Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2019

The annual Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced a few days ago, you may have heard about it already, but if you haven’t here are the six books that made it through, the winner will be announced on 5 June:

For a summary of what each book is about, refer back to my original post on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. Rather than repeat the summaries, I’m going to feature here a little about the author and their work (from the Women’s Prize website). I have read and reviewed Milkman, and the one that attracts me the most is Circe.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker – (Ancient Greek history written from a female point of view – retelling The Iliad – humans, their egos and wars)

Born in Yorkshire, Pat Barker began her literary career in her forties, after taking a short writing course taught by Angela Carter. Encouraged by Carter to continue writing and exploring the lives of working class women, she sent her fiction out to publishers. She has since published fifteen novels, including the Regeneration Trilogy, been made a CBE for services to literature, and won awards including the Guardian Fiction Prize and the UK’s highest literary honour, the Booker Prize.

I have only read one of her books, The Ghost Road, the third in that trilogy and the one that won the Booker, and sadly it was a hard slog for me which I admit has made me reluctant to try anything else. A quick look at Goodreads tells me that the first book in that trilogy has almost double the number of readers, so probably that would have been a better place to start, than the prizewinning novel.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – (an obsession with black widow spiders leads the author to write a crime thriller about two sisters, one who kills, the other who cleans up after her)

A graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University, following her degree, Oyinkan Braithwaite worked as an assistant editor and has since been freelancing as a writer and graphic designer. She’s had short stories published in anthologies, in 2014 she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam and in 2016 was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

This book was popular among readers as soon as it was published, it’s just not my genre although I’ve really enjoyed a number of Nigerian authors and I’m always interested in seeing what new works are coming out from there.

Milkman by Anna Burns – (a young woman tries to be herself in a community that prefers to categorise its inhabitants and gossip about those who don’t conform)

Born in Belfast though now living in East Sussex, Anna Burns drew on her own experiences growing up in what she called “a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia”. She is the author of two novels, No Bones and Little Constructions, and of the novella, Mostly Hero. No Bones won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Milkman won the Man Booker Prize in 2018.

When Milkman won the Man Booker Prize, I wrote this post about reader’s reactions to it and referenced an interesting essay called Gender in Conflict by Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado. I bought it immediately and loved it, my review here.

Ordinary People by Diana Evans – (a couple in South London become parents and grow disenchanted with their lives)

A British author of Nigerian and English descent, Diana Evans bestselling novel 26a, won the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers and the British Book Awards deciBel Writer of the Year prize. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel, the Guardian First Book, the Commonwealth Best First Book and the Times/Southbank Show Breakthrough awards, and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Wonder is currently under option for TV dramatisation. She is a former dancer, journalist and critic. Ordinary People is her third novel.

An author who I am familiar with and been closely tempted to read, one who is well-known and highly regarded for her evocation of place. It reminds me of Zadie Smith’s NW and her evocation of London through it inhabitants.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – (a young successful couple have their lives disrupted by a false conviction)

Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, including Silver Sparrow, The Untelling, and Leaving Atlanta. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. She lives in Brooklyn.

Fortunate to have featured on Barack Obama’s reading list in 2018 and Oprah’s book club making it an instant bestseller, it’s been compared to James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk read and reviewed earlier this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller – (rewrite/interpretation of Homer’s The Odyssey, from the rise of the feminine perspective)

Madeline Miller is the author of The Song of Achilles which won the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012 and was translated into twenty-five languages. Miller holds an MA in Classics from Brown University, taught Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students; also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought and at Yale School of Drama focusing on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. Her essays have appeared in publications including the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Lapham’s Quarterly and NPR. She lives outside Philadelphia.

I read and enjoyed her debut novel and this one sounds just as good. The female goddesses and characters from many history books have been lying dormant for centuries, allowing others to portray them as less than powerful, now the unveiling of their message has begun to rise as modern women awaken, remember and begin to share ‘herstory’.

**************

Here’s what the Chair of judges had to say about the shortlist:

It’s a fantastic shortlist; exciting, vibrant, adventurous. We fell totally in love with these books and the amazing worlds they created. These books are fiction at its best – brilliant, courageous and utterly captivating.”

Have you read any of these titles, or are you planning to?

