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The Women’s prize for fiction longlist

by | Mar 6, 2024 | News

 

Anne Enright, Kate Grenville and Isabella Hammad are among the writers longlisted for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction.

Debut novelists make up half of the 16-strong longlist. Booker-shortlisted British author Chetna Maroo has made the list for her first novel Western Lane, which explores grief, sisterhood and sport, while American writer Maya Binyam was chosen for Hangman, about a man who returns to his unnamed home nation to find his dying brother.   The longlist, which has been curated by a panel of judges including Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ, Laura Dockrill, Indira Varma, Anna Whitehouse and chair of judges Monica Ali, features both debut and bestselling writers and is full of imaginative storytelling.           

“With the strength and vitality of contemporary women’s fiction very much in evidence, reading the entries for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction has been a joyful experience,” Ali said. “Of course this made it all the more difficult to select the longlist, but after much lively discussion amongst the judges we are delighted with the 16 titles selected.

“Each one of these books is brilliant, original and utterly unputdownable. Collectively, they offer a wide array of compelling narratives from around the world, written with verve, wit, passion and compassion. They are books that will engage readers’ hearts and minds, they are filled with indelible characters, and they do what stories can do so powerfully: unsettle and disturb as well as surprise and delight.” Three Irish authors appear on this year’s list: Enright, Megan Nolan and Claire Kilroy. Enright, who has been shortlisted for the prize twice, was longlisted a fifth time for The Wren, The Wren, while Nolan has made the list for her second novel, Ordinary Human Failings, about the family of a child accused of murder. Kilroy was longlisted for Soldier Sailor, which judge and actor Indira Varma said is a “beautiful and harrowing novel about what it can feel like to be a first-time mother”.

British-Palestinian writer Hammad was longlisted for Enter Ghost, which is about a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Ali said the book is “deeply nuanced and subtle” and “would have been as relevant a decade ago, or even two decades ago, as it is now.” Enter Ghost was one of several books on the list, along with Hangman, Nightbloom by Peace Adzo Medie and River East, River West by Aube Rey Lescure, dealing with “issues of migration and immigration”, said Ali. “Which I guess is not that surprising, given that it’s one of the most pressing and debated issues of our time.”

Ali and Varma were joined on the judging panel by author Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, author and illustrator Laura Dockrill, and presenter and author Anna Whitehouse. “I’ve never been in a book club, ever,” said Ali. “So this is, for me, like being in a book club for the first time, talking about books with a group of really smart women.”

Grenville, who won the Women’s prize – then called the Orange prize – in 2001 for The Idea of Perfection, has this time been longlisted for Restless Dolly Maunder. “It begins in the 1880s in rural Australia, and it follows Dolly’s ambitions to live a bigger life than the one she’s been given,” said Varma. VV Ganeshananthan, who was longlisted for the prize in 2009 for Love Marriage, has been chosen this year for Brotherless Night, which is set during the Sri Lankan civil war. “Visceral, historical, emotional. It is 300 pages of must-read prose,” said Whitehouse. Completing the longlist are In Defence of the Act by Effie Black, And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliott, The Maiden by Kate Foster, 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster by Mirinae Lee, The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord and A Trace of Sun by Pam Williams.

 

A shortlist of six titles will be announced on 24 April, and the winner will be announced on 13 June, along with the winner of the inaugural Women’s prize for non-fiction. The winning author will receive a cheque for £30,000 and a bronze statuette known as the “Bessie”, created by the artist Grizel Niven.

Recent winners of the prize include Ruth Ozeki for The Book of Form & Emptiness, Susanna Clarke for Piranesi and Maggie O’Farrell for Hamnet. Last year, Barbara Kingsolver won the prize for Demon Copperhead, which also won the Pulitzer prize for fiction.        

 

The 16 books that made the longlist.

Hangman by Maya Binyam

A man returns home to sub-Saharan Africa after 26 years of living in exile in America. When he arrives, he finds that he doesn’t recognise the country or anyone in it. Thankfully, someone at the airport knows him – a man who calls him brother. As they travel to this man’s house, the purpose of his visit comes into focus: he is here to find his real brother, who is dying.   Hangman is his tragicomic journey through homecoming and loss. It is a hilarious and twisted odyssey, peopled by phantoms and tricksters, aid workers and taxi drivers, and the relatives and riddles that lead this man along a circuitous path towards the truth. This is the strangely honest story of one man’s search for refuge – in this world and the one that lies beyond it.

