Books of the Year 2018

It’s been an unusual reading year for me; new work has meant I’ve read lots of things I wouldn’t have otherwise and it’s no coincidence that, for the first time, there’s a poetry collection included here. It’s also the first time there’s been a graphic novel in my list, although I’ve confused myself here as The One Hundred Nights of Hero is one of my favourite books and I’ve no idea why it didn’t make the list last year. Anyway, here’s my favourite fifteen books published in 2018, if there’s a theme to the list it’s this: feminist as fuck.

Milkman – Anna Burns

Until last week, I’d known what my book of the year was since May. And then I read Milkman. An eighteen-year-old woman walks the streets of what appears to be Belfast, although the setting is never named, reading classic literature. An encounter with a paramilitary man called Milkman sets off rumours about her and him, leading to an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere in which the community, and her own family, draw conclusions from hearsay. Since Milkman won this year’s Booker Prize, much has been made of its apparently challenging nature. To me, it read like someone telling an anecdote in the pub, the story both moving forwards and circling back, characters known by nicknames and monikers. It’s a superb read: often funny, resolutely feminist, and possibly the best book about the Troubles I’ve read.

Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss

This is the book that was knocked off the number one spot at the last minute. Ghost Wall is the story of teenager, Silvie, as she takes part in an Iron Age reconstruction with her family. Her father is particularly keen that things should be as authentic as possible and it soon becomes clear that his views on women are severely outdated. The tension builds until a horrific act is committed. Moss’ writing is taut, sharp and will keep you on edge. My mini-review is here.

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

When I read Everything Under earlier in the year, I described it on Twitter as spellbinding, the first time I’ve ever described a novel as such; the prose is mesmerising though. Gretal works as a lexicographer and is attempting to get Sarah, her estranged mother, to tell her story, allowing Gretal to fill in the gaps in her adolescence. Johnson reworks the Oedipus myth as an exploration of gender and mother/daughter relationships. Absolutely worthy of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist.

America Is Not the Heart – Elaine Castillo

Hero is an illegal immigrant, a member of the New People’s Army, a former prisoner of war. She leaves the Philippines to live with her uncle’s family, who she hasn’t seen in years. In San Fransisco, she begins to rebuild her life and makes friends who’ll become her new family. Castillo explores ideas of home through language, food, family, friendship and love. Big, bold and absorbing. My full review and interview with Elaine is here.

Three Poems – Hannah Sullivan

I wouldn’t have read Three Poems if Hannah Sullivan hadn’t been booked for Manchester Literature Festival and I’m so glad she was. Poem one tells of the narrator’s time in New York, living and dating; two of moving to California and repetition, and three of the birth of her son and the death of her father. As a whole, it’s an impressive piece of work, while individual lines have stayed with me for months.

Whiskey & Ribbons – Leesa Cross-Smith

Eamon is killed when his wife, Evi, is nine-months pregnant. In the grief that follows, Dalton, Eamon’s adopted brother moves in to support Evi in raising Noah. As Evi and Dalton try to come to terms with their loss, they begin to grow closer. A beautifully written story of love, loss and longing. The story’s expanded from some pieces in Cross-Smith’s debut short story collection Every Kiss a War which I reviewed here.

The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui

Triggered by the birth of her first child, Thi Bui tells the story of her parents emigrating to the USA, intertwined with the history of Vietnam. Through it she begins to understand the experiences which shaped her parents and herself. Compelling and beautifully illustrated.

The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

Christine Pizan is in her final year on CIEL and she’s planning to go out in spectacular style. She’s creating a skin graft telling the true story of Joan of Dirt, a story which has been outlawed by CEIL’s ruler, Jean de Men. Fierce, feminist and concerned with climate change, I’m still reeling from The Book of Joan ten months later. My full review is here.

To Throw Away Unopened – Viv Albertine

Viv Albertine’s second memoir is more personal than her first and all the better for it. Alongside the end of her marriage and her foray into dating again, she reconsiders her upbringing after the death of her father and the discovery of a bag of documents previously unseen. This is also considered alongside the death of her mother, which is detailed gradually as the book progresses and also her relationship with her sister which culminates in an unforgettable scene at their mother’s hospital bed. A powerful look at family stories and relationships and the impact they have on women.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

Another discovery thanks to Manchester Literature Festival. Pat Barker’s retelling of The Iliad focuses on Briseis, largely telling the tale from her perspective. It’s brutal and brash, showing the men for spoilt, squabbling brats while giving women a voice in one of the oldest stories in literature. My full review is here.

Melmoth – Sarah Perry

Melmoth is condemned to wander the world, watching and collecting those of us who’ve been complicit in acts of harm. While Helen Franklin discovers the various accounts of Melmoth, Perry uses them as a vehicle to bear witness to atrocities from the Holocaust to the violent deportation of immigrants, forcing the reader to question their complicity. Compelling and uncomfortable reading. My mini-review is here.

