Thoughts on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, 2020

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced! Here are my thoughts:

The Ones I’ve Read

  • Deepa Anappara, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. I’m pretty chuffed that I managed to predict that this novel narrated by a nine-year-old boy who lives in a Delhi slum where children keep going missing would make the Women’s Prize longlist. While I had some reservations about Djinn Patrol – I found the child narrator a little generically chirpy – there’s no denying that it has a vivid sense of place and packs an emotional punch. I reviewed it here.
  • Candice Carty-Williams, Queenie. This smart, funny novel about a twenty-five-year-old British-Jamaican woman from an uber-contemporary Brixton seeking love and fulfilment is a welcome addition to the longlist, although I doubt that it has enough weight to deserve shortlisting. I reviewed it here.
  • Angie Cruz, Dominicana. I’m reading this at the moment, so I will reserve final judgment, but I was surprised by how fresh this story of a teenager from the Dominican Republic who enters into a marriage of convenience to move to New York in the 1960s feels. Based on the life story of Cruz’s mother, which she felt was too unexceptional to be worth telling, I’m looking forward to seeing how this novel develops.
  • Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other. After its controversial tied Booker win, I was sure that this novel was a dead cert for the Women’s Prize longlist. And it deserves to be here – Evaristo’s polyphonic novel told through the voices of twelve black British women (with some caveats) is a brilliant reflection on, among other things, the histories of black activism and black feminism in Britain. I reviewed it here.
  • Ann Patchett, The Dutch House. Two siblings are haunted by their childhood home in post-war Philadelphia, which was taken away from them by their stepmother. This isn’t Patchett’s best – I found it a bit familiar and underwhelming. I reviewed it here.

The Ones I Already Wanted To Read

  • Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light. I thought this would be a year for big names, and so it proves. The third in Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy has been hugely anticipated for years. Controversially, I had lukewarm feelings about Wolf Hall but I loved Bring Up The Bodiesso I was always going to read this one anyway.
  • Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet. I’m a big O’Farrell fan, and I loved her last two books, I Am, I Am, I Am and This Must Be The Placeso this was always going to be on my list (indeed, it was one of the books I was most looking forward to in 2020). I’m proceeding with caution, however, because I’ve always found O’Farrell less successful as a historical novelist (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Instructions for A Heatwave) and this is so far outside her proven territory, exploring the hidden story of Shakespeare’s son.
  • Anne Enright, Actress. I haven’t got on particularly well with Anne Enright in the past (although to be fair I have only read The Gathering) but I stuck this on my Goodreads TBR recently after Mr B’s bookshop sent me an ebullient email about it. Unusually, I was sold by the cover, which reminds me of Maddy Prior’s great song ‘Woman In The Wings’. I’m also in the mood for more 1960s Hollywood glamour after re-reading Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins.

The Ones I Now Want To Read

  • Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Fleishman is in Trouble. After the hype, I’d been dithering over this one for some time and had ultimately decided against it, but I’m not averse to giving it a try. This looks like it starts with the most cliched of literary fiction plots – a Manhattan couple are undergoing a bitter divorce! – but hopefully takes this premise to some more interesting places. I’m very wary of the term ‘comic novel’, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
  • Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships. Another classical retelling! we all shouted. And not only that, but a novel that Anna James thinks is basically Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls but with more female voices – it tells the story of the siege of Troy from the women’s point of view. While I don’t understand why this was longlisted, I’m actually quite happy to read it. I was pretty underwhelmed by Haynes’s adult debut, The Amber Fury, which was a bit sub-Secret History, but it sounds like her more straightforward retellings might be stronger.
  • Jacqueline Woodson, Red At The Bone. I’d taken a look at this and decided not to prioritise it – I didn’t find the premise especially interesting (it’s an intergenerational US black family drama centring around a teenage pregnancy). But it’s short, and I haven’t read Woodson before, so I’d like to give her writing a try.
  • Jing-Jing Lee, How We Disappeared. I’m intrigued by this Singapore-set novel, which moves between the Second World War and the turn of the millennium to tell the story of a woman surviving a Japanese military brothel.
  • Luan Goldie, Nightingale Point. This was the only book I hadn’t heard of before it made the longlist. Its premise – six people caught up in the Amsterdam air disaster of 1992 – strikes me as risky; it takes a skilled writer to pull off this kind of interweaving of lives. But if it works, it could be incredible.

The Ones I Just Don’t Want To Read (But Probably Will)

  • Jenny Offill, Weather. Three strikes against this one: I don’t like novellas, I don’t think I’ll get on with Offill’s prose, and I try to steer clear of fiction about climate anxiety, unless it’s bringing something really new to the table.
  • Claire Lombardo, The Most Fun We Ever Had. Yet another novel I had considered and rejected, this focuses on a large extended family in Chicago over the course of fifty years. I’m just not a fan of intergenerational family dramas, and there seem to be a LOT on this list.
  • Edna O’Brien, Girl. Ugh, I don’t know why I’m so uninterested in this book, but I’m really not interested at all. Set in Nigeria, it follows a girl who is kidnapped by jihadist group Boko Haram. I haven’t read anything by O’Brien before, but this sounds like a bit of a departure.