In Defence of the Act by Effie Black

In Defence Of The Act tells the story of Jessica Miller, a suicide researcher who secretly believes that suicide might actually be a good thing. Until something happens that makes her question everything.

Jessica holds opinions that might initially shock some readers, viewing the world via a detached, scientific lens. But through Jessica’s surprisingly funny narration, Effie Black confronts the difficult topic of suicide head-on, while weaving in themes of grief, trauma, forgiveness and resilience.

And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliott

On the surface, Alice is exactly where she should be in life: she’s just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, Dawn; her ever-charming husband Steve, a white academic whose area of study is conveniently her own Mohawk culture, is nothing but supportive; and they’ve moved into a new home in a wealthy neighbourhood in Toronto, a generous gift from her in-laws.

But Alice could not feel more like an imposter. She isn’t bonding with Dawn, a struggle made more difficult by the recent loss of her own mother. Every waking moment is spent hiding her despair from Steve and their picture-perfect neighbours, among whom she’s the sole Indigenous resident.

Her perpetual self-doubt hinders the one vestige of her old life she has left: writing a modern retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. And then strange things start happening.

The Wren, The Wren by Anne Enright

Nell – funny, brave and so very loved – is a young woman with adventure on her mind. As she sets out into the world, she finds her family history hard to escape. For her mother, Carmel, Nell leaving home opens a space in her heart where the turmoil of a lifetime begins to churn. And across the generations falls the long shadow of Carmel’s famous father, an Irish poet of beautiful words and brutal actions.

The Maiden by Kate Foster

Edinburgh, October 1679. Christian Nimmo is arrested and charged with the murder of her lover, James Forrester. News of her imprisonment and subsequent trial is splashed across the broadsides, with headlines that leave little room for doubt: adulteress, whore, murderess.

Only a year before, Lady Christian was leading a life of privilege and respectability. So what led her to risk everything for an affair? And does that make her guilty of murder? She wasn’t the only woman in Forrester’s life and certainly not the only one who might have had cause to wish him dead…

Brotherless Night by VV Ganeshananthan

Sixteen-year-old Sashi wants to become a doctor. But over the next decade, as a vicious civil war subsumes Sri Lanka, her dream takes her on a different path as she watches those around her, including her four beloved brothers and their best friend, get swept up in violent political ideologies and their consequences. She must ask herself: is it possible for anyone to move through life without doing harm?

Restless Dolly Maunder by Kate Grenville

Dolly Maunder is born at the end of the 19th century, when society’s long-locked doors are just starting to creak ajar for determined women. Growing up in a poor farming family in rural New South Wales, Dolly spends her life doggedly pushing at those doors.

Restless Dolly Maunder is a subversive, triumphant tale of a pioneering woman working her way through a world of limits and obstacles, who is able – despite the cost – to make a life she could call her own.

Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad

After years away from her family’s homeland and reeling from a disastrous love affair, actor Sonia Nasir returns to Haifa to visit her older sister Haneen. While Haneen made a life here commuting to Tel Aviv to teach at the university, Sonia remained in London to focus on her acting career and now dissolute marriage. On her return, she finds her relationship with Palestine is fragile, both bone-deep and new.

When Sonia meets the charismatic and candid Mariam, a local director, she joins a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Soon, Sonia is rehearsing Gertrude’s lines in classical Arabic with a dedicated group of men who, in spite of competing egos and priorities, all want to bring Shakespeare to that side of the wall. As opening night draws closer and the warring intensifies, it becomes clear just how many obstacles stand before the troupe.

Soldier Sailor by Claire Kilroy

In her acclaimed new novel, Claire Kilroy creates an unforgettable heroine, whose fierce love for her young son clashes with the seismic change to her own identity.

As her marriage strains and she struggles with questions of autonomy, creativity and the passing of time, an old friend makes a welcome return – but can he really offer her a lifeline to the woman she used to be?

8 Lives Of A Century-Old Trickster by Mirinae Lee

At the Golden Sunset retirement home, it is not unusual for residents to invent stories. So when elderly Ms Mook first begins to unspool her memories, the obituarist listening to her is sceptical.

