My Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 Wishlist

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-20-31-51

It’s almost that time of year again; The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist is announced on International Women’s Day, Wednesday 8th March. Once again, I’ll be charing a shadow panel, the other members of which I’ll introduce on Friday. Before both of those things though, I’m going to have a stab in the dark at what might be on the longlist. My success rate is why I refer to this post as my wishlist as opposed to a prediction.

This year the longlist has been reduced from 20 to 12 titles, making it easier to read along and debate what might make the shortlist. Eligible titles are those published between the 1st April 2016 and the 31st March 2017 and written in English.

I’ve reviewed all of the titles I’ve chosen except Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò, which I’ll review this week, and Autumn by Ali Smith (which I’ve read but not yet reviewed); click on the covers of the other books to read my reviews.

j0trrhscovermethode2ftimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2ff48fd942-916d-11e6-91d4-91c7eaaf09d6

cover51w1xmznjfl9781509826575little20deaths

51y6zivk-el462742583041x52bsts9ul-_sx337_bo1204203200_

3134957941no-ogymgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_28390369

In the Media, January 2017

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

coverstory-swartz-themarch-1000x1371-1485494439

Image by Abigail Grey Swartz

Where is there to start other than with articles about the new American regime?

On the Women’s March:

On Melania:

rebeccatraister-headshot

On American society under Trump:

On Trump:

ad124595885ellis-samantha-b-e1389797462774

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

5335

Personal essays/memoir:

janpalmaresmeadows

Feminism:

mti3mji4ody3mdixnjc0otc0

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

yaa-gyasi

The interviews/profiles:

tracey-thorn

The regular columnists:

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing tells the tale of two branches of the same family, beginning in West Africa in the 1770s and ending somewhere close to the present day.

“Your mother was once a slave for a Fante family. She was raped by her master because he too was a Big Man and big men can do what they please, lest they appear weak, eh?” Esi looked away, and Abronoma continued in a whisper. “You are not your mother’s first daughter. There was one before you. And in my village we have a saying about separated sisters. They are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.”

It starts with two sisters. Effia is born on a night when ‘a fire raged through the woods’. When Baaba, her father’s first wife fails to produce any milk, the villages say it’s because Effia ‘was born of the fire’. After we’re told of Baaba beating Effia and conspiring to marry her to a white slave trader against her father’s wishes, we discover that her mother was a house girl who fled the night Effia was born.

Unbeknownst to Effia, she has a sister whose cries she’s heard in the dungeon of her husband’s castle. Esi spent her fifteenth birthday in there, having been captured by men from a rival tribe and sold to the slave traders. At the conclusion of her chapter, she is shipped out to America.

Before Esi left, the one called Governor looked at her and smiled. It was a kind smile, pitying, yet true. But for the rest of her life Esi would see a smile on a white face and remember the one the soldier gave her before taking her to his quarters, how white men smiling just meant more evil was coming with the next wave.

j0trrhs

Gyasi then takes a risk with the structure of the book: each chapter alternates between the two sisters’ timelines and moves forward along their family line so chapter three follows Quey, Effia’s son, who handles trade between the West Africans and the British, and chapter four, Ness, Esi daughter, who is a slave, cotton picking in Alabama. Each new chapter means a new viewpoint and a new point in time. It means figuring out whose story you’re following. In the hands of a lesser writer this could have been a disaster but Gyasi handles it with aplomb, employing a couple of neat tricks to aid the reader: the first, is that once you’re into the rhythm of the structure, you begin the next chapter looking for clues as to how this character is related to the previous one from that branch of the family (there is a family tree in the front of the book but I never referred to it, where’s the fun in that? Also, I never felt I needed to, the clarity of the character’s position was present in their story); the second is that Gyasi interweaves repetition both thematically and in small details. Once you become attuned to this, there’s a joy in spotting the links. For example, one character in Effia’s branch of the family, hires a house girl who insists on bringing her own handmade broom with her. In the parallel chapter in Esi’s branch, Sonny’s mother storms into the police station to bail him out

…holding her tattered coat in the one hand and a broom in the other. She had been cleaning houses on the Upper East Side for as long as Sonny could remember, and she didn’t trust the brooms white people kept around and so she always brought her own, carrying it from subway station to subway station to street to house’.

