The 2011 Orange Prize Longlist

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Last week I predicted which books would make the Orange longlist. I correctly guessed eight of them, which I thought was quite good considering that I didn’t even know which books had been submitted.

The longlisted books:

  • Room – Emma Donoghue
  • The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna
  • Annabel – Kathleen Winter 
  • Louise Doughty – Whatever You Love 
  • Nicole Krauss – Great House DNF
  • Roma Tearne – The Swimmer DNF
  • Téa Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife DNF
  • Emma Henderson – Grace Williams Says it Loud DNF
  • Leila Aboulela – Lyrics Alley
  • Carol Birch – Jamrach’s Menagerie
  • Tishani Doshi – The Pleasure Seekers
  • Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Aminatta Forna – The Memory of Love
  • Tessa Hadley – The London Train
  • Samantha Hunt – The Seas
  • Lola Shoneyin – The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
  • Wendy Law-Yone – The Road to Wanting
  • Julie Orringer – The Invisible Bridge
  • Anne Peile – Repeat it Today with Tears
  • Karen Russell – Swamplandia!

NB: DNF = Started book, but did not finish it.

My immediate thoughts on looking at the list were of disappointment. Why didn’t the outstanding The History of History by Ida Hattemer-Higgins make it? What about the quirky, entertaining When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman?






I was very happy to see Room by Emma Donoghue and The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna, but many of the other books on the list have failed to engage me. I have tried and given up on a surprising percentage. It looks as though the Orange Prize judges all share a taste in books as I can see many similarites in style and have noticed that plot isn’t a high priority for any of them. This worries me when I think about tackling the rest of the long list.






Are any books with fantastic plots hiding in the longlist?

Have I just been unlucky in reading books with a similar style? Is the rest of the list more diverse?

I am going to try the entire longlist, but I am not going to complete them all. I love the way these prizes introduce me to many books that I haven’t heard of, but I’m no longer going to force myself to complete anything that I’m not enjoying. I’m especially looking forward to reading  The Invisible Bridge, A Visit from the Goon Squad and Swamplandia!, but I am also interested in trying the ones that I haven’t heard of before.

Which books are you looking forward to reading?

What do you think of the Orange longlist?

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  1. Jackie-

    I think your observation that the longlist seems to privilege style over narrative is accurate, at least from the six of these I’ve read. In my view, most awards like this are awards from writers/critics rather than from readers, who tend to favor plot and character. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, just a trend.

    And I would second the vote for THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE. Great, sweeping story. Beautifully set. Super long.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Reading Ape, In previous years the Orange prize has managed to balance the two. They used to have a nice mixture of books with great plots + those with “style”. Perhaps I’m just unlucky to have come across the style ones first?

      I’ve just ordered The Invisible Bridge from the library (along with several other ones). I noticed it was very long – but I love that! I look forward to getting hold of it.

  2. I’ve had a little better luck than you have with the ones I’ve read. I managed to have already read 5 of the 20 and rated all of them at least 4 stars (although two: Great House and Swamplandia! were rated that high because of the writing rather than the plot, so be wary.) Otherwise, several of the settings (history and place) appeal to me immensely. I’m really looking forward to this list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Oh no! I thought Swamplandia might have a plot. :-( I gave up on Great House at the weekend after becoming frustrated by it. I really hope I have more success with the rest of the list.

      1. It starts strong, but it meandered a bit much and there were times it was clear it started as a short story. I still liked it, but I really loved the first third or so. I hope you enjoy it!

        1. Jackie says:

          Carrie, It seems as though several on the longlist meander. Thanks for warning me about it. I look forward to at least enjoying the beginning.

  3. Jessica says:

    ah I might read some of the shortlist but none of them grab me at the moment. I really didn’t like Roma Tearne’s Brixton Beach which has put me off her others.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, I thought Brixton Beach was OK. The Swimmer was slightly better, but the plot did nothing to grab my attention and so I abandoned it.

  4. Jenners says:

    In think you did great in your predictions. I’ve heard lots of good things about Swamplandia.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yes. That is the book I was most excited about, but Carrie’s comments above have made me more cautious. Let’s hope we enjoy it.

  5. parrish says:

    The room is everywhere this year & yet ive yet to read it, will have to try & remedy that. The God was a rabbit sounds fun so another possible for the TBR.

