Women’s Prize For Fiction Longlist

The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist 2020

Announced last night, the Women’s Prize longlist looks both eclectic and challenging and is as follows:

  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz
  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Girl by Edna O’ Brien
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

My first thoughts are: wow, that is a lot of books to read as I have read literally none of them before! Although I did start Djinn Patrol a couple of days ago.

Most Excited for…

I’d probably say The Mirror and the Light because, well: it is Mantel, it is Thomas Cromwell, it concludes a wonderful trilogy. And it is released tomorrow!

I am also really interested in Natalie Hayne’s A Thousand Ships, a – another? – feminist re-imagining of the Iliad to set alongside The Song of Achilles (must get round to reading that) and The Silence of the Girls. But I caught Haynes’ interpretation of The Iliad on Radio Four’s Stand Up for the Classics and she was genuinely funny and witty – pointing out that talking horses (to be fair, Balius and Xanthus, immortal and divine horses) got more time in the Iliad than talking women, for example.

Another novel that stands out to me is Nightingale Point: I like the potential for a sense of community, of secrets and lies and the promise of something dark. There’s something about the single location that appeals, something like Reservoir 13 perhaps?

Djinn Patrol is also promising to be great and I am certainly not intending to put it aside because I have the rest of the list to look at as well!

I am also looking forward to Queenie which I feel may be funny and heartbreaking, and possibly work well as an audiobook, though I am not entirely sure why I feel that.

The other book that I have been waiting for because it has not been released yet is Hamnet. Yes, like The Mirror and the Light an historical novel dropping into the Tudor period, but it is such a rich – if overused – period. And it avoids the politics and intrigue of the Mantel to tell a very different tale, riffing off or echoing (rather than portraying) the death of Hamnet Shakespeare. Personal and focussed, although I am intrigued by the Amazon blurb that it is “a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves.” The twins, the marriage, the glovemaker’s son I recognise. But the kestrel? The flea?

Cautiously Hopeful for…

Actress. Having slogged through The Gathering for the Booker Prize, I am cautious of Anne Enright, but there are a lot of strong reviews of her work, so maybe this will be better: the summary sounds good: actresses offer a wealth of playfulness with real and fictional and curated lives; the contrast between glamour and hardship…

I’m also unsure of Girl, Woman, Other: yes, I know it won the Booker but the content doesn’t grip me: it “follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years”. Maybe it is just a lacklustre blurb summary. But then, it has got stellar reviews and did win the Booker….

Cautious of…

I have to say, How We Disappeared is a cautious approach: I do find that World War Two – albeit at least not set in Germany – is an uncomfortable subject matter for a medium which is, at its heart, meant to be entertaining.

Similarly, Fleishman has had such mixed reviews but the negative ones do tend to pick up things that I find very off-putting: entitled characters, two-dimensional characterisation, unnecessary sex, not as funny as it thinks it is… I mean, harsh things to put out there, and I’ve not read the book (although it is one on my tbr list somewhere) and I will approach it with a fresh mind, but let’s just say, it is not going to be top of my reading pile.

The Most Fun we Ever Had also has me being cautious, primarily because of the comparison with Jonathan Frantzen on the Amazon review, but then it is also compared to Jennifer Egan…

And, being very superficial, Girl without more, is a rather insipid title inviting a certain degree of caution!

And for the rest?

Too soon to say. I know little about any of these, either as novels or as writers, and their write ups on Amazon are neither inspiring no off putting. Weather at least has the appeal that the main character seems to be a librarian.

What I can say, though, is that the ethos of the Women’s Prize judges and their track record in choosing great books gives me cause to hope that, regardless of my caution or of my ignorance, these should all be great reads and great books.

How many will I get through before the shortlist is announced? Before the winner is announced? Probably far fewer than I would like (my average is about 4 books per month at the moment) but I shall enjoy the journey!

Comment to join me on it!