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?

Thoughts (and Recommendations): Memoirs Written by Women

In 2015 (I think) I decided I wanted to read more non-fiction. So, I pre-ordered a bunch of books that had recently made various “best of non-fiction” lists and read through them. I had to start somewhere – and non-fiction is a varied genre and I did not know what I would like best. I have found out three things:

  1. I LOVE non-fiction,
  2. I prefer memoirs to other forms of non-fiction,
  3. Especially memoirs written by women.

Recently I have read a few blog posts by young bloggers complaining about the lack of books mirroring their experiences with being a young adult and navigating this weird world; Young Adult novels are usually for younger readers, New Adult novels often focus on relationships (steamy ones from what I can gather – it’s a genre I haven’t read much of) and General Fiction does not quite fit either. But, and this is how this fits into this post: there ARE books that deal with this experience in varied and wonderful ways: memoirs. I think this is one of the reasons why I enjoy them so: I can read about lives similar to mine and lives very different and I can see many things I deal with and how others dealt with them, it puts my (very privileged life) into perspective and simultaneously shows me that I am not alone. Also, with a memoir you can be reasonably sure that the person made it out whatever situation she found herself in, at least enough to be able to write about the experience. There is something soothing in that.

This year, three of my favourite books were memoirs:

 

All three of them deal with growing up, with loss, with finding themselves, and with the ultimate power of art. Megan Stielstra writes about academia and fear and having children and buying and losing houses; Roxane Gay talks about her body and rape culture and finding herself; Lidia Yuknavitch writes about loss and trauma and art. All three books are honest and raw and unbelievably beautifully written.

Here are some other memoirs I have enjoyed, in no particular order (I have linked my reviews whenever possible; clicking on the covers will lead to the Goodreads pages):

34496930Nine Continents by Xiaolu Guo about growing up in China, family and family issues, art and cinema, moving abroad and feeling like an outsider.

 

12262741Wild by Cheryl Strayed about fucking up and losing her mother, about finding herself and about healing.

 

23848559Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson about mental illness and chronic pain, about finding your place, about being different and being ok with it.

 

33381433We are never meeting in real life by Samantha Irby about being queer and black and introverted.

 

Do you read memoirs at all? I sometimes feel like this is genre many neglect (maybe it’s uncool? I don’t know what’s cool).

Do you have any recommendations for me? I would love to read even more memoirs in 2018.

Review: Nine Continents – Xiaolu Guo

34496930My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: 28 August 2017

Published by Grove Atlantic, October 2017

Verdict: Wonderfully readable and immersive memoir. Highly recommended!

Find it on Goodreads.

Xiaolu Guo is one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation, an iconoclastic and completely contemporary voice. Her vivid, poignant memoir, Nine Continents is the story of a curious mind coming of age in an inhospitable country, and her determination to seek a life beyond the limits of its borders.

Xiaolu Guo has traveled further than most to become who she needed to be. Now, as she experiences the birth of her daughter in a London maternity ward surrounded by women from all over the world, she looks back on that journey. It begins in the fishing village shack on the East China Sea where her illiterate grandparents raised her, and brings her to a rapidly changing Beijing, full of contradictions: a thriving underground art scene amid mass censorship, curious Westerners who held out affection only to disappear back home. Eventually Xiaolu determined to see the world beyond China for herself, and now, after fifteen years in Europe, her words resonate with the insight of someone both an outsider and at home, in a world far beyond the country of her birth.

Nine Continents presents a fascinating portrait of China in the eighties and nineties, how the Cultural Revolution shaped families, and how the country’s economic ambitions gave rise to great change. It is also a moving testament to the birth of a creative spirit, and of a new generation being raised to become citizens of the world. It confirms Xiaolu Guo as one of world literature’s most urgent voices.

Absolutely wonderful memoir by a woman beyond impressive. She talks about alienation and perseverance, about loss and art, about growing up and finding herself, and everything in-between.

Xiaolu Guo’s life sounds like something out of a movie: born to an intellectual who had spent time in a labour camp and a mother who was part of the Red Guard (yes, her parents met in prison), given away at birth, and then given back to her grandparents (both analphabets; her grandmother of a generation where having your feet bound was normal; their relationship scarily abusive), ripped away again to go and live with her parents, she manages to attend an elite university for film-making and then to win a scholarship to study in the UK – a country that became her home. Her book is a piece of art itself.

I adored the way she plays with language; her not writing in her mother-tongue (as she has been doing for a while now) just adds to the immediacy and the sense of alienation. The further back in time she goes, the more fragmented her language becomes. When she comes closer to finding her place in the world and the person she can be, the sentences get longer, more assured. I adored this.

At the centre of her memoir are her relationships: with her artist father who influences her in a myriad of ways but cannot (or will not) protect her from her mother’s harshness and her brother’s scorn. But also her complicated relationship with China and how it influences her art and what she can and cannot write about. She writes about censorship – both external and internal and how this made it impossible for her to be the writer she knows in her heart she can be. She also writes about not fitting in anywhere and how she puts this into pieces of art. This is what makes this book both personal and universal – underneath all the cultural differences there is this common human theme of wanting to be true to yourself and of experiences of alienation but also homecoming in a foreign country. I appreciated this.

First sentence: “So many times I’ve seen England from the sky.”

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of Netgalley and Grove Altantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!