What’s most impressive about Homegoing though is that it’s essentially the story of the creation of blackness as a race. It follows the family through slavery, white missionaries in Africa, Jim Crow, NAACP, all the key moments in which whites framed what it means to be black, writing a narrative which continues to prevail. While this underpins the novel, it never overwhelms it. The heart of the story belongs to the family, considering what your ancestors mean for the life you might lead, which runs alongside the idea of the role of structural inequality and how that impacts on prospects and lifestyles. There’s a wonderful passage where the intersection of these two things is highlighted. Again, this is from Sonny’s chapter and he’s gone to his mum’s house for Sunday dinner:

She took a sip of her drink and stared off into space. “White men get a choice. They get to choose they job, choose they house. They get to make black babies, then disappear into thin air, like they wasn’t never there to begin with, like these black women they slept with or raped done laid on top of themselves and got pregnant. White men get to choose for black men too. Used to sell ’em; now they just send ’em to prison like they did my daddy, so that they can be with they kids. Just about breaks my heart to see you, my son, my daddy’s grandson, over here with these babies walking up and down Harlem who barely even know your name, let alone your face. Alls I can think is this ain’t the way it’s s’posed to be. There are things you ain’t learned from me, things you picked up from your father even though you ain’t know him, things he picked up from white men. It makes me sad to see my son a junkie after all the marchin’ I done, but makes me sadder to see you thinkin’ you can leave like your daddy did. You keep doin’ what you doin’ and the white man don’t got to do it no more. He ain’t got to sell you or put you in a coal mine to own you. He’ll own you just as is, and he’ll say you the one who did it. He’ll say it’s your fault.”

Homegoing is the full package: engrossing storytelling on a large canvas, brought to life through small, beautifully written details. If you only read one novel this year, make it this one; Homegoing is a masterpiece.

 

 

Thanks to Penguin Books/Viking for the review copy.

Ones to Read in 2017

One of the joys of running this blog is getting to read advance copies of books I’ve been looking forward to as well as titles from new writers being published in the first half of 2017. I’ve read a whole host of books, mostly fiction – novels, novellas, short stories, and I’ve selected ten I think are must reads.

All publication dates are correct as of 2nd January 2017 for UK publication.

wcajcy8

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Effia Otcher and Esi are sisters, unaware of each other’s existence. In 1775, Effia’s mother, who beats her and is manipulative, conspires to marry her to one of the white slave traders. Effia goes to live with him in Cape Coast Castle, unaware that Esi is in the dungeon, packed tight with other women – alive and dead – waiting to be shipped to America. Gyasi then follows the two women’s timelines through to the present day. The story alternates between West Africa and America, each chapter told by one of the offspring of the previous character in that branch of the family tree and becoming a guide to the creation of black as a race. It’s an incredible piece of work. If you only read one book in 2017, make it this one.

Published 5th January 2017 by Viking

cover

Homesick for Another World – Ottessa Moshfegh

If you thought the title character in Eileen was despicable, wait until you meet those who populate Moshfegh’s first short story collection. From a teacher who spends her summer break slumming it with drug addicts to the old white dude who tries to hit on his young neighbour to the girl who’s convinced she needs to kill a particular person in order to go to a better place, all of Moshfegh’s characters are unlikeable in some way. But that’s also because they’re real, their lives like ours. And that’s the beauty of her work. This is a brilliant collection; Moshfegh’s rapidly establishing herself as one of the best writers of her generation.

Published 12th January 2017 by Jonathan Cape

41x52bsts9ul-_sx337_bo1204203200_

First Love – Gwendoline Riley

Neve, a writer in her mid-thirties, is married to Edwyn, an older man. She documents their turbulent relationship alongside an earlier reacquaintance with an ex-boyfriend and the relationships she had with her mother and father. All are manipulative and abusive in different ways and to varying degrees. Riley’s writing is razor sharp. She places the reader in Neve’s position and it never feels less than real. Packs a literal and metaphorical punch, leaving space for interpretation and discussion.

Published 2nd February 2017 by Granta

the-end-we-start-from-by-megan-hunter

 

The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

As the sea-level rises around the UK, a woman gives birth to a boy her and her husband name Z. They leave for the mountains where her husband, R, grew up. Before long, queues are forming for food and basics and the family starts to disintegrate as R mistrusts the authorities and the unnamed narrator wants to protect Z. Taut, beautifully written, this tense novella will keep you gripped. I read it in one sitting and returned to it the following day.

Published 18th May 2017 by Picador

9781509826575little20deaths

 

Little Deaths – Emma Flint

Queens, NYC, 1965. Ruth Malone’s in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband when her two children Frankie, five, and Cindy, four, go missing from her apartment and are later found murdered. When the police discover Malone drinks, dates and takes care of herself they’re determined to pin the murders on her. A page-turner which explores patriarchal attitudes to women who don’t play the angel. Rage-inducing but gripping.

Published 12th January 2017 by Picador. 

