to find out who the judges pick.


    • Hi Ametista, I liked The Goldfinch until the last 50 pages, which I found very disappointing. It’s the bookie’s favourite at the moment though, so we’ll see tomorrow night…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s