After hours of deliberation – during the reading of the longlist, the rereading of our shortlisted titles and over dinner – we have chosen a winner and it is:
How to be both – Ali Smith
We felt that How to be both is an impressive achievement, a major and significant piece of writing. We all particularly enjoyed the ‘modern’/George section: the way Smith plays with language; the ambiguities that she writes into the narrative (this is, of course, also true of the ‘historical’ section), and the way the George section is illuminated further by the Francescho section (we felt that the George section was stronger than the Francescho section but enjoyed the way they played off each other). As an interesting aside, we all commented on the scene where George and Helena play with the shopping trolley in the car park – such a vivid piece of writing. How to be both is a worthy winner.
We’ve had a discussion group set up since the longlist was revealed and we’ve posted regularly as to what we thought about the books as we were reading – there were some brilliant (and sometimes very heated) discussions.
Shortlisting, however, was a lot simpler than we thought it would be. There were five books that the majority of us agreed on. The sixth slotted into place very quickly from the remaining books that two or more of us had put forward as worthy of a place on our shortlist.
When it came to deciding a winner, we met in person (see photo. Dan unfortunately couldn’t join us so made his wishes known and they were taken into account at every stage). We had a very lengthy discussion talking about each of the books on our shortlist – pros and cons – where we agreed and disagreed about their qualities. At the end of the discussion, there was only one book we could agree wouldn’t be our winner.
We decided that we’d each list our top two books – unranked – to see if there was commonality there. It was clear at this point that How to be both featured in five out of six of our top two books and we had our winner.
I think what’s also interesting here is that How to be both was half of the panel’s top book – the other half of the panel named The Country of Ice Cream Star as their top book. I mention this not just because I personally love that book but because we felt that the achievement of Sandra Newman in creating a world so fully realised, using a created dialect and taking us along – making us care for Ice Cream Star and her quest – deserved to be acknowledged.
Shadowing the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction with five fantastic people and passionate readers has been a brilliant experience. We hope you’ve enjoyed following it as much as we enjoyed taking part.