The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 Shadow Panel Shortlist

With the official Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist due today, here’s the books the shadow panel felt should make the shortlist.

I’ve reviewed three so far, if you click on the covers of Elmet, A Boy in Winter and Home Fire it will take you to my reviews. The rest are on their way!

This is the fourth year I’ve run a panel and it was our most varied discussion yet. We’ve never had such a wide range of opinions on the same set of books, which mirrors both the range and quality of the longlist. We also discovered that some of us fundamentally disagree on what constitutes fiction and what its job should be. That introduced an interesting element to our conversation!

We’re looking forward to seeing what makes the official shortlist. Apparently the announcement is happening this morning on BBC Radio 4…

A Boy in Winter – Rachel Seiffert

‘I say to myself: where there is light, there will be shadow as well. There will always be darkess, and we must accept this.’

A Boy in Winter takes place over three days in the Ukraine in 1941. It follows several characters as the SS move into a small town and begin rounding up Jews.

Otto Pohl has chosen to work for the Nazis, against his wife’s wishes. An engineer, Pohl decided that building a road was preferable to fighting for Hitler, a man Pohl and his wife are convinced will lose.

The novel begins with Pohl watching the SS searching for Jews at first light.


They are ordered to stand.

‘Mach schon!’

They are ordered to run.

They are herded; they are herded – Pohl can find no other word for it. Three soldiers behind them, even more ahead, the two old people are run down the cobbled street.

He can’t leave the town and get to work quickly enough that morning. But soon he’s forced to realise his complicity in events and has to make a decision as to whether or not he continues to be part of the regime.

Yasia is a young, local woman who lives and works on her father’s farm. Initially, she’s a reminder that the Ukraine have had years of occupation by this point in time:

‘Ten years,’ her papa told his children. ‘But this is the worst one.’

All the collectives in the district had been told to bring in the harvest, though it was barely July. They were to work day and night, if need be. Or destroy the crop: pour paraffin on the fields and burn them. Leave nothing for the Germans.

‘What have the Germans done to us, I ask you? It’s the Communists I’d set fire to,’ her papa declared. ‘I’d walk away and leave them burning.’

Yasia has her own reason to hate Stalin, her husband-to-be, Mykola, was drafted into the Red Army. On his return, Yasia’s father refused to allow them to marry because Mykola’s family couldn’t afford to keep her. When the Germans arrive, Mykola signs up to work for them so he can earn money to maintain his family’s farm, leaving Yasia once again.

Connecting these characters are two young boys who’ve disappeared. On the factory floor where the town’s Jews are being kept, Ephrain and his wife, Miryam, watch the doors waiting for Yankel and Momik to arrive. Ephrain knows that wherever the boys are hiding, there will be trouble once they’re found.

Seiffert explores the choices people make in wartime, the compromises and the rash decisions. The strength of the novel lies in its grey areas. Neither of the main characters are straightforwardly good or bad, both have to confront unexpected situations which could lead to devastating outcomes for those involved. It’s impossible to read a book set in the World War II without a sense of dramatic irony and Seiffert uses this to good effect.

A Boy in Winter is an unsettling look at a horrendous situation. Unflinching but not without hope.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2018

Here it is, the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist. Initial thoughts are that I’m very excited. This is a great list. Two of my favourite books of last year are there – When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy and Elmet by Fiona Mozley – and one of my favourites so far this year – Sight by Jessie Greengrass. One of my all-time favourite writers, Nicola Barker, makes the longlist for the first time with her twelfth novel H(A)PPY. I haven’t read it yet because I’ve been wanting time to sit and savour it, which never happens, so I’m delighted to have to make that time now. The book and writer I hadn’t heard of is Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig. I love that this list always produces at least one new to me writer. The other thing that’s really pleasing is that seven of the sixteen writers are women of colour, by far the highest number we’ve ever seen from this prize and about time too.

Here’s the list in full. I’ve linked to my reviews of the four I’ve already covered and will return to this page to link the rest as I work my way through the rest of the list.

H(A)PPY – Nicola Barker

The Idiot – Elif Batuman

Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

Miss Burma – Charmaine Craig

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gower

Sight – Jessie Greengrass

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – Meena Kandasamy

Elmet – Fiona Mozley

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

A Boy in Winter – Rachel Seiffert

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

The Trick to Time – Kit de Waal

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward