Baileys Women’s Prize Short List 2015

From a long list of 20 novels and from a collection of 160 original entries, the five judges have narrowed the field down to 6 novels vying for the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction 2015.

Five of the authors have been shortlisted previously and one, my favourite (though I have only read two on the list) is a debut author, Laline Paull.

The shortlisted novels are:

It’s another excellent list from this worthy prize that celebrates hard-working, talented and inspirational women writers with a particular talent for creating life-like characters inhabiting believable worlds, whether it’s the smaller canvas of detailed family life in Anne Tyler’s fiction, or the imaginative hive of Flora 717, brilliantly conceived in Laline Paull’s The Bees.

Syl Saller, Chief Marketing Officer, Diageo had this to say about the shortlist:

“From a debut to a twentieth novel, this year’s shortlist celebrates exceptional female writers who display a rich and diverse talent for telling stories. Having always championed women, Baileys is thrilled to be working with the Prize to get these six novels by inspirational women into the hands of more book-lovers around the world.”

And the shadow jury (a group of blogging reviewers who are reading all the books and creating their own short list and winner) organised by Naomi at WritesofWomen, came up with their alternative shortlist below, having read and debated the 20 nominated novels.

Shadow Jury Alternative Shortlist

Shadow Jury Alternative Shortlist

One of the jury members, our much admired reviewer Eric of LonesomeReader had this to say about the prize:

“Whichever book ultimately wins, I am so glad this prize has introduced me to a range of unique books I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. From Laline Paull’s outrageously original The Bees to Jemma Wayne’s ambitious take on the aftershock of war in After Before to Rachel Cusk’s fascinating chorus of voices in Outline to Grace McCleen’s elegant portrayal of madness in The Offering to Marie Phillips’ hilarious Arthurian tale The Table of Less Valued Knights to Sandra Newman’s challenging mighty tome The Country of Ice Cream Star. In my opinion, book prizes help us notice great literature we might have missed and the Baileys Prize has offered up a lot of excellence this year.”

I recommend visiting either of these blogs mentioned if you wish to read reviews of the books.

So, any predictions for a winner? We will have to wait until 3 June 2015 to find out!

Literary Blog Hop Winner!

Thank you everyone who participated in the Literary Bloghop and to all who follow this blog, Word by Word.

I am delighted to announce the winner of the giveaway, who will soon be receiving a copy of Claire Fuller’s excellent novel Our Endless Numbered Days is……

Debbie Rodgers from Exurbanis

DebbieRodgers

Congratulations Debbie, I am sure you’re going to enjoy the book!

Thanks again to Melanie at My Book Self for organising the giveaway.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is an author that is well-known to many and A Spool of Blue Thread is her 20th published novel, said perhaps to be her last.

If like me you haven’t read Anne Tyler before (am I the only one?), you can get an idea of what she’s about from this succinct, sound-bite like feature 10 Things you Need to Know about Anne Tyler by Shelley Marks via The Pool, a hip, online writing, audio and video resource for women, that launched just before Easter. Click on the image below to visit.

The Pool

Anne Tyler writes about family and domestic life in suburban America (Baltimore) and this new novel opens with something of an anti-drama when Abby and Red Whitshank receive a confusing telephone message from their son Denny, who has left home but not exactly settled into whatever it is he intends to do. Abby swings between wanting to just leave him be and being over-anxious to find out what’s going on.

A SpoolThe novel dwells on certain periods when members of the family return home, the four children are all adults in the opening pages and as the back story is filled in, we observe petty grievances, old resentments, current mysteries and a family coming to term with changes as their parents age and may need to move on from the family home.

The book is separated into four parts, starting with Abby and Red in their later years in 1994, sliding back to 1954 just before they began dating, and then even further back to the period when the family home was built by Red’s father Junior, the most intriguing chapters of the book for me, where we hear about how he and his wife Linnie met, the book then returns to the present in Part Four.

The family home could almost be considered a character in itself, the novel concerning the minutiae of family life and events related to that house that was originally built by Red’s father Junior Whitshank, a home he constructed for Mr and Mrs Brill, but one he tended with a love and obsession to detail one would normally reserve for one’s own home. For deep inside, he knew he was building it for himself, he would just have to wait the necessary years – a patience he knew well, and sure enough the opportunity came around when he would indeed reclaim it.

“It was nothing but an architect’s drawing the first time he laid eyes on it. Mr. Ernest Brill, a Baltimore textile manufacturer, had unfurled a roll of blueprints while standing in front of the lot where he and Junior had arranged to meet. And Junior glanced first at the lot and then down at the drawing of the front elevation, which showed a clapboard house with a gigantic front porch, and the words that popped into his head were ‘Why, that’s my house!’ “

Over the years and generations that followed, that home became the repository of memories, events and upbringings whose recollections were as present as the fixings that held the structure together, every inch of the house infused with the presence of family past and present. It is not until we arrive at Part Three that we really understand the significance of the house and what it meant for Junior to have arrived there, thus allowing the next generations to live as they do, in blissful ignorance of their past.

This narration of the present before the past adds an unexpected surprising element to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward domestic saga, the Whitshank’s don’t know much about their origins and the reader too won’t learn what the family will never know until later in the book. It reminds us not to make assumptions about people, not to judge a family by the size of their porch, a book by its cover, and so many other outward appearances that make it easy to create a false image of what lies within.

Spool Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread reminded me in some ways of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, I guess that is the book that comes to mind, when I try to recall if I’ve read anything similar to this.

Ironically, after finishing this book, I read Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years to get more of a feel for her work and about two-thirds the way through, came across another spool of blue thread, which although a causal reference, did make me wonder if this story had been gestating a long time.

A Spool of Blue Thread is long listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015.

 

 

 

The Autobiography of my Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of my Mother is a book that was being discarded from our local English library that I pounced on when I discovered it in the collection of books that hadn’t been borrowed for years and therefore must make way for others.

The 7 books I rescued from the Annual Library Sale!

The 7 books I rescued from the Annual Library Sale!

I already have two slim novellas by the same author that sit unread, but something about this novel, for it is fiction, despite the playful title, insisted it should be read at once. Not just a fabulous cover, which is repeated inside as chapter headings, each chapter reveals a section of the photo, until the last one revealing the entire portrait – but the comments from various publications and writers who sang its praise back in 1996 when it was first published.

“Writing in precise, lyrical prose that uses the repetition of images and words to build a musical rhythm, Jamaica Kincaid conjures up the world of Dominica in all its beauty and casual cruelty, a world in which the magical coexists with the mundane, a world in which the ghosts of colonialism still haunt the relationships between men and women. In doing so she has written a powerful and disturbing book.” NEW YORK TIMES

And let me say from the outset, I absolutely loved this book, its language, its voice, its poetry, the complexity of its narrator, who could be so distant yet simultaneously get so under your skin. There is a raw but brutal honesty to it, that disturbs and is to be admired at the same time, it is so full of contrasts and so compelling and beats its rhythm so loud, I almost can’t describe it.

Now that I have finished it, I want to read more by Kincaid and just now before writing this review I looked up a little about the author’s own life, and now I am even more intrigued, what an amazing story and experiences which are often at the heart of what she channels through her stories. A unique voice indeed.

So for those who, like me, knew little about this author, a little background before talking about the novel.

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson in the capital city of St. John’s, Antigua in 1949.  Antigua is a small island in the West Indies (a region of the Caribbean basin), colonised by the British in 1632 that became independent in 1981.

Caribbean

 

Her mother was from Dominica and her biological father, a West Indian chauffeur, whom she didn’t meet until her thirties.  Kincaid was an only child until she was nine, when the first of her three brothers was born. Until then she’d had the sole attention of her mother, so life changed dramatically thereafter and at 17 she left for America, severing ties with her family and did not return to Antigua for 20 years, though it resonated deep within her creativity.

She still lives in the US today and teaches at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. Her most recent novel See Now Then was published in 2013 after a 10 year absence, depicting in her original style the unravelling of an interracial marriage.

Autobiography MotherIn the autobiography of my mother, we encounter Xuela Claudette Richardson, who narrates her life looking back over seventy years, though the sense of her life reads as if it is being lived in the present, so vivid are the memories, so visceral the experiences. Her mother died in child birth and her father left her with his laundry woman until she was seven, when he remarried and came back for her.

She recalls the moment vividly through the senses and how it made her feel.

“I thanked Eunice for taking care of me. I did not mean it, I could not mean it, I did not know how to mean it, but I would mean it now. I did not say goodbye; in the world that I lived in then and the world that I live in now goodbyes do not exist, it is a small world. All my belongings were in a muslin knapsack and he placed them in a bag that was on the donkey he had been riding. He placed me on the donkey and sat behind me. And this was how we looked as my back was turned on the small house in which I spent the first seven years of my life…”

Through the narrator looking back over years and at events that she re-experiences as she recalls them, we see how it was then, that something, whether it is the lack of maternal love or the makeup of this character, nature or nurture, contributes to her way of being in the world in an emotionally detached way. She responds to instincts and observes acutely her own responses and is able to look back on them and describe and account for them, but there is a sense of something missing, that appears through the recurring dream of a mother climbing up and away from her and the questions she asks herself throughout her life.

“Who was my father? Not just who was he to me, his child – but who was he? He was a policeman, but not an ordinary policeman; he inspired more than the expected amount of fear for someone in his position…At the time I came to live with him, he has just mastered the mask that he wore as a face for the remainder of his life: the skin taut, the eyes small and drawn back as though deep inside his head, so that it wasn’t possible to get a clue to him from them, his lips parted in a smile. He seemed trustworthy.”

Yet nothing is ever as it seems and she depicts her father as dishonest and grows up in a culture and environment of distrust, discouraged from making friendships, made to see that no one can be trusted.

“We were not friends; such a thing was discouraged. We were never to trust each other. This was like a motto repeated to us by our parents; it was a part of my upbringing, like a form of good manners: You cannot trust these people, my father would say to me, the very words the other children’s parents were saying to them, perhaps even at the same time. That “these people” were ourselves, that this insistence on mistrust of others – that people who looked so very much like each other, who shared a common history of suffering and humiliation and enslavement, should be taught to mistrust each other, even as children, is no longer a mystery to me. The people we should naturally have mistrusted were beyond our influence completely; what we needed to defeat them, to rid ourselves of them, was something far more powerful than mistrust. To mistrust each other was just one of many feelings we had for each other, all of them the opposite of love, all of them standing in the place of love.”

Her father’s wife who is resentful toward Xuela and reminds her often that she can’t be her father’s daughter, soon bears two children, a boy and a girl. Though there is no love between them, Xuela doesn’t hate her, she has sympathy for her.

“Her tragedy was greater than mine; her mother did not love her, but her mother was alive, and every day she saw her mother and every day her mother let her know she was not loved. My mother was dead.”

At 15, her father removes her from his home and takes her to live with a business partner and his wife as a boarder. She develops a close friendship with the wife, Madame LaBatte, observing with the same acuity their relationship and way of living and enters womanhood herself, observing and experiencing changes in her own body and the effect it elicits in others.

She makes decisions about her own womanhood, about her body, about mothering. And she lives her life in accordance with those decisions. She marries, she discovers love and seems never to lose that ability to see through the illusions that surround all those things without sacrificing pleasure and contentedness.

“And this man I married was one of the victors, and so much a part of him was this situation, the situation of the conqueror, that only through a book of history could he be reminded of a time when he might have been something other, something like me, the vanquished, the defeated. When he looked at the night sky, it was closed off; so, too, was the midday sky, closed off; the seas were closed off, the ground on which he walked was closed off. He did not have a future, he had only the past, he lived in that way; it was not a past he was responsible for all by himself, it was a past he had inherited. He did not object to his inheritance; it was a good one, only it did not bring happiness; and his reply to such an assertion would be the correct one: What can bring happiness? At the moment the conqueror asks such a question, his defeat is secure.”