31349579

 

Stay With Me – Ayòbámi Adébáyò

When Yejide fails to conceive, her husband, Akin, is convinced by his mother-in-law to take a second wife who will deliver the grandson she so desperately desires. Yejide is horrified at becoming a first wife and Akin feels little better about the arrangement but it will change both of their lives and their marriage for better and for worse. Told from alternating points of view Adébáyò explores the effect of patriarchal society on women and men with thriller-like pace and twists. Gripping and thoughtful.

Published 2nd March 2017 by Canongate.

cover1Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life – Samantha Ellis

If you enjoyed the BBC’s To Walk Invisible over Christmas, or can only name two of the Brontë sisters and their work, or have long been a fan of Anne and are glad someone else gets it, then Samantha Ellis’ investigation into who Anne Brontë was, her work and why we know so little about her is one for you. Ellis examines Anne through those who were closest to her and her two novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The Anne Brontë reassessment/revival begins here.

Published 12th January 2017 by Chatto & Windus

 

Difficult30644520 Women – Roxane Gay

Third mention for the ‘p’ word but the women in Roxane Gay’s short story collection are only difficult because they break the rules the patriarchy imposes on them. Often they’re punished for it though – from the sisters who are kidnapped to the stripper followed home by a client – and question their worth to society. Written in clear, brutal prose, Gay shows how race, class, sexuality and gender affect average women every single day.

Published 3rd January by Corsair

51jcozwbqzl-_sx352_bo1204203200_

 

The Things We Thought We Knew – Mahsuda Snaith

Ravine Roy has chronic pain syndrome and hasn’t left her mother’s council flat since her best friend, Marianne, disappeared ten years ago. Now she’s eighteen, her mum’s determined to get her out, starting with voting in the General Election. But Ravine’s got other things to worry about such as writing to Marianne, wondering who her mother’s companion is, and the noises coming from the unoccupied flat next door. If you loved The Trouble with Goats and Sheep or My Name Is LeonThe Things We Thought We Knew is your summer 2017 read.

Published 15th June 2017 by Doubleday

4111fppgtel-_ac_ul320_sr198320_See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

Schmidt takes the infamous case of Lizzie Borden and explores what might have happened on the days surrounding the murder of Borden’s father and stepmother. The narrative moves between Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget and a young man called Benjamin, unknown to all but the Borden’s Uncle John, their late-mother’s brother. Schmidt creates a claustrophobic atmosphere placing the reader in the centre of a house stifling with heat and tensions. Gripping.

Published 2nd May by Tinder Press

In the Media, June 2016, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

cknt8o0veaeuer4

It’s impossible to begin with anything other than the Stanford rape case. The victim’s court statement was published on Buzzfeed and went viral. The piece, along with responses from Brock Turner’s father and friends, including a female friend who defended him, have prompted some impassioned and powerful pieces: Louise O’Neill wrote, ‘20 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re the one being raped‘ in the Irish Examiner; Estelle B. Freedman, ‘When Feminists Take On Judges Over Rape‘ in The New York Times; Sarah Lunnie, ‘Maybe the word “rapist” is a problem: The utility of nouns and verbs, or accepting who we are and what we do‘ on Salon; Adrienne LaFrance, ‘What Happens When People Stop Talking About the Stanford Rape Case?‘ on The Atlantic; Kim Saumell, ‘I was never raped but…‘ on Medium; Rebecca Makkai, ‘The Power and Limitations of Victim-Impact Statements‘ in The New Yorker; Roe McDermott, ‘He Said Nothing‘ on The Coven; Glosswitch, ‘Does the outrage over the Stanford rape case do anything to help victims?‘ in the New Statesman

000c5c99-630

The other big news this fortnight was Lisa McInerney’s debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, taking The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. Justine Jordan wrote, ‘Sweary Lady’s riot of invention is a well-deserved winner of the Baileys prize‘ in The Guardian. While McInerney wrote about her working day for The Guardian and shared a secret in ‘Bad Behaviourism‘ on Scottish Book Trust

There’s a new series on Literary Hub about women writers in translation. Written by a group of translators, each fortnight they’re looking at a country and the women writers from there yet to be translated into English. So far they’ve covered Germany, China and Italy. I’ve added it to the regulars at the bottom of the page.

And finally, the excellent Jendella Benson has a new column on Media Diversified. This week’s is ‘How to Raise a Champion‘ and I’ve also added her to the list of regulars at the bottom of the page.

speaker-26

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

original

Personal essays/memoir:

jessica-valenti

Feminism:

hannah-jones_nikole_rz

Society and Politics:

Dan Phillips

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

9587188

The interviews/profiles:

headshot

The regular columnists: