Today brings the announcement of which 6 books from the extraordinary 16 longlisted titles remain in contention for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Though the world has changed dramatically over the course of the six weeks since the longlist was announced, the prize board has decided to proceed with the shortlist announcement as scheduled, but to delay the final award announcement until September.
Despite the added home responsibilities of homeschooling and what I am calling my “frontier mama” existence of making things from scraps and scratch, I have been able to squeeze in reading fairly consistently and have, therefore, made it through fourteen and a half of the sixteen nominees. The sixteenth book, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, is essentially impossible to get in the US, so I am begrudgingly but patiently awaiting my copy from across the pond. The half is the spectacular “The Mirror and the Light” by Hilary Mantel, because it is nearly 900 pages long and I had eloans from the library that had to be read before they disappeared and and and….
Okay. Here are my selections for what I think should be the top books among the sixteen nominated for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – True, I haven’t even finished it yet, BUT what I have read is as good as it gets and it is the third in a trilogy in which the first two books were exquisite and BOTH won the Booker Prize. Mantel feels like a gimme.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – I know! I haven’t even touched a copy. But O’Farrell is a beautiful writer, her newest work sold out in the US even though I pre-ordered a copy, and it is on the lists of bookish folk everywhere. So there.
Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo – As I mentioned in my earlier post about this year’s prize, Evaristo’s novel is an absolute treasure. This free verse novel of intergenerational, queer, feminist delight won the Booker Prize, and I don’t think it is a bit greedy for it to gobble up the Women’s Prize as well.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – I am not a classicist, but in the last few years, I feel like I could play one on TV thanks to profound retellings by artists like Natalie Haynes, Madeline Miller, and Pat Barker. A Thousand Ships weaves together the deeper stories of countless women who received only a line in the epics of old – The Odyssey and the Illiad, for instance. It is a feminist retelling of history and lore, and I am Here. For. It.
Weather by Jenny Offill – Jenny Offill is a goddamn genius. This contemporary story of life and chaos and the maddening voices in society and in our heads is Offill at her finest. Even though I read this novel only 6 weeks ago, I feel like it would read differently in the new world in which we live, with Offill’s characters’ insular and incisive personalities being even more charming and familiar.
Number 6 … I can’t do it!!! I have 5 books that I would rate 4½ stars and can’t seem to put one above the others. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, How We Disappeared by Jing Jing Lee, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara, and The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. I read three of these longer ago (prior to the announcement), so judging them against the others is an even more difficult proposition. So I just won’t. My list contains 5. And then 5 more.
Later today we’ll see how my votes stack up against those of the Women’s Prize panel. Until then and always, happy bookish thoughts!