Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021: longlist reaction

It is finally here!

I am both excited and not excited. There are many books I am very thrilled to see on the list and quite a few I either hadn’t heard of or have no interest in reading. As I said before, I will not even attempt to read the longlist this year (which is probably a good thing as I am in a very bad reading slump) – but I do hope to get to some of these. I only correctly predicted three books which hopefully means that this will be a lot better than last year.

Here are the books, in alphabetical order by title:

Because of You by Dawn French
I had heard of Dawn French but not of this book but I do like the inclusion. This deals with motherhood and grief and by the looks of it racism.
Will I read this? Probably not. I do not think I am in the right head space to read about still birth.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
This was already shortlisted for the Booker Prize – as such it was already on my radar. I forgot to include this one to my predictions and kicked myself basically the moment I posted them. This also focuses motherhood – but in what sounds a really interesting way.
Will I read this? Maybe – the reviews are all over and I will probably wait until more people in my WP group chat have read it.

Consent by Annabel Lyon
This is one book I have been on the fence whether I want to read it since I first heard about it. I love books about siblings but I do not deal well with unfairness in books and this sounds very unfair. But look at this cover!
Will I read this? I honestly do not know yet.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
I am so excited that the Women’s Prize finally longlisted their first trans woman. This book sounds like it could be incredibly up my alley, with its focus on difficult women, motherhood, and complicated and unconventional relationships.
Will I read this? Yeah, absolutely.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Another one that I nearly predicted and one that I am very excited for. It has been compared to Sally Rooney, who I famously love, and its focus on a difficult woman in a transitional phase of her life is absolutely my catnip. The audiobook narrator is the same as for Conversations With Friends, so I am very pleased.
Will I read this? Definitely.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Another one that I briefly considered adding to my predictions, this sounds like a quintessential WP book, sprawling narrative, different perspectives, social commentary.
Will I read this? This is another one that features a dead baby, so no, this will not be a book I am going to read. I am very excited for everybody’s reviews though!

Luster by Raven Leilani
This one I correctly predicted! Another book featuring a difficult woman on the crossroad of finding herself, I thought the first half was pitch.perfect and the second half a bit lacklustre. But still, I adored most of the debut and would not have been happy had this not been longlisted.
Will I read this? Review here.

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
This is another one of the books I am thinking of as millenial books on this list. Lockwood’s memoir has been on my TBR for ages and this one, a novel about the internet and being very online, intrigues me to no end. It seems to be a bit of a marmite book and those are always fun to have on longlists.
Will I read this? Yes! The snippets I’ve seen, I adored, and this has the potential to be a favourite for me.

Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
I had heard nothing of this book before its inclusion on the longlist and I always like this! After the death of his wife, a man realises that he maybe did not know her as much as he thought.This seems to be a literary mystery of some kind – and those can be my thing but this sadly doesn’t sound like it.
Will I read this? Probably not. As this is written by an Irish author, I can be sure Rachel will get to it as some point and can then tell me whether I would like this or not.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
YES! I am SO happy! I loved this, I want more people to read this, I adore Clarke’s writing. Normally, I do not care about spoilers but with this one, I do think knowing as little as possible (there is a reason the blurb is this vague) actually works in the book’s favour. I need to finally write my review but, wow, this is so good. I am glad the judges included a book that is at least spec-fic adjacent and what a good one to choose!
Will I read it? Review to come.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
Another one I had only vaguely heard about, this initially did not interest me at all. A historical novel set in the fifties, featuring a possible virgin birth, a woman falling in love with her friend’s husband, and what sounds like interesting mother/daughter relaionships. Very few of my friends have reviewed this yet, so I am interested to hear more.
Will I read this? My first impulse was no, but the more I sit with it, the more intrigued I am.

Summer by Ali Smith
Possibly the biggest suprise for me, as I was under the impression that Smith didn’t want her books to be put forward for prizes anymore. Arguably one of the bigger releases on this list and one that comes with the additional hype of being the final in a quartett of books that has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. I am very glad to see this included because I like when authors are at the top of their game which Smith definitely is.
Will I read this? No. I read and appreciated Autumn but did not enjoy reading it and have thus not kept up with the series.

