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Art

Women’s Prize for Fiction – Celebrating the Best and Brightest of Women’s Literature

The coveted prize provides a longlist that reflects on a tumultuous year for culture and the arts

Celebrating the key achievements from women in fiction over the past year, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize, and before that, the Baileys Prize, usually focuses on novels that reveal different aspects of what it is to be a woman, femininity and the current issues that woman face. This year’s longlist, announced last month to a lot of chatter within the book community, as well as some ideally placed bookstands promoting the nominated titles, has brought together the most innovative and thought-provoking literature from the last year, from books dealing with issues of domestic abuse to historical dramas.

This year’s long-list includes the current bestseller, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon. The novel follows its eccentric protagonist Eleanor in her attempts to escape her rigid daily routine and deals with the problem of loneliness in younger people, particularly women.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, author of bestseller The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, centres on an elderly woman who is trying to deal with the secrets of her past. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, its cover is particularly appealing, made out of a jigsaw of a picture of Battenberg cake, assuring us that this will be a bittersweet read.

Elmet by Fiona Mosley has already been well acclaimed, having been short-listed alongside The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund for the Man Booker Prize. A contemporary debut based on Yorkshire legends, Elmet follows a family on the outskirts of society as they fight with their nemeses and head further towards tragedy.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, famous on every university literature course, is her first book since the novel that projected her to fame. Twenty years after her last novel, the book has been rated 4.2/5 on Waterstones’ website and transports us back to India to discuss the healing power of love.

A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert, famed for her novels surrounding the aftermath of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, brings us a new novel focusing on the Ukraine and the invasion of a small town by the SS. Sure to create tears, Winter‘s focus on a child’s experience of war is bound to be full of both heartbreak and tragedy, so get the tissues ready.

Miss Burma by Charmane Craig deals with the after-effects of war in South Eastern Asia, following the path of war-torn lovers Benny and Khin through the lenses of their daughter. Steeped in political turmoil and the conflicting loyalty of those who belong to two countries at once, the novel deals with the history of Burma and the issues it faced, including the plight of minority ethnic groups.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward twists the legacy of classic road-trip novels, following JoJo and his mother as they journey towards the prison that his father has just been released from. This take on the American novel unveils the limitations of freedom, as well as looking at how the road trip novel can be adapted to discuss contemporary issues.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan focuses on the first female diver, Anna, and her time during the war. Opening in the Great Depression, the book centres on an element of war fiction that has not been covered to the extent that it should have in the past: the role of women during the war and their experience of men’s roles.

Very recently released, The Trick To Time by Kit De Waal reflects on the passionate affair between a young Irish girl following her move to England and how tragedy forced them to go their separate ways also affected her future. This is one of the books I am most excited to read, being set in a place and decade that is not often covered and is surprisingly near to home: 1970s Birmingham.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, discussing the nature of sacrifice and the entwining of politics and love, is another novel focusing on very relevant issues in the current moment. It follows Isma, a Muslim girl studying in America as she worries about the rest of her family members, including her brother, who intends to follow his father’s jihadist legacy, until she meets politician Eamonn.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, with its blurb showing its basis in medieval balladry and oral story-telling, reimagines the mystery of the murder of Lizzie Borden. A historical drama that is more Making a Murderer than Downton Abbey, Schmidt creates both a chilling and compelling portrait of Lizzie and her familial home.

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy, whose subtitle interacts with the borders of literary fiction, delves into an ongoing issue that has been often raised in fiction, not just, but especially, for women. The conflict between the innocent love of a young woman for a man and his domestic abuse, combined with familial pressure is dealt with here, turning what seems to be a perfect marriage into a monstrous social construct.

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker is the post-apocalyptic novel with a twist. Set in a dystopian universe, it explores the cracks and follies of what a perfect world would look like, and the consequences of possible happiness.

And, like us all, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, focuses on a young student contemplating whether she can drop out of adulthood. Questioning the role of culture and love in our identity and everyday life, the novel is about Selin’s experiences teaching English in a Hungarian village and the surprises she finds.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar is about- yes, you’ve guessed it- a mermaid. Part historical drama and part magical realism, the novel toys with the boundaries of both genres, following the trends of Sarah Waters and other prolific writers of historical romps.

And, finally, Sight by Jessie Greengrass, weaves personal recollections with medical history as it winds around the concept of motherhood, reflecting on parenting in all its forms, from the mothers that raise us and the generations before us, to the long 9 months of pregnancy that women experience to bring a child into their life.