Buy A Copy of Any One of These via Book Depository

 

23 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2019

  1. I wish I had the energy
    begin the shortlist #womensprize2019
    but I’m still busy in Australia and New Zealand lit awards!
    I’ll read your blogpost and put the books on list for @cathy746books
    #20BooksOfSummer

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve only read Milkman too, though my book group are toying with reading one of the other titles. I have loved several Pat Barker novels on the past, but these novels based on classic myths don’t appeal, though I have such good things about The Silence of the Girls and Circe. Perhaps I shall give one a try at some point.

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  3. I am really keen to read The Silence of the Girls and Circe. However, I must confess that I have not yet read either the Odyssey or the Iliad and am feeling like maybe now is the time, before I get stuck in to the modern retellings. What do you think? And I loved Milkman. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand, it’s an added dimension to have to acquaint oneself with the classic before reading the modern retelling. I did do that before reading Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, but Antigone was a quick, easy read and also Sjón’s The Whispering Muse, which was loosely based on the myth of Jason and the Argonauts.
      Oddessey and Iliad just as words seem to conjure up in my mind something dense and impenetrable, though that may not be the case, but at least there are good summaries available even if we don’t quite get to reading the originals.

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      • I’m probably going to go down the audio route. I have both in my library, read by Anton Lesser, which I hope will be more accessible than trying to read them. We’ll see!

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  4. I read three of them last year. The Silence of the Girls, Milkman, and Circe. Of those three I thought The Silence of the Girls, while very good, was the weakest. The women were silent, so much so, I found it frustrating. I much prefered Circe and Milkman for all the energy and wry observations of the protagonists. Of the remaining three I’m most interested in reading An American Marriage. That said, it keeps getting pushed down my TBR.

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  5. I am boggled that not only have I read anything on the list before the prize happens, but that I have actually read 4/6 of the shortlist. I usually get to prize winners and nominees years later, not well before the decision! I have read Circe, My Sister, Milkman, and An American Marriage. Really enjoyed them all, but I think Milkman may stay with me the longest. Now I feel some urgency to get to the remaining 2–might as well do them all before the prize!

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    • Milkman really was a unique and memorable read, well done on reading so much of the shortlist, even though I haven’t read them, they all feel very familiar, not really any surprises there, even the one debut seems to have been a very popular read already, it will be interesting to see which title comes out on top!

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    • I’ve been hearing a lot of that, I admit I certainly don’t rush out to read prize lists, I scan them to see if there is anything I missed in terms of what appeals to me generally and the two I wanted to read were Bernice McFadden’s Praise Song for the Butterflies and Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, both of which were great and I have another of McFadden’s to read.
      It has been pointed out to be fair, that the judges change every year, it is a subjective selection and so it’s not surprising that it might not line up with the thoughts of avid readers of more literary fiction. There are too many great books whose song needs to be sung Didi, keep following your intuition, I love your reading inclinations and choices!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed! I recommend Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton, that sadly didn’t make the shortlist. Such a wonderful debut novel. Which other McFadden novel will you be reading? If you saw my angry YouTube video reacting to the shortlist you’ll know Bye! Bye! literary prizes 👋🏾 and on to great reading.👉🏾 📚 📖 😊

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  6. I’ve just read the exchange between you and Didi, who’s certainly not encouraging on this occasion … and yet. I had thought this an interesting list which I was happy to try to go for in its entirety. I STILL haven’t read The Milkman!

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    • Milkman is great. I like watching the prize lists, and I enjoy sharing them and watching the discussion, but I long ago learned that they are not where my personal literary gems lie, and most often I’m more likely to find something on a long list. It’s so subjective isn’t it.
      I’ve just finished reading ‘Ceremony’ by Leslie Martin Silko and I loved it, it was published 30 years ago, but like the retellings of the Greek classics, she tells a modern story that mirrors native American myth and I was completely entranced by it. It’s the fable like quality with a kind of awakening or learning that appeals and I do think some of these old tales do need reshaping to give a more accurate sense to the roles women have played in these stories.
      I think we who write about books kind of evolve in our reading and reading the prize lists is almost a right of passage that’s perhaps not sustainable year on year as we become more and more discerning and better able today to find those matches to our literary inclinations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, reading books ‘professionally’ must inform your tastes and inclinations to some extent. But I love the way that you in particular seek out choices that often aren’t being generally discussed. Though that makes them hard to find in the library, unfortunately. Having said that, ‘Zuleikha’ has just arrived – I ordered it as soon as I read your review.

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