I’ve now finished reading the twelve titles from the Women’s Prize longlist that I wanted to read, including all six titles on the shortlist
if you include the one I was unable to finish, so I’m going to post my round-up. The actual winner will be announced on June 15th.
Overall, I’m disappointed with this year’s shortlist, and I think a stronger one could have been assembled from this year’s interesting if uneven longlist (my favourite four books from the longlist were so strong and diverse). There are two titles on the shortlist I’d be totally baffled to see win, which was not the case last year.
My overall ranking of the twelve titles I’ve read is as follows, with quotes from my reviews. Shortlisted titles are starred (*).
- *The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. ‘the reason it works is Tookie’s voice… I was captivated by her warmth and humour… through her, Erdrich makes us as readers believe in all the weirdness this book throws at us’
- *Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. ‘an unexpected hit… Mason pulls off something quite special’
- Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith. ‘too long… [but with] some incredibly memorable set-pieces… I loved its originality and daring’
- Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey. ‘convincing and moving… competent… but it doesn’t offer anything especially new’
- Careless by Kirsty Cape. ‘Bess is a compelling protagonist… there are a few duff notes… [but] the handling of [Bess’s trauma] is exceptional’
- The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. ‘tends to rely on stereotype… [with] flashes of greater insight’
- *The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. ‘this story…could have made a good novel half the length of this one’
- *Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. ‘a massive potboiler… [but] the last hundred pages are really stunning’
- Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé. ‘flashes of brilliant writing… [but] mannered and pretentious’
- The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller. ‘despite its incredibly familiar plot-line and flat characters, a weirdly compelling read’
- *The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini. ‘pretty much nothing else about this [other than the Creole] worked for me’
- *The Island of Missing Trees (DNF) by Elif Shafak. ‘the combination of horrifically clunky writing, melodrama and sentimentality has defeated me’
Looking back at my original post on the shortlist, three of the four titles I decided to read later on in the process were my three least favourites, and I correctly predicted that Sorrow and Bliss would make the shortlist and hence I would have read it anyway. The lesson: stick to my guns in 2023 and only read the longlisted titles that genuinely interest me.
Who do I want to win? And who do I think will win? OK, having the same answer for these two questions has never worked out well for me in the past, but I do think it’s a great book that would tick a lot of the judges’ boxes:
I was convinced that the Prize would be awarded to a woman of colour in 2021, after Black Lives Matter gained renewed attention and amid much discussion of the innate whiteness of the publishing industry; this didn’t happen, as Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi surprisingly took the Prize. This year, I think we’re overdue. The Sentence deals directly with Black Lives Matter (refreshingly, from a Native American viewpoint), alongside the prison system, Indigenous religion and Covid-19, but it’s not because it ticks off these issues that I think it’s a worthy and likely winner. It’s a great book that has much to say about the power of literary communities – one of the Prize’s favoured themes this year – without ever tipping into sentimentality. It brings together a band of misfits who support and uplift each other, and it’s joyful but not naive. And while Louise Erdrich may be a big-name author in the US, she is not as well known in the UK, and her books deserve to reach an international audience. Finally, a Native American woman has never won the Women’s Prize. For this mix of reasons, The Sentence is definitely my pick.
However, if I was asked to predict which other title is most likely to win, I’d go for:
Although I think it is by far the weaker novel, Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness has a lot of the same things going for it as The Sentence. (And an East Asian woman has never won the Women’s Prize either!). I didn’t rate The Book of Form and Emptiness, but as an Ozeki fan, I wouldn’t be outraged by this outcome.
Who do you want to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022? And who do you think will win?