In keeping with the celebration of International Women’s Day, the longlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which features writers from six countries, including Ireland, was announced today.
Irish writer Eimear McBride, who won in 2014, is represented again by her second novel The Lesser Bohemians. Very exciting! Each year the Baileys Women’s Prize produces at least one future favourite book! Last years longlist contained library favourites such as The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Ruby, A Little Life, and two Irish authored favourites, The Glorious Heresies and The Green Road. Pretty Impressive. The previous year contained the fantastic Station Eleven, and The Bees. Regarding this years longlist, I am already in the middle of Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, and I think The Power by Naomi Alderman, Barkskins by Annie Proulx, and Stay with Me by Ayóbámi Adébáyó will have to be read immediately after!
Here is the longlist ….
Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate)
A woman sets off for her father-in-law’s funeral 15 years after she last saw her husband. ‘Nobody here knows I’m still married to you. I only tell a slice of the story; I was barren and my husband took another wife.’ The even-tempered prose of this cleverly plotted Nigerian debut reveals a life story worthy of Greek tragedy, involving disease, adultery, manslaughter and the loss of children in a country where the dynastic imperative can destroy the most decent of people.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (Viking)
Alderman’s latest work of speculative fiction sees women around the world develop a supernatural power that suddenly gives ‘the weaker sex’ a significant physical advantage over men. In her review, Justine Jordan called it ‘endlessly nuanced and thought-provoking, combining elegantly efficient prose with beautiful meditations on the metaphysics of power, possibility and change.’
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth)
One of the titles in Hogarth’s Shakespeare project, Hag-Seed is Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest. A theatre director seeks professional revenge on a colleague by staging a production of – you guessed it – The Tempest. Viv Groskop called it ‘a magical eulogy to Shakespeare, leading the reader through a fantastical reworking of the original but infusing it with ironic nods to contemporary culture, thrilling to anyone who knows The Tempest intimately, but equally compelling to anyone not overly familiar with the work.’
Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Picador)
The 1965 murder of two children in New York is the subject of Flint’s debut thriller, which uses this historic incident as the peg for an investigation into the vilification of women in mid-20th century America and beyond. In a narrative that alternates between their mother, Ruth – a glamorous figure who numbs her grief with drink and sex – and an ambitious young tabloid journalist, Flint creates a surround-sound chorus of public disapproval, blending true crime and literary fiction.
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill (Serpent’s Tail)
Having overcome the demons of family dysfunction and addiction, 47-year-old Ginger faces a childless middle age in upstate New York, with the husband she met at AA. He won’t adopt, so they sign up to a scheme to provide holidays for inner-city children. Along comes 11-year-old Velvet, a Dominican from Brooklyn, who brings her own baggage of disadvantage – and becomes obsessed with the horse next door. In alternating voices, Gaitskill’s third novel explores the limits of good intentions in the face of social and racial inequality.
The Dark Circle by Linda Grant (Virago)
Grant, who won the Orange prize in 2000 with When I Lived in Modern Times, heads back to the 1950s in The Dark Circle. When Lenny and his sister Miriam are diagnosed with tuberculosis, the newly created NHS ships them off to a sanatorium in Kent called the Gwendo. There they find a cross-section of British life and rumours of a miracle cure.Christobel Kent hailed Grant’s pervasive intelligence and the ‘supple instinctiveness’ of her descriptions.
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber)
McBride’s second novel – her first, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, won the 2014 Baileys – documents the frighteningly intense relationship between an 18-year-old woman and a man 20 years older. In her review, Lara Fiegel said: ‘McBride evokes brilliantly the distinctive pleasure of days spent in bed, moving imperceptibly between humour and passion, and between violent and tender desire.’
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose (Corsair)
Melrose’s debut finds a father and son confronting a hard Suffolk winter and reflecting on a hugely traumatic death while the family was farming in Zambia. Alternate chapters from Vale and Landyn chart the guilt and grief that have driven them apart. Melissa Harrison praised Melrose’s ‘boots-on-the-ground research’ and her handling of the two narrators: ‘Neither of them sounds like a well-educated female novelist “doing” farmers, and getting as entirely out of one’s own skin like that, as a writer, is no mean feat.’
The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan (4th Estate)
CE Morgan tackles race and horseracing in an ambitious second novel spanning the 250 years since US independence. Chronicling the history of a grand old Kentucky family, as well as that of their slaves and black workers, Morgan unveils a dazzling display of narrative techniques. Writing in the New York Times, Dwight Garner suggested her literary sins ‘derive from her muse, which appears to be almost too big to carry … She has constructed an enormous bonfire that never fully lights. What’s interesting about it is her almost blinding promise.’
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
When two 80-year-old widows – one white, one black – are thrown together after 20 years of sniping over the garden hedge, their hostility starts to thaw as they share memories of Cape Town’s awkward past. According to Publishers Weekly, Omotoso ‘captures the changing racial relations since the 1950s, as well as the immigrant experience through personal detail and small psychological insights into mixed emotions, the artist’s eye, and widow’s remorse’.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (Riverrun)
At the start of the Great Depression, two foundlings growing up in a Montreal orphanage discover they are kindred spirits. The boy, Pierrot, can play the piano, and the girl, Rose, can dance. Saved by love and talent from an abusive regime, they become itinerant players before separation drives them to lives of crime. Only as the second world war breaks out are they reunited in a magical vaudeville, in which the hardships of life are swept away by a fantasia of clowning, acrobatics and austerity-defying song and dance.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)
Cora Seagrave is a widow who leaves London for the village of Aldwinter in Essex, where she hears of the Essex Serpent, a folk tale apparently come to life and terrorising the Blackwater estuary.In his review, M John Harrison said: ‘Narrative and voice coil together until it is very difficult to stop reading, very difficult to avoid being dragged into Aldwinter’s dark and sometimes darkly comic waters.’ Perry’s novel won the Waterstones book of the year, and was also nominated for the Costa novel award and the Wellcome prize.
Barkskins by Annie Proulx (4th Estate)
Proulx takes on climate change and the tragedy of the commons in a 700-page epic that explores how the unthinking exploitation of the Earth’s resources has brought us to the edge of environmental collapse. René Sel and Charles Duquet arrive in 17th-century Canada, where Duquet founds a dynasty that wreaks havoc on the natural world over the course of the next 300 years. According to Alex Clark, Proulx is ‘profoundly committed to the novel’s ecological message … But that can make for didactic reading, even when one agrees with the message.’
First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta)
Riley’s cool, unnerving novels, narrated by young women who seek to remove themselves from the world while remaining passionately engaged with the absurdity of existence, have always raised questions about fiction and autobiography. Her sixth book, probing the toxic marriage between a writer in her 30s and an older man, is no exception. The narrator lays bare the shame, cruelty and claustrophobic intimacies binding two difficult and unhappy people in a novel that is both hard to bear and impossible to put down
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Granta)
Two moments of popular resistance stand at the heart of Thien’s ambitious novel of Chinese history. The first takes place during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when a crackdown on western music was faced down on television by the Debussy expert He Luting. The second is the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989. Around these pivotal moments, Thien constructs a multi-generational epic that investigates how culture survives when families are driven apart and musicians are stripped of their art.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
Growing up as an only child in Switzerland during the second world war, Gustav has had to cultivate a stiff upper lip. His policeman father has died in disgrace after helping Jews in the supposedly neutral country. His best friend, Anton, is also Jewish: a highly-strung pianist whose artistic temperament is in marked contrast to Gustav’s frigid decency, and whose talent threatens to take him to a more glamorous life. ‘A perfect novel about life’s imperfection,’wrote Kate Kellaway.
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