The Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2016

The judges have made their decision! The absence of Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is a complete shock. Many of us on the shadow panel thought it was by far one of the best books on the list. The shadow panel shortlist shares three titles with the official shortlist. I’m also pleased to see The Portable Veblen and A Little Life on the list, both of which I rated highly.

Here’s the six shortlisted books. If you click on the cover, it will take you to my review.








The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.



My Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 Wishlist

It’s almost time! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced next Tuesday, 8th March. Once again, I’ll be shadowing the prize and for the second year running, I’ll be doing so with a panel. I’ll introduce you to the members of that panel on Friday.

For now though, here are the books I’d like to see appear on Tuesday’s list. They’re a combination of books I’ve loved and those I’m keen to read based on what I’ve heard about them so far. I’ve had to cull this list significantly to keep it to 20 books so, as usual, anything’s possible with the real one!

To be eligible, books have to be written in English and first published in the UK between 1st April 2015 and 31st March 2016. Publishers can enter three full length novels per imprint plus anything eligible by writers who have previously won the prize.

I’ve reviewed the first eleven titles – click on the covers to go to my reviews – and read the next three as well (reviews coming soon).







The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Was this the stuff married life would be made of, two people making way for the confounding spectacle of the other, bewildered and slightly afraid?

The Portable Veblen begins with an engagement between Paul Vreeland, 34, and 30-year-old, Veblen Amundsen-Hovda:

…independent behaviorist, experienced cheerer-upper, and freelance self, who was having a delayed love affair with the world due to an isolated childhood and various interferences since.

In simple terms, the novel charts the period between Veblen and Paul’s whirlwind engagement and their wedding. But what McKenzie does in that period is examine family relationships: how they affect who we become and whether our view of our parents and siblings needs to be reassessed when we’re adults; questions whether marriage takes away something of ourselves; exposes some Big Pharma practices, and wonders whether squirrels have the power to change people’s lives.

Both Veblen and Paul have issues with their families. Veblen’s mother, Melanie C. Duffy, ‘intervenes’ constantly in Veblen’s life, particularly with regards to her physical and mental health.

From bracing them in defense since girlhood, her guts were robust, her tolerance for adversity high. By clearly emphasizing all that was lacking in others, by mapping and raising to an art form the catalog of their flaws, Veblen’s mother had inversely punched out a template for an ideal human being, and it was the unspoken assumption that Veblen would aspire to this template with all her might.

However, Melanie’s health – according to her – is poor. She’s worked through a number of doctors who’ve failed to give her an adequate diagnosis. Now Veblen’s marrying a doctor, she assumes he’ll abhor her. Prior to meeting Paul, Veblen’s avoided romantic relationships assuming no one would understand her, now she realises that in her early relationships, ‘she hadn’t been looking for a love affair, but rather a human safe house from her mother’.

Paul’s always felt sidelined by his family after growing up with a disabled brother. There’s no doubt this has contributed to his desire to become a doctor and his rapid move to a programme run by Hutmacher, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. At the Hutmacher funded veterans’ hospital he runs clinical trials on a device he’s designed which he believes will prevent permanent brain injury immediately after the damage has occurred.

And in the midst of all this, popping up repeatedly are the squirrels. Veblen’s house has a squirrel infestation in the attic, at least this is how Paul sees it. Since childhood she’s believed that squirrels are telling her something. The morning after the engagement while Paul’s out buying pastries, one appears at the bedroom window. It seems to respond to Veblen’s conversation through gestures and then places one of its hands on the glass as though it wants to touch Veblen’s face. She removes her engagement ring:

…she felt free to place the tips of her fingers on the glass where the squirrel’s hand was pressed. The squirrel studied her with warm brown eyes, as if to ask: How well do you know yourself, and all the choices you could make? As if to tell her, I was cut loose from a hellish marriage, and I want to meet muckrackers, carousers, the sweet-toothed, and the lion-hearted, and you don’t know it yet, but you are all of these.

But the squirrels come to play a bigger part in their lives than Paul, at least, might have predicted.

The Portable Veblen is a satirical take on dynamics and power in families, in relationships, in the medical profession and between humans and squirrels. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny but behind the humour and the borderline surreal incidents lie some serious questions about society. It’s Franzen at his best and most humorous – with squirrels – or A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven with a much better ending – and squirrels. If I’d read it before Christmas it would most certainly have been on my Ones to Read preview. A gem.

If you want to sample the opening chapters for yourself, The Portable Veblen was The Pool’s Bedtime Book last week.


Thanks to Fourth Estate for the review copy.