The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.

 

 

My Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 Wishlist

It’s almost time! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced next Tuesday, 8th March. Once again, I’ll be shadowing the prize and for the second year running, I’ll be doing so with a panel. I’ll introduce you to the members of that panel on Friday.

For now though, here are the books I’d like to see appear on Tuesday’s list. They’re a combination of books I’ve loved and those I’m keen to read based on what I’ve heard about them so far. I’ve had to cull this list significantly to keep it to 20 books so, as usual, anything’s possible with the real one!

To be eligible, books have to be written in English and first published in the UK between 1st April 2015 and 31st March 2016. Publishers can enter three full length novels per imprint plus anything eligible by writers who have previously won the prize.

I’ve reviewed the first eleven titles – click on the covers to go to my reviews – and read the next three as well (reviews coming soon).

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Girl at War – Sara Nović

The war in Zagreb began over a packet of cigarettes.

Ana and her family usually go to the coast for the summer but this year, the year she turns ten, the Serbs have blocked the road. The couple they usually holiday with – her parents’ best friends, Petar and Marina – join Ana’s family for dinner the weekend of her birthday.

Petar plays a game with Ana: she runs to the shop to buy his cigarettes and he times her. If she beats her time, she gets to keep a few dinar from the change. Confident she’s about to set a new record, she sets off.

“Do you want Serbian cigarettes or Croatian ones?” The way he stressed the two nationalities sounded unnatural. I had heard people on the news talking about Serbs and Croats this way because of the fighting in the villages, but no one had ever said anything to me directly. And I didn’t want to buy the wrong kind of cigarettes.

“Can I have the ones I always get, please?”

“Serbian or Croatian?”

“You know. The gold wrapper?” I tried to see around his bulk pointing to the shelf behind him. But he just laughed and waved to another customer, who sneered at me.

Soon classmates are disappearing, air raids begin and the men are shaving their beards. Ana learns her family is on the ‘blue’ side, that of the Croatian National Guard.

Ana spends most of her time with her friend Luka biking around the town square. He’s always asked hypothetical questions and now he focuses on the war:

…what did Milošević mean when he said the country needed to be cleansed, and how was a war supposed to help when the explosions were making such a big mess? Why did the water keep running out if the pipes were underground, and if the bombings were breaking the pipes were we any safer in the shelters than in our houses?

Things become more difficult for Ana’s family when her younger sister, Rahela, falls ill. After she’s been vomiting for two weeks and their mother has spent days negotiating ‘the complex web of Communist healthcare’, they take Rahela to Slovenia to see a doctor. Dr. Carson is English and part of MediMission. She discovers Rahela’s kidneys aren’t functioning properly but without access to further medical care, she has to send them home with some medicine to see if Rahela’s condition can be stabilised. When it’s clear Rahela isn’t getting any better, their parents arrange for MediMission to send her to America to be treated. It’s the journey back from Sarajevo which triggers the events leading to the rest of the novel.

The book’s structured so it moves between ten-year-old Ana’s story and twenty-year-old Ana, a university student living in New York. When we first move to the older Ana, she’s going to give a speech at the UN about the war in Yugoslavia. Inevitably, this triggers memories of the time and a desire in Ana to return to Croatia and face the events of a decade ago.

Girl at War is a story of both a girl involved physically in her country’s civil war and mentally in the intervening decade as she fights to deal with the psychological consequences of what she’s seen and done. Some of the greatest scars are left by unknowns – whether people she was close to managed to survive.

Telling ten-year-old Ana’s story from the point of view of the twenty-year-old but with the naivety of the young girl works well. It allows Nović to deliver gruesome lines in such a matter-of-fact tone they hit hard. For example, when refugees arrive from Vukovar and Ana’s mother offers one some soup, he tells them:

“He took my wife,” the refugee said. “I heard her screaming through the wall.”

Luka and I just stared, afraid to move.

“He had a necklace strung with ears. Ears off people’s heads.”

There were several points I had to put the book down, unable to continue reading until I’d digested the enormity of what I’d just read. The horrors of war are clear but Nović’s pacing means they aren’t compacted so when a significant moment arrives it really packs a punch.

It’s difficult to believe that Girl at War is a debut novel. It’s powerful; it’s thoughtfully constructed; it highlights a war that’s not been widely written about and considers what it means to be a survivor: what’s lost and what’s gained. I suspect this will be making a lot of end of year lists, including mine.

 

Thanks to Little, Brown for the review copy.