The Ones That Should Have Been On The Longlist

This year, I don’t feel any sense of burning injustice for any of the omitted titles, but I would have really liked to see Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age and Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock, as I’m much keener to read them than many of the titles that have been longlisted. And while I didn’t think Tea Obreht’s Inland was a perfect book, I’d have longlisted it over The Dutch House, especially as The Dutch House is YET ANOTHER FAMILY DRAMA.

The Ones I’m Glad Not To See On The Longlist

Thank God, no Ducks, Newburyport, because I didn’t want to read it in a few weeks. I’m also very pleased that The Testaments is absent. Indeed, there’s limited crossover from the Booker Prize (the only 2020-eligible title that’s on both lists is Evaristo), and given that I didn’t really get on with the 2019 Booker longlist (the ONLY book from it I read and liked was Evaristo), this is good news for me!

What are your thoughts on the Women’s Prize longlist for 2020?

30 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, 2020

  1. Ooh, you’ve got a pretty decent head start on the list – that’s exciting! The child narrator in Djinn Patrol is the only thing making me hesitant; it’s something that can really grate when not done convincingly. Here’s hoping the narrative voice works for me though!

    Like you, I’m happy if surprised not to see Ducks, Newburyport or The Testaments there. I still wonder if perhaps Atwood chose not to put it forward for consideration after the fallout from the Booker debacle?

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    • I didn’t find the child’s voice in Djinn Patrol unconvincing, exactly, but he sounded too much like many other child narrators I’ve read. There’s a kind of stereotype of bolshy, resilient childhood that Anappara is drawing on, and I don’t really like it (there’s lots to like in Djinn Patrol, though).

      Yeah, having read more I wonder if neither of those books were actually put forward – Atwood because of the Booker fallout, and Ellmann because of the financial costs for her publisher and the issues they had with the Booker.

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  3. Well done for turning this post around so quickly and being so thorough! In general I think I’m more up for family drama and climate anxiety than you are (versus I’m more wary of child narrators and myth retellings), but otherwise I have lots of similar feelings. I’ve read 5 and plan to read another 5-7. I’m hoping you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Offill.

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    • I hate child narrators!!! 🙂 But yes, I definitely have more time for myth retellings. I read a lot as a teenager and so they feel quite nostalgic for me.

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  4. I’m terribly impressed by how many books you predicted and also read from the longlist! I’m actually interested on Weather, and uninterested in Djinn Patrol, so it’s always a very curious thing to see which novels call to different readers! I’m definitely more encouraged to read Djinn Patrol after your description. Great post!! 🙂

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    • Thank you! Tbh, Djinn Patrol didn’t hugely appeal to me on the basis of the blurb, and while I liked it, it’s not my favourite of the books I’ve read so far (that would definitely be Girl, Woman, Other).

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  5. You’re so much further ahead than I am, I have so much catching up to do. I largely feel similarly in the ones I’m excited about and the ones I’m meh about – though Fleishman just sounds dreadful to me. Weather is a SUPER quick read but so far I’m like… why is this rocking everyone’s world, it feels SO familiar and generic…?

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  6. Good job, us, for correctly predicting Djinn Patrol!
    You are the first person whose reaction post I have seen who has already read a decent number of books from the longlist!
    I am so excited to see what everybody makes of all these books! (and I need to echo, ugh, Girl)

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    • I’ve seen a few people who’ve read 4-6, but nothing more than that – I think it partly reflects the fact that a lot of these books are barely out, and some were difficult (O’Farrell) or impossible (Mantel!) to get hold of in advance.

      And yes good joint work on Djinn Patrol!

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  7. You’ve had a good go at them already, great work. I’m seeing Such a Fun Age being blogged about as being too light (which I don’t think it was) so maybe that’s why, I’d have liked it there, too. Hooray for the Ducks not being there, though!

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  8. You’ve read a nice chunk of the list already! I am glad that you liked Djinn Patrol, as I’ve not heard much about that one; I’m also glad you’re enjoying Dominicana, which I’m wary about after not getting on with a sample of the writing. The premise does appeal though, so I’m hoping it’ll grow on me. I’ve only read two so far (GWO and Weather), but am looking forward to diving into the rest of the list! Eager to see what you’ll think of the titles as you read them. 🙂

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      • Oh that’s understandable, I wouldn’t be surprised to find other books with the same sort of set-up I suppose, I just haven’t encountered them personally so I don’t think I would mind it here. I hope the voice holds up for you through the rest of the book! 🙂

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  9. I’m with you, family sagas that cross generations are typically uninteresting, and for the EXACT same reason: so much of the book is spent on the first and second generation, so we feel close to them and attached, but after that, each generation gets fewer and fewer pages until I’m thinking, “Who cares, really?”

    I have a copy of Actress because I got an ARC that the library was giving away. Maybe I’ll add that one to my list for sooner rather than later. When is the short list announced, and when is the final book chosen?

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    • Interesting – I often struggle with the first generation of family sagas because it feels like an extended backstory, and get on better with the middle and last, who get less page time! I also have just read too much about family dynamics so, even when these books are well written, they often all become one in my head. Maybe one of these will stand out though.

      The shortlist is announced on 22nd April and the winner on 3rd June. Which seems like far too little time to read the longlist and then too much time to mull it over!

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