Sight – Jessie Greengrass

There was a spate of books considering motherhood this year, Sight was one of the best. The narrator documents her thinking about whether or not she should become a parent alongside her memories of her grandmother, a psychoanalyst; the death of her mother, and medical developments including the creation of the X-ray. Clever and exquisitely written.

The Incendiaries – R.O. Kwon

Phoebe Lin, a student at an elite NY university, is drawn into a cult intent on committing a terrorist act. Outsider, Will Kendall becomes close to Phoebe and, following her disappearance, tells the story of their relationship and what he knows about cult leader, John Leal. Compelling.

Places I Stopped on the Way Home – Meg Fee

Sometimes you read a book at the perfect time and Places I Stopped on the Way Home was one of them. Fee writes about her time in NYC, dating, living in shared houses, managing her recovery from an eating disorder, and what she learned about how to live. I underlined a lot. My review is here.

Snap – Belinda Bauer

In the first chapter of Snap, Jack and his sisters are left in the family car, on the hard shoulder of the motorway, as their mum goes to telephone for help. She never returns. It seems as though this is going to be a straight psychological thriller until chapter two jumps three years. Now Jack and his siblings live alone, the police are investigating a cat burglar they’ve called Goldilocks and pregnant Catherine has found a knife and a threatening note next to her bed. This is crime if it was written by Kate Atkinson and Lissa Evans; it’s about people not being who you think they are and what family will do to protect each other. It’s also very funny. I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 Shortlist

The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced very early this morning on BBC Radio 4 after the list was leaked. On it are three debut novels, although only The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is a first book. Elif Batuman previously published a non-fiction book The Possessed and Jessie Greengrass published an excellent short story collection, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It, which won The Edge Hill Prize and was shortlisted for Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer Award (winning the shadow panel prize for which I was a judge).

Those of you who read the blog regularly will know that I am a huge fan of Meena Kandasamy and her second novel When I Hit You in particular. It was my book of the year last year and my favourite to win the prize.

The more established novelists who complete the shortlist are Kamila Shamsie for Home Fire and Jesmyn Ward for Sing, Unburied, Sing which has already taken the National Book Award in the USA. I loved Home Fire, it’s gripping, nuanced and utterly relevant. Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully told and completely heart-breaking. I sobbed through the last three chapters.

The list shares four titles with our shadow panel shortlist and four with my own personal list. The title missing that the shadow panel and I expected to see is Elmet. I hope it’s inclusion on a number of prize lists in the past few months means that people do read it.

The winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 will be announced on June 6th.

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.

  

In the Media: December 2016

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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Post-election coverage is still top of the tree this fortnight:

The other big story has been the revelation that Maria Schneider was raped in Last Tango in Paris:

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

 

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

The Sunday Times Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlist 2016

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Here it is! The shortlist for The Sunday Times Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2016. The shortlisted books and writers are:

An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass

Physical by Andrew McMillan

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood

Huge congratulations to the four shortlisted authors.

Generously sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, the prize is awarded annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35, and has gained attention and acclaim across the publishing industry and press. £5,000 is given to the overall winner and £500 to each of the three runners-up.

The shortlist was chosen by a judging panel comprised of acclaimed broadcaster James Naughtie, award winning historian Stella Tillyard, and The Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate.

James Naughtie said: “These four authors have different voices, and they’re all original and powerful. No one could read this shortlist – whether one of the novels, the poems or the short stories – without feeling the presence of that talent. It springs from the pages. When you close the books you know you’re going to pick them up again and you also know, with certainty, that these writers are going to weave a lot of magic in years to come.”

Stella Tillyard said: “From a strong long-list we have chosen four books, each with a distinctive and original voice. These books are not only complete and new in themselves; they also show potential for the development of the writer and the genre. That’s a privilege and a thrill.”

Andrew Holgate said: “After the outstanding shortlist we came up with in 2015 for the relaunched Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, I was, frankly, nervous about matching it this year. But I needn’t have worried. This is a sensationally strong list of books and writers, all of whom have a real future in literature, and any of whom as winner would stand comparison with the prize’s extraordinary list of past recipients.”


What’s interesting to me about the shortlist is that each book is a different form. An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It is a short story collection; Physical is a poetry collection; Grief Is the The Thing with Feathers is an experimental fiction novella, and The Ecliptic is a novel. Deciding how these different forms can be compared to each other is going to be a fascinating part of the judging process.

Obviously, however, I’m disappointed that the list is dominated by white males, especially after the 2015 shortlist was balanced both in terms of gender and PoC to white writers. What this means for my coverage of the prize is that I will review Jessie Greengrass’ short story collection and hopefully have some exciting extras around her book on this blog. Eric at Lonesome Reader and fellow shadow judge has kindly agreed to host my reviews of the other three books. We’re hoping you’ll follow and join in the discussions around the shortlisted titles. You can follow it on Twitter via the hashtag #YoungWriterAwardShadow.