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig
I had neither heard of the books nor the author (although a quick Google search reminded me that she signed that obnoxious open letter in support of JK Rowling which makes me unhappy for a variety of reasons) but this does not sound like my type of book at all. I do not often enjoy more crime focused novels and this one sounds too stressful.
Will I read this? No, no chance.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The third book I correctly predicted, as did pretty much everybody I follow. Another book focussing sisters (which I adore!), with a heavy emphasis on commentary on race, this seems to be the one to beat. I have wanted to get to Bennett’s writing for a while, but her debut which is written from the perspective of a chorus of mothers does sound more like my type of thing. I am very pleased to see it on the list though!
Will I read it? I got a copy of this book for Christmas, so yes, I will definitely read this.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
This also nearly made my list but for some reason didn’t. I am very happy to see it included. A book dealing with science and faith and sibling relationships that has been near universally been praised by reviews, this is another favourite to win, I am sure.
Will I read this? I am not sure yet.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
I read Fuller’s sophomore novel a while ago and while I appreciated it, it was not enough of a favourite that I have kept up with her books. That novel also focused siblings (which was my favourite aspect of the book), as does this one. Twins Julius and Jeanie’s lives start to unravel when their mother who they still lived with at 51 dies. I do often love books about siblings but for some reason this one does not particularly speak to me.
Will I read this? Maybe.

When the longlist was announced, my first reaction was excitement. This list seems to be a lot more catered towards my tastes than last year’s longlist was. However, the longer I sit with it, the less enthused I am. For one, with only five books written by authors of colour and the vast majority of authors coming from either the US or the UK, this is not as varied as I would have liked it to be. There are also many books that sound similar in themes – which I hope I will be proven wrong about.

However, even if I complain about books being similar, at least it caters to my taste. I will be reading all the books about difficult women and the internet. As always, I am most excited to see what my bookish community makes of these books. This really is my favourite time in the bookish world.

Wrap Up: November 2017

I did not have the best reading month. As I have talked about elsewhere I am currently reading too many books I am not excited about and have forbidden myself from starting new books before I finish these. This might not have been the best idea.

Without much further ado, here are the six books I have read in November:

  1. Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. The Uploaded – Ferret Steinmetz: 2 out of 5 stars
  4. The Girl in The Tower – Katherine Arden: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Under the Pendulum Sun – Jeannette Ng: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. Autumn – Ali Smith: 3 out of 5 stars.

Favourite of the month:

I think I will have to say The Girl in The Tower. I just adore the world Katherine Arden has created so much. I find her voice so impressive and the way she builds her stories on familiar tropes but making them special is just brilliant.

I also really enjoyed Her Body and Other Parties and agree with every praise this wonderful short story collection has gotten. If you like short stories and haven’t picked this up, you really should.

Currently Reading:

Like I said, I am still trying to finish all the books I have started and only then will I allow myself to start something else. I cannot remember the last time I had no book on my currently reading shelf on Goodreads and am kind of looking forward to that and to the feeling that comes with a bit of a clean slate. Wish me luck.

Reading Next:

If I get through the books I am currently reading at some point (I am not that optimistic given my current reading pace) I am giving myself permission to just choose whatever the heck I feel like. No pressure, no fixed TBR, no “I should be reading this”. I want to end the year on a high.

 

Review: Autumn (Seasonal #1) – Ali Smith

28446947Verdict: Clever, poignant, probably brilliant but too disjointed for me.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Date read: November 27th, 2017

Published by Hamish Hamilton, 2016

Find it on Goodreads.

A breathtakingly inventive new novel from the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both

Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art – via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery – Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture, and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.

Autumn is the first installment in Ali Smith’s novel quartet Seasonal: four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

My thoughts are all over the place for this book – maybe fitting because this is what this book is as well: all over the place. There is undeniable brilliance here: sentences so profound they made me stop in my tracks, word plays so wonderful I had to read them twice, musing on a great number of important things. It comes as no surprise that Ali Smith is a genius. But for some reasons these sparks of brilliance never came together for a coherent whole for me – and I guess this was also the point. There is no proper coherence in life and in art and Ali Smith captures this perfectly.

At the core of this book is the friendship between Elisabeth and her older neighbour Daniel and the profound effect on her life he has – opening to her a world of art and cleverness. This book is also filled with musings on art – especially that by women – and how art is both important and prone to being forgotten.

This relationship somehow did not work for me – I think I would have needed it to be more fleshed out. The wonderful glitzy stylistic framework was not enough for me. Somehow I was lacking an emotional core for this book to really resonate with me. This lack was reinforced by the secondary storyline of Pauline Boty. This could have been so interesting but ultimately fell flat for me. Mostly because I did not have the necessary knowledge to contextualize what Ali Smith was telling me. This feeling of lack of knowledge worked against me multiple times during this book.

