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 House: ‘as 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.
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:
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.
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?