Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021: Longlist predictions

It’s my favourite bookish time of the year! I love following the Women’s Prize for Fiction, or rather I love what it does with my bookish corner of the internet. While I will not be reading the longlist this year (after last year’s disaster of a longlist, my will to put myself through another possible Girl is just not there), I am nonetheless very excited to see what makes it. I have actually read more eligible books than last time, so who knows, I might even get to have opinions. I am also hopeful that this panel of judges (especially the brilliant Bernardine Evaristo) will longlist books that are more interesting in structure than what we (mostly) got last year.

Last year I did OK predicting the longlist but also jinxed it when I proclaimed to like books about motherhood – and books about mothers we got. Lets hope that this time I won’t accidentally wish on a monkey’s paw again. Here are my predictions, in no particular order. I have included whether the author was longlisted before or not because longlisted authors are basically a freebie for the publishers to nominate, additionally to the two spots they usually have.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is the one I am most confident will make the list. It has gotten rave reviews and so much buzz that I cannot imagine the publisher not nominating it.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes, actually. I got a copy of this for Christmas, for whatever reason, so I might even try to pick this up if it ends up longlisted.

Harvest by Georgina Harding

The longlist is usually fairly historical fiction heavy, which this is. It also deals with a war that isn’t WWII, so it would make an interesting addition, I think

Longlisted before: Yes (2012).

Would I be happy to see it: This is not a book I would ever pick up but it sounds like something people who enjoy historical fiction would appreciate, so sure.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

St. John Mandel is at the top of her game here and her particular brand of non-linear storytelling is exciting enough that I think it absolutely merits a place on this list.

Longlisted before: Yes (2015).

Would I be happy to see it: Very much so. I adored this book.

Luster by Raven Leilani

This is one of the buzziest books of the last year and interesting enough in its commentary on loneliness (something that is very relevant to all of us at the moment, I am sure) and race that I would indeed be surprised if it didn’t end up longlisted.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I thought this was an interesting addition to the difficult women cannon and the first half was near perfect. While I didn’t quite love the way the book developed after that, I still do think it is well worth being longlisted.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This sounds both timely and readable, a combination the WP has been fond of for a few years now (looking at you, An American Marriage). Traditionally, Indian authors have been often longlisted but haven’t in the last years and I would like for the prize to remedy that.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: This is not a book that particularly appeals to me – but I do think that people who like this kind of politically charged, sprawling narrative this will work really well.

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Sometimes, I see a book and somehow immediately think that it’ll be a contender for the longlist (I spend a lot of time over the year thinking about the Women’s Prize). – this is one of those.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I would, actually. This has the potential to be really great and I would like to see more reviews to decide if I want to read this.

As You Were by Elaine Feeney

Hailed as the Irish debut of the year, this sounds like it could be an excellent addition to the longlist.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes! Unlikeable female character but make her incurably ill, I love it. I need it. (The Sinéad Gleeson blurb also helps)

Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

This is a novel about isolation (need I say more?) – something I am sure will be a prominent feature this year, given, well, everything. It is also a novel about finding one’s voice and doing what’s right – and I cannot imagine anything timelier.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes!

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes

This book has steadily been building hype, with overwhelmingly positive reviews – and with its focus on one family in Ireland during the financial crash, this sounds like a quintessential WP book to me.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Mostly. I am not sure I would love it – but plenty of others will and then I can decide for myself if I want to read it.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This is so good. Clarke writes with such perfection – and while it is speculative fiction, the speculative elements are slight enough that I think it has a chance making this list. Her debut was longlisted for the Booker after all!

Longlisted before: No. (which is a shame.)

Would I be happy to see it: Yes! Yes! Yes! It is SO GOOD!

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin

Admittedly, I don’t even know what this is about but I have a gutfeeling of this making the list, so I am including it.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Sure.

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Books about families, spanning generations, are often longlisted for the Women’s Prize. This sounds like the most likely contender for the spot.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I genuinely do not know. It is not a book that appeals to me, for sure.

Pew by Catherine Lacey

This book is experimental enough while being accessible still, that I could see it making the list. Its commentary on gender was more successful for me than its commentary on race but in general I thought this was mostly well done.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

Before this won the Costa Award, I was sure this would make the longlist, now not as much anymore. It was, however, also longlisted for plenty of other prizes.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I am always happy when books with a speculative twist make literary prize longlists, this would be no exception.

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

Another book dealing with loneliness and Brexit, I think this has an absolute chance of making in the list.

Longlisted before: Yes (2007 – shortlisted even)

Would I be happy to see it: Sure. I have loved Guo’s writing in the past and really should read more of hers.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

This has basically won every Australian book award there is (I don’t actually know if that is way hyperbolic or only little hyperbolic – but it won a lot). Everybody I know who read it, loved it. And I think it is time for an Australian author to be longlisted again.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes. I even have an unread ARC on my Kindle and would love the extra incentive to read it.

There you have my official 16 predictions. As always, there is the slight chance that they go back to the longlist of 20 books – but I doubt it somehow. I left off some books that nearly made my list: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, Sisters by Daisy Johnson, Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh, and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. If the list is 20 books strong, these are my additional predictions.

Whch books are you most hoping for? Are you planning on reading the longlist?

