Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Final Thoughts

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I’ve now finished reading all sixteen titles on the Women’s Prize longlist – so I’m going to post my round-up even though the actual winner won’t be announced until 9th September.

If 2019 was a below-par year for the Women’s Prize, 2020, for me, was a new low. It’s made me reconsider how much energy I should put into the prize next year – much as I enjoy shadowing the prize alongside my fellow bloggers, I might return to only reading the shortlist, plus any longlisted titles that interest me.

NEVERTHELESS, there are some gems on the longlist and shortlist that deserve celebrating. Here is my  ranking of the sixteen longlisted titles, with a link to, and line from, each of my reviews.

In order of preference:

  • The Mirror and the Light: ‘this is [Mantel’s] masterpiece’.
  • Girl, Woman, Other: ‘It’s a joy to see black second-wave feminism being discussed so seriously and yet so effortlessly in a fictional context… an essential and vital read.’
  • Weather: ‘At times, I felt like [Offill] was rummaging around in my brain… profoundly disturbing but also very funny’.
  • How We Disappeared: ‘compelling… [considers] questions of truth, family and storytelling across the longue durée’.
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: ‘the first two-thirds are overlong… [but] the harrowing ending justifies much of the build-up… I’ve rarely read a final chapter that stayed with me so long’.
  • Queenie: ‘funny and frank… Queenie is hugely sympathetic, and realistically flawed… and the ending is nicely unexpected’.
  • Fleishman Is In Trouble: ‘a mess… [but] I found myself unexpectedly warming to this novel… I can see why it’s attracted so many hot takes’.
  • The Dutch Houseas ever, Patchett balances the emotional crises of her novel perfectly… [but] I was left feeling slightly underwhelmed’.
  • Hamnet: ‘O’Farrell writes so well about grief, but I found myself admiring her writing from afar rather than grieving with the characters.’
  • Actress: ‘Enright’s prose is always impeccable and frequently, startlingly good… [but] the unleavened misery of these characters was just too much for me’.
  • Dominicana: ‘I felt that Cruz did a good job of communicating the inner world of this very young woman… [but] the literary model that [she] has chosen is painfully familiar’.
  • A Thousand Ships: ‘[Haynes] delivers some brilliant set-piece chapters, but… this novel… felt too meta, too self-aware, and too convinced that it’s doing something more original than it actually is.’
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had: ‘I actually found this quite a fun, trashy read… but it’s not a novel that should be anywhere near prize lists.’
  • Red At The Bone: ‘Its prose is competent and I enjoyed the warmth that Woodson brings to her characters, but I have rarely read anything that felt so pointless.’
  • Girl: ‘I found myself thinking “what’s the point?” not because I wasn’t affected by the brutality that O’Brien depicts, but because I wasn’t sure why this had to be a novel at all.’
  • Nightingale Point: ‘In short: what were the judges thinking?’

Who do I want to win?

Hilary Mantel sweeps all before her with The Mirror and The Light. I’d bet on a third Booker win, as well.

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Who do I think will win?

Precisely because that third Booker win is in the offing, I wouldn’t put my money on the judges actually giving this prize to Mantel, although I do think she’s in with a strong chance. Interestingly, I think the prize is fairly predictable this year. Aside from Mantel, there are only two shortlisted titles I see as possible winners:

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Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other would be a very worthy winner of the Women’s Prize, and it would make up for that joint Booker win. Ironically, I think if she had won the Booker outright, she’d actually be in with less of a chance here, due to prize politics, so there must be strong odds on her.

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However, despite the superiority of the two previous titles, the book I think is most likely to actually take the prize is Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. This is a choice that would clearly distinguish the Women’s Prize from other book prizes and make up for their neglect of O’Farrell in the past, and the book is also relatively timely (grief and plague). As an O’Farrell fan, I could live with this result, although it’s a shame that she’s finally getting attention for what I think is one of her weakest novels.

When the winner is announced on the 9th September, I will write a brief post on my reaction.

Who do you want to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020?

17 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Final Thoughts

  1. I am so impressed you actually read every single book because I agree, this year was very disappointing. I gave up half way through after one too many awful books and not any left that excited me.
    I am hoping for Evaristo to take home the prize! I found her book incredible. To be fair I haven’t read the Mantel and I am still reading Hamnet, which I am enjoying but not loving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, look at that clump of bad books at the bottom of this ranking! I think I unfortunately read some of the worst ones early on. I did consider giving up on The Most Fun We Ever Had, but actually enjoyed its trashiness in some ways even though it took far too long to read.

      I’d definitely back Evaristo for the prize over O’Farrell.

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  2. Mantel all the way. Thanks for the roundup, as I’ve been very behind on blogs. Really enjoyed your review of Nightingale Point, I was thinking “this sounds like In Our Mad and Furious City, but bad”, then you made the same connection 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, that pretty much sums it up! Great to hear that somebody else is backing Mantel – I think lots of the readers following the prize this year have been understandably daunted at having to read two massive historical novels before even being able to approach another 900-page beast, and so she doesn’t have as many supporters as she might.

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    • It’s the first time I’ve ever read the full longlist for any prize and I think it will be the last! I wanted Queenie to be shortlisted, I think there’s more to it than there initially seems.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It would be so interesting if O’Farrell won for her weakest book (at least of what I’ve read from her work). I’d be glad to see her win a major prize, though. I could certainly see Mantel or Evaristo winning, or Offill coming from behind to take it. With the spread-out timetable this year, I wonder if the judges will be influenced more than they might normally have been by current events into choosing a contemporary book with political relevance (so Evaristo or Offill).

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    • I’d prefer Offill to win rather than O’Farrell, but I don’t think it will happen – if they choose a novel because of its relevance, as you say, I think it’s more likely to be Evaristo who benefits. As long as Cruz or (especially) Haynes don’t win, I’ll be happy! And if O’Farrell doesn’t win, I certainly hope this leads to her getting more recognition in the future.

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  4. Great post, and congrats on finishing the list! 🙂 Especially since it was a rather trying year. Fingers crossed it can only go up from here!

    I keep vacillating on which book I think will win, but I definitely agree it’ll be Mantel, Evaristo or O’Farrell. I think your take is a good one. I’m hoping finishing Mantel’s trilogy will help me hone in on a proper prediction, but maybe it will only muddle things further…

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  5. God it’s been so long since I’ve actually thought about the Women’s Prize, this post feels like a blast from the past even though it was only months ago!

    I’ve officially given up on the longlist at 9/16 – absolutely a new low for the WP, no question. This list was utterly dreadful. I have two left off the shortlist – A Thousand Ships which I will read, and The Mirror & The Light which is trickier as I still haven’t started that trilogy, so TBD on that one. (Will definitely read it at some point, if not before the WP winner announcement.)

    I am solidly betting on Evaristo to win. I felt like the Booker fiasco already gave her enough of a compelling story, but then with the resurgence of the BLM movement in the midst of judging, I would be shocked if they gave it to a white author. Personally I’d love Hamnet to win as it’s my personal favorite so far, but I wouldn’t be mad about Evaristo or Mantel. A Thousand Ships and Weather I’m like meh who cares, and if Dominicana wins I’m launching myself into the sun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’m finding the winner quite hard to call (though still certain it will be one of those three, and probably Evaristo or O’Farrell). I wonder if it will be easier to guess nearer the time? I’d be very happy to see Evaristo take it.

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  6. Pingback: Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: The End | Laura Tisdall

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