And at the end I ask, who is writing this story? Who is this mother who had no mother and no children? And in the dying pages, she will answer the question and we may realise we knew it all along.

the autobiography of my Mother plumbs the depths of maternal love and its lack, mother daughter relationships, self-love, absent fathers and the latent influences of enslavement and occupation, how they continue to distort reality even when they are no longer present.

I find it almost impossible to describe the reading experience, except that it left me asking “How did I not know about this book?” The voice is so unique and powerful and much more than an imagination, it is rooted in something strong and yet transparent and is utterly compelling.  Don’t read this for story, this is about writing and thus reading through the senses, Jamaica Kincaid creates prose that inhabits them all.

A 5 star read for me!

 

 

Literary BlogHop Book #Giveaway

blog-hop

Leave a comment, win a book… Open internationally

The literary bloghop hosted by  Melanie at My Book Self offers the chance to win a book at Word by Word and visit other blogs offering books, vouchers and bookish accessories. Anyone can enter, anywhere in the world, you don’t have to have a blog or follow anything, just leave a comment,

To be in to win a copy of:

Endless

Our Endless Numbered Days

by Claire Fuller

– read my review here

Peggy Hillcoat is 17 years old and has been back in her family for 2 months now, everything is familiar and strange at the same time. Her father is no longer there, but in his place is an 8-year-old brother Oskar, she hadn’t known of until her return. He is the same age now that she was when she and her father disappeared, for nine years, without trace. – extract from Claire’s review

a) Leave a comment below with your email address (1 entry)

b) Follow me on twitter @clairewords  and ReTweet the offer (1 entry)

c) Follow Word by Word (1 entry)

Click Here to visit other participating blogs…

Thank you for stopping by at Word by Word and Happy Blog Hopping!

N.B. The giveaway closes 12 April, 2015. The winner will be notified by email.

This giveaway is now closed.

Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015

lbaileyslogoTwenty books have now been selected that make up the 2015 long list for the Bailey’s (previously The Orange) Prize for Fiction. They will be reduced to six on April 13 and the winner announced at the Royal Festival Hall on 3 June 2015.

Previous winners include Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2014) and A.M. Homes for May We Be Forgiven (2013), Madeline Miller for The Song of Achilles (2012) and Téa Obreht for The Tiger’s Wife (2011).

Shami Chakrabarti, Chair of judges, had this to say about this year’s selection:

“The Prize’s 20th year is a particularly strong one for women’s fiction.  All judges fought hard for their favourites and the result is a 2015 list of 20 to be proud of – with its mix of genres and styles, first-timers and well-known names from around the world.”

From the list of 20, I have read only one and it was absolutely brilliant, Laline Paull’s The Bees and I am currently just over half through Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread which reminds me of the experience of reading Jonathan Franzen’s family saga The Corrections.

So here it is, the list of twenty books long listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction:

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart

Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?

Xiaolu Guo: I Am China

Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Grace McCleen: The Offering

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Laline Paull: The Bees

Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights

Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

Ali Smith: How to be Both

Sara Taylor: The Shore

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Jemma Wayne: After Before

PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

The prize is being shadowed by a group of excellent bloggers, including one of my all time favourites Eric at Lonesome Reader, organised by Naomi at The Writes of Women.

They will be reading all the books and many of them have read at least five or six already, that’s where I’ll be heading to decide which books might appeal to me and where I recommend you look for some of the best reviews.

So which books have you read, or plan to read?

A Journey From Hobbiton to Provence

Carolyne Kauser-Abbot is a freelance writer who has a passion for food, travel and Provence and shares many wonderful things to see and do here in the lifestyle travel magazine Perfectly Provence as well as a food and travel related blog Ginger and Nutmeg.

Recently she asked me how I came to be a writer/blogger and Aromatherapist in Provence.

If you click on the photo below you can read the article:

Claire's Christmas Aromatherapy Remedies

Claire’s Christmas Aromatherapy Remedies

I hope you enjoyed the diversion from reading a book review.

 Claire