Review: Pew by Catherine Lacey

“I nodded, but I was still thinking about Nelson’s dream, and wondering why it was that anyone believed the human body needed to be any particular way, or what was so important about the human body. Was it possible for a human’s mind and memory and ideas to live inside the body of a horse, and if it was, did that make being a human or a horse? What difference did it make, one life or another.”

Pew – published by Granta Publications, May 14th 2020

Fleeing a past they can no longer remember, Pew wakes on a church bench, surrounded by curious strangers.

Pew doesn’t have a name, they’ve forgotten it. Pew doesn’t know if they’re a girl or a boy, a child or an almost-adult. Is Pew an orphan, or something worse? And what terrible trouble are they running from?

Pew won’t speak, but the men and women of this small, god-fearing town are full of questions. As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Allusion-rich prose and vague story that I adored until I didn’t.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For the first half – I was in love. I adored the prose and thought the structure of the book worked wonderfully to invoke a sense of mounting dread. Catherine Lacey constructs a story that feels more like an extended fable than like a novel – in the best possible way. The story begins when a person is found sleeping in a church’s pew. The people in this small town take them in but as the person is not speaking (and nobody seems to be able to agree what they look like, how old they, what gender they are), it does not take very long for the others to turn on them. The book is infused with a growing sense of dread, as Pew (as they are called by the people who took them in) meets different people who all start telling them their darkest secrets, filling the silence the only way they know how. In the background are preparations for an ominous festival, the purpose of which remains cloaked in secrecy for Pew.

The first few chapters really worked for me, I thought the introductions of the different people and their backstories were intriguing, the prose was incredible, and Pew a sympathetic main character that I could not help but deeply root for. I also appreciated how the people were more archetypes than proper characters (unlike Pew who feels real if vague). I thought this worked really well for the fable-like mood. As this pattern kept repeating (Pew is sent to some person, that person assumes to have knowledge of Pew and then starts telling Pew their story), the sense of dread kept ratchetting up. However, as soon as Lacey started showing her hands and actually filling in the blanks a bit, the story lost its appeal to me.

Additionally, I thought the commentary on gender worked a lot better and was smoother integrated than the commentary on race where the fable-like prose felt ill-fitted. I think, ultimately, the prose was not quite strong enough for me to distract from the problems I had with the book. But when it worked for me, it worked so brilliantly that I am very glad to have read this.

Content warnings: Racism, description of lynchings, police corruption, religious fundamentalism, trans racial adoption

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

Rachel and I have too many ARCs – another try at an emergency readathon (2020 edition)

Last year around this time, Rachel and I created a two-person-readathon to get our amount of unread ARCs under something resembling control. Ask me how that went! (Not great. Not great at all. I was newly pregnant and feeling pretty awful) But, it was fun! So we are doing it again the last two weeks of September and hopefully this time around I will actually make a dent into my (even bigger) mountain of unread ARCs. You are all absolutely invited to join but we don’t have any prompts, we won’t be doing anything fancy like reading sprints, but it is fun all the same!

Most of my ARCs are overdue and I do not even know how this will ever change – but I really am trying to at least get my number of unreviewed ARCs down significantly over the next few months.

I am currently in the middle of two ARCs – these will obviously my priority:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Published by Titan Books, October 6th 2020

I did not expect to be approved for this – it is Schwab after all and people have been looking forward to this book for years, but I did and I am so glad. I was super in the mood for her kind of writing and prefer reading on my kindle to reading physical books lately.

Crooked Halleluja by Kelli Jo Ford

Published by Grove Atlantic, July 14th 2020

I am absolutely loving this – but it is also a difficult read due to its content. I am super enjoying Ford’s characterization and her prose. If this keeps up, it will surely be one of my favourites of the year.

I usually read a few books at the same time but try to read different genres. Once I finish Crooked Hallelujah, I will pick one of my more literary fiction ARCs, and once I finish Addie LaRue, I will choose another speculative novel.

Literary Fiction

Machine by Susan Steinberg (published by Pushkin Press, August 6th 2020)

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (published by Knopf Doubleday, September 1st 2020)

Pew by Catherine Lacey (published by Granta, May 14th 2020)

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (published by Faber & Faber, August 20th 2020)

Of those four I am most excited about Emezi’s second novel – I adored Freshwater and have high hopes that this will also be a favourite.

Speculative Fiction:

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (published by Orbit, November 2018)

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron (published by HarperCollins, September 2019)

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez (published by Titan Books, August 11th 2020)

Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam (published by Bloomsbury, October 6th 2020)

I am most excited about Empire of Sand – but I also never pick it up. I am fairly certain I will love it – many people with similar tastes to mine have already adored it, I love speculative romance, and Suri is a delight on twitter. I really should finally get to this. But I am also intrigued by Alam’s book, who is also a delight on twitter – but I also scare easily, so we will have to see how this horror/ fantasy/ thriller hybrid works for me.

I have also quite a few ARCs I have read parts of but for some reason did not finish. I hope to return to some of these and decide whether I want to keep reading.

This list of ARCs is by far not complete but it is more than enough to keep me occupied for more than the two weeks the readathon runs. And also, who am I kidding, I recently got an ARC of Melissa Broder’s second novel Milk Fed which does not release until next year but which I will probably read before anything else because I am so very excited (and this is how I manage to never ever catch up on my unread ARCs).