I think, ultimately, I might have read the book wrong: I think it would have worked better for me if I had read this in one sitting, allowing myself to be swept up in the stylistic whimsy. This way the book would not have felt disjointed but rather a perfect microscopic view of one single moment in time. This moment being the aftermath of Brexit – which is something that is very close to my heart. I have lived in the UK for 5 years, 4 of those in Scotland and as such I have so many feelings about the UK leaving the EU. Especially because the months leading up to the Referendum were filled with xenophobic and racist discourse and because many people voting for leaving the UK voted for exactly those reasons. I am disappointed in the country I felt so welcome in, a country that is so wonderful and has so much to offer, and I am disappointed that people my age just did not go and vote (how idiotic is that?) and I am sorry for my friends who are still there, both those from the UK and those from abroad. Because this Referendum will change the country and there is no stopping this. (That was a tangent.)

First sentence: “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.”

Thoughts: On 3-Star-Books

I am currently reading six books; five of those I don’t think I will give more than three stars. This fact got me thinking about 3-star-books and why I struggle with them.

I am currently reading:

 

None of these books are bad books. In fact they all have some parts that are absolutely brilliant and parts that are anything but:

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock has vivid language and a brilliant way of describing the world but is beyond slow-moving with a plot I am not sure can even be called that. Authority has Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliant command of language and the intriguing setting that I adored in the first book but features a main character that is a bit of a charisma vacuum. Autumn has poignant descriptions and captures many of my complicated feelings about the UK but its disjointed natures makes it difficult for me to care about its protagonists. By Light We Know Our Names has some absolutely heartbreaking stories with the fantastical elements being brilliantly integrated but the stories feel repetitive and depressing for depressings sake. Under the Pendulum Sun has a genius premise and just nails the atmosphere it is going for but its ambling plot and a very very unfortunate twist (that grossed me out so bad) keep me from fully enjyoing it.

These middling kind of books are usually the ones that take me the longest to read them. Sometimes, when I absolutely dislike a book, I more or less race to finish it just to be done with it, or I just abandon it completely. But those books that do not really elicit any strong reactions have the tendency to wreck my reading flow. Especially if I have started too many books already, as I have this time, and have forbidden myself from starting any new books until I have finished the ones I am already reading. Which leads to me not reading. Which annoys me to no end.

What about you? Do you sometimes struggle with the okay-ish books or do you struggle with the ones you dislike more?

Thoughts and Predictions: Man Booker Prize 2017

This year I tried to read as many books on the Man Booker Prize longlist as possible. That did not work out all that well, to nobody’s surprise. I am such a fickle reader and do really really bad with TBRs. I do, however, have some thoughts I want to share before the winner is announced.

Books I have read:

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

This is my least favourite of the books I read. It’s not a bad book by a long shot but I expected more.

You can find my review here.

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

It took me forever to read this book. It is gut-wrenchingly devastating and the matter-of-fact way the story is told made is all the more so. I could only ever take it in small doses. It’s beyond a doubt an important book that deserves all the accolades it got, but I am so very glad it’s over.To be fair, this is what a book about slavery should be like.

4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster

I enjoyed this a whole lot and was very glad to see it on the shortlist. I loved how expansively Auster tells his story – and this in a genre where I usually prefer shorter works.

You can find my review here.

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

I would read Mohsin Hamid’s shopping list. He has a wonderful way with words and I adored how lyrical his expressions are. In a way this is the direct opposite of “The Underground Railroad” – both use a supernatural way of escaping evil (war and slavery respectively), but Hamid’s work is ultimately optimistic whereas Whitehead’s is … really not.

You can find my review here.

Solar Bones – Mike McCormack

This was definitely my favourite of the bunch and I was super disappointed to not see it on the short list. I adored a whole lot about this book. This is one that I probably would not have read if it wasn’t for the longlist and I am very grateful that I did.

You can find my review here.

Currently reading

28446947

Autumn – Ali Smith

I am about half way through this book and while I enjoy it, I am not quite sure if I understand everything. I adore her musings on Brexit and find this to be an absolute strength of the book. I lived in Scotland for four years and in England for one and I feel close to the country. So Brexit hit me hard; I did not see it coming and I still cannot understand how it happened.

To Be Read

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders33290527

This is the last book of the longlist that I will definitely read at some point. It might be gimmicky or it might be great, I cannot imagine there will be a middle ground.

 

 

 

Predictions

I think in the end either Ali Smith or Mohsin Hamid will take home the prize, both books are timely and well-written and mostly great. I have my fingers crossed for Hamid because I think we need more fundamentally optimistic books about immigration and refugees.