Stories of captivity, friendship, murder, adventure, assumed identities and spying. Stories that take place in WWII Indonesia; in Seoul during the Korean War; in cold-war Pyongyang; in China. The stories are so colourful and various, at times so unbelievable, that they cannot surely all belong to the same woman. Can they?

Playful and thought-provoking, and as brutal and harrowing as it is achingly poignant and tender, this is a novel about love and war, deceit and betrayal, about identity, storytelling and the trickery required for survival.

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord

The world is changing, and humanity must change with it. Rising seas and soaring temperatures have radically transformed the face of Earth. Meanwhile, the planet is being observed from afar by other civilisations… and now they are ready to make contact.

Vying to prepare humanity for first contact are a group of dreamers and changemakers, including Peter Hendrix, the genius inventor behind the most advanced VR tech; Charyssa, a beloved celebrity icon with a passion for humanitarian work; and Kanoa, a member of a global council of young people drafted to reimagine the relationship between humankind and alien societies.

And they may have an unexpected secret weapon: Owen, a pop megastar whose ability to connect with his adoring fans is more than charisma. His hidden talent could be the key to uniting Earth as it looks toward the stars. But Owen’s abilities are so unique that no one can control him and so seductive that he cannot help but use them. Can he transcend his human limitations and find the freedom he has always dreamed about? Or is he doomed to become the dictator of his nightmares?

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters. Her life is reduced to the sport, guided by its rhythms: the serve, the volley, the drive, the shot and its echo. But on the court, she is not alone.

An unforgettable coming-of-age story, Chetna Maroo’s first novel is a moving exploration of the closeness of sisterhood, the immigrant experience and the collective overcoming of grief.

Nightbloom by Peace Adzo Medie

Selasi and Akorfa are cousins, born on the same day in 1985. Growing up in a small Ghanaian town, they share everything: whispered late-night conversations, dreams for the future and secrets. But as they enter their teens, Selasi begins to change, constructing a wall around herself to keep everyone away. Soon, Akorfa no longer recognises her sad, withdrawn friend.

It will take many years for their paths to cross again. Akorfa now works in international development as she navigates the challenges of life as a Black woman and mother in the US; Selasi has finally made it as a successful restaurateur, running the hottest spot in Accra. When one of Selasi’s staff is threatened by a corrupt government minister, she and Akorfa must overcome their differences and face the truth of what happened all those years ago to stop the past from repeating itself.

Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan

It’s 1990 in London and Tom Hargreaves has it all: a burgeoning career as a reporter, fierce ambition and a brisk disregard for the ‘peasants’ – ordinary people, his readers, easy tabloid fodder. His star looks set to rise when he stumbles across a scoop: a dead child on a London estate, grieving parents loved across the neighbourhood and the finger of suspicion pointing at one reclusive family of Irish immigrants and ‘bad apples’: the Greens.

At their heart sits Carmel: beautiful, otherworldly, broken and once destined for a future beyond her circumstances until life – and love – got in her way. Crushed by failure and surrounded by disappointment, there’s nowhere for her to go and no chance of escape. Now, with the police closing in on a suspect and the tabloids hunting their monster, she must confront the secrets and silences that have trapped her family for so many generations.

River East, River West by Aube Rey Lescure

A mesmerising reversal of the east-west immigrant narrative set against China’s economic boom, River East, River West is a deeply moving exploration of race, identity and family, of capitalism’s false promise and private dreams.

Shanghai, 2007: feeling betrayed by her American mother’s engagement to their rich landlord Lu Fang, 14-year-old Alva begins plotting her escape. But the exclusive American School – a potential ticket out – is not what she imagined.

Qingdao, 1985: newlywed Lu Fang works as a lowly shipping clerk. Though he aspires to a bright future, he is one of many casualties of harsh political reforms. Then China opens up to foreigners and capital, and Lu Fang meets a woman who makes him question what he should settle for.

A Trace Of Sun by Pam Williams

Raef is left behind in Grenada when his mother, Cilla, follows her husband to England in search of a better life. When they are finally reunited seven years later, they are strangers – and the emotional impact of the separation leads to events that rip their family apart. As they try to move forward with their lives, his mother’s secret will make Raef question all he’s ever known of who he is.          

 

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