The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shadow Panel Winner

For the second time in four years, our shadow panel winner is a book that didn’t make the official shortlist. Elmet is a superb novel about outsiders looking at class, power, violence, gender and sexuality. I hope, considering the number of prizes the book has now been listed for, it has a wide readership.

The shadow panel discussions this year were the most intense we’ve ever had. There were some very strong feelings about some of the books and we had quite a discussion about what constitutes fiction.

The book that came a close second for us was Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing which shares some similarities with Elmet in terms of its themes but is also a book about race and time and how the America of today can’t be disconnected from its history. Again, I hope it has a wide readership.

The official winner of The Women’s Prize for Fiction is announced tonight. There’s coverage on The Women’s Prize’s social media channels from 6.45pm.

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…

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

My Women’s Prize for Fiction Wishlist

It’s that time of year again. On Thursday 8th March, International Women’s Day, the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced. The list will comprise of twelve books (if they stick to their own rules this year) written by female writers in English and published in the UK between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018.

I call this my wishlist because it’s somewhere between a prediction and what I’d like to see longlisted. I’ve never successfully identified more than half of the longlisted books but reading titles I might otherwise never have chosen is part of the pleasure of shadowing the prize.

I’ve reviewed the first three, click on the covers to read.

  

Books of the Year 2017

Due to life interfering, I read half as many books this year as I have in previous years. What I have read though has, on the whole, been incredibly good. I’ve selected the ten I loved the most and included five others I highly recommend at the end of the piece. If I’ve reviewed the book in full, there’s a link at the bottom of the description.

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

The story of a marriage between a young, educated woman and a university lecturer. When I Hit You is both a tale of domestic violence and of a woman becoming a writer by writing her way out of her situation. Kandasamy’s experimental style frames the experience as though the narrator is witnessing the horror brought upon her. It’s brutal, it’s thoughtful, it’s shocking. It’s incredibly relevant in 2017.

You can read my full review and watch my interview with Meena Kandasamy here.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky – Leslie Nnedi Arimah

Hands down the best short story collection I’ve ever read. Arimah does things with the form that shouldn’t be possible. In the first story, for example, the protagonist is held in a moment while the back story of everything that led to that point is revealed and yet the tension holds sharp. Many of the stories are concerned with the way women are shaped by/shape themselves around men, all of them carry an emotional punch.

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Two sisters, Effia and Esa, born in West Africa in the 1770s are separated. One becomes the wife of a slave trader, the other is shipped to America as a slave. Gyasi follows the two lines to the present day. Each chapter focuses on the next branch of the family tree and works as a short story in its own right. Alongside this runs the story of the creation of the black race, its reasons and consequences. It’s an incredible achievement.

My full review is here.

Attrib. and Other Stories – Eley Williams

Williams’ debut short story collection is full of animals, clever word play, humour and love. While all of these elements contribute to intelligent, engaging stories, it’s the emotions at the core of the tales which elevate them to something special. The reader’s transported to the position of the narrator, feeling their anticipation at the potential lover standing next to them or their loss at the one who’s just left.

You can read my full review and watch my interview with Eley Williams here.

First Love – Gwendoline Riley

Neve is a writer in her mid-thirties, exploring her marriage to an older man, Edwyn, and the impact previous relationships, both romantic and familial, have had on who they are now. Almost everyone in Neve’s life is abusive in some form; Riley conveys this through a range of incidents told from Neve’s perspective, leading the reader to question whether or not she’s telling the truth. Searing and utterly pertinent in 2017.

My full review is here.

Vernon Subutex 1 – Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne)

Vernon Subutex once ran a legendary record shop in Paris. When his benefactor and musician friend, Alex Bleach, dies, Vernon is left homeless. Subutex moves between the houses and apartments of friends and acquaintances before ending up on the streets. Despentes gives a searing commentary on Western society’s views of a range of hot topics: social media, hijabs, the rich, sex workers and a whole lot more.

The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

An unnamed narrator gives birth to a boy as floodwaters rise in the U.K. Soon London is covered and the narrator and her new family can’t return to their flat. They move to their in-laws and then on to a refugee camp. Also works as a metaphor for the first year of motherhood. Taut and compelling.

My full review is here.

Homesick for Another World – Ottessa Moshfegh

A collection of stories about ordinary people at their worst, it’s a mirror held up to today’s society: to the misogyny, to the privilege, to the hypocrisy. Some of the characters know better but can’t be arsed to do better; some of them make an attempt but fall flat at the first hurdle. The collection’s full of characters for whom, essentially, nothing changes. Only Moshfegh could pull that off.

My full review is here.

Elmet – Fiona Mosley

“Daddy“ builds a house in a copse in the woods for himself and his teenage children, Daniel and Cathy. The land on which he builds is owned by Price, the most influential man in the area. Daddy is fully aware of the antagonism this will cause, but, as the best bare-knuckle fighter in the U.K. and Ireland, he wields his own form of power. From this moment, the two men are pitted against each other; it’s a matter of when, not if, the violent tension will explode. An exploration of gender roles and what happens if you transgress them, as well as a commentary on class and privilege.

I wrote about why Elmet is an important working class novel for OZY.

Seeing Red – Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell)

At a party, Lucina feels a pain and blood begins to fill her eyes. She begins to go blind. The doctor tells her he can do nothing other than monitor the situation, leaving her to adjust to a life in which she has to rely on others to help her. She is furious and her anger increases as the story progresses. Told in flash length chapters with short, spiky, repetitive sentences. Horrifying and brilliant.

You can read my full review and watch my interview with Lina Meruane here.

And the highly recommended:

Tinman – Sarah Winman

Ellis and Michael are inseparable until Annie arrives in their lives and Ellis marries her. A story of hidden love, friendship, AIDS and art. Beautiful and heart-wrenching.

A Book of Untruths – Miranda Doyle

A memoir about Doyle’s family. Every chapter reveals a lie that’s been told while questioning the reliability of memory and the purpose of memoir writing.

A Manual for Heartache – Cathy Rentzenbrink

An indispensable guide for when the worst happens to you or someone close to you. My piece about it is here.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill

The love story of performers Rose and Perrot and also a scathing commentary on patriarchal society’s treatment of women, particularly with regards to sex and shame.

My full review is here.

The Other Half of Happiness – Ayisha Malik

The sequel to Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged. Sofia’s married to Conall but there’s a whopping great secret he hasn’t told her. Has a punch the air, feminist ending.

My full review and interview with Ayisha Malik is here.