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Lush Library Presents… Anna James on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 Longlist

The sixteen books on this year’s Women’s Prize longlist have been announced featuring a mix of commercial big hitters, cult favourites and new voices.

 

It’s a big year for the prize as it moves from being the Baileys Prize to the Women’s Prize with a collection of sponsors (Baileys is still involved, but is co-sponsoring the prize with NatWest and Deloitte) and the judges had a big task, as always, ahead of them. When my friend and book blogger Eric and I sat down to try and predict the prize over on his YouTube channel, Lonesome Reader, we found it nigh on impossible to narrow it down to sixteen. The prize is open to full length novels by women written in English and this year’s longlist was selected by five judges; Sarah Sands, the editor of the Today Programme, journalist Anita Anand, comedian Katy Brand, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party Catherine Mayer and actress Imogen Stubbs.

 

Before we get into my take on the longlist, here are the sixteen books in the running for the shortlist, which will be announced on 23rd April and the title which is revealed on 6th June:

  • H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker (William Heinemann)

  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape)

  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon (The Borough Press)

  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig (Grove Press)

  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Corsair)

  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)

  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray)

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

  • When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic)

  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals)

  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Tinder Press)

  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (Virago)

  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus)

  • The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal (Viking)

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury Circus)

 

That makes eight British authors, four Americans, two Indian authors, one Australian and one Pakistani/British writer. Shamsie has been shortlisted before, and Egan and Seiffert have been longlisted before (Seiffert three times before!). Six of the books are debuts.

 

To my eyes it’s an interesting mix which doesn’t speak of an overriding theme or a unified feeling among the judges. There are post-dystopias, page-turners, historical romps and coming-of-age tales. There’s a handful of commercial successes, a smattering of books that have already seen a fair amount of prize attention, and thankfully for my ego, several of the books Eric and I thought might be there. While there are always upsets in prizes, the one thundering omission has to be Ali Smith, which I’m sure will be raising eyebrows around the literary world. I’m surprised not to see Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro or Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney sneak in, and I’m sad, albeit less surprised, to see The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney miss out and would encourage people to seek all four of them out regardless. Of those I’ve read I’m thrilled to see Sight by Jessie Greengrass there, a beautifully hypnotic novel about medicine and bodies that defies categorisation, and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a Sarah Waters-esque intelligent historical epic.

 

But aside from the books I’m happy to see make it and sad to see miss out, for me the real joy of prizes is discovering the books I’m yet to read. There are a few on here I’m delighted to have an excuse to go back to (particularly Manhattan Beach, Home Fire and The Idiot) and I’m excited to find out what the judges saw in titles I know less about such as H(A)PPY and A Boy in Winter. And the only title I haven’t heard of is Miss Burma, a novel about a modern day Burmese family, which means it’s the one I’m most excited to seek out. Book prizes give readers a window into a moment and a feeling, it’s an opportunity to embrace finding something new and unexpected and to champion it right through until June.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the longlist, or if you’re planning on reading along. I’ll be picking up a few of these, and reading the whole longlist come April, so please get in touch @acaseforbooks on Twitter and join in.

 

"There are post-dystopias, page-turners, historical romps and coming-of-age tales."

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