    1. Jackie says:

      Parrish, I loved Room. I hope that you do too :-)

  6. FleurFisher says:

    You did brilliantly on the predictions, particularly as there seemed to be less obvious books than some years. I’ve only read two (Room which i agree with you on, and Whatever You Love, which I finished but thought got lost midway and never quite recovered) and, unusually, none of the others are in my TBR. I’ve put some orders in at the library, but you’re a braver woman than I setting out to sample the full set.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, It sounds as though we had very similar opinions on Whatever You Love. I have now ordered almost all the longlist from the library (three weren’t available) so hopefully I’ll be able to find a few gems lurking in the list. I’ll be keeping a close eye on what others think of them. I don’t want to waste too much time on them if it turns out they all lack plot and that magical spark I look for in books.

  7. Brenna says:

    Jackie, You did a great job in your predictions! 8 out of 20 is remarkable. With that being said, I haven’t read ONE book from the longlist (sigh) but after reading each of their synopses I am making it a goal to buy and read Jamrach’s Menagerie before the shortlist is announced. That one really caught my attention. Then after the shortlist is announced I am going to choose one from that to read before the award is announced. Good luck tackling the rest of the list. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, I haven’t heard anything about Jamrach’s Menagerie so I look formard to hearing your thoughts on it. It is quite sad that so few books are catching people’s attention this year. Hopefully some good ones will start bubbling to the surface.

      1. Rebecca says:

        Why dont you try We All Ran Into The Sunlight by Natalie Young. It’s a debut novel with no high street promotion but it’s excellent and the write will become a star. Happy to send you a free copy

  8. LizF says:

    I read and liked Room and I already have Jamrach’s Menagerie from the library as I had had it recommended to me a while ago so I had better get a move on and read it or they will want it back before I have finished it!
    I really like the look of Swamplandia! – it sounds reminiscent of Carl Hiassen whose books I love – but sadly our library doesn’t have it as yet and I have ordered The Invisible Bridge (which has been on my list for a few months but the library has finally got a copy!) The Birth of Love, The London Train and Great House. That will have to do for now!
    Congratulations on predicting such a large proportion of the list by the way – I must admit that I thought Maggie O’Farrell might be on it but what do I know!

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, That is a great selection of books to start with. I hope that you manage to get to them all before someone else requests them from the library. :-)

      I’m not sure about your comparison of Swamplandia! to Carl Hiassen – I have only tried one of his books, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I hope I enjoy Swamplandia! more.

      I am also surprised that Maggie O’Farrell wasn’t on the list – She was one of the ones I thought most likely to make it. These judges are throwing up some strange selections!

  9. I’m quite excited by this year’s list! I think that’s because I didn’t invest myself in what could be on it beforehand so then I wasn’t disappointed (as I was last year); now taking it as an opportunity to discover new-to-me books although have no plans on reading longlist, maybe the shortlist. Saying that, I’m only focusing on the books that I already own or that were on my wish-list, of which there were a few (The Tiger’s Wife, Repeat it Today With Tears, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and Swamplandia!)

    I admire your new approach to giving up on books but be wary that sometimes it can be a matter of timing and circumstance rather than book itself. I don’t have to give up on books that often but I’m more inclined to only purchase, borrow or accept books that I have faith I’ll enjoy.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I think you might be right about the anticipation. I have spent so much time thinking about the prize and have created many ideal lists in my head – this means that when the judges come up with something very different I feel a bit let down.

      I agree about timing and circumstance having an impact on the enjoyability of the book, but I don’t agree about it being to do with problems with the book. All these books are loved by the judges and so presumably are as close to perfect as possible. The fact I don’t enjoy them is down to differing taste in books, rather than any problem in the book itself.

      I think you will love many of the books on the list. I know you will fall in love with The Tiger’s Wife – enjoy :-)

  10. Jackie…..I was curious about your experience with The Tiger’s Wife? While I could appreciate the writing and effort, I found it a difficult read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I abandoned The Tiger’s Wife. It was quite good to start with, but I struggled with the meandering plot and the magical realism. I often have problems with these adult fairy tales :-(

  11. stujallen says:

    I ve juist one from longlist tigers wife which I m looking forward too ,there are couple others appeal the two african books and great house ,well done on 8 thats good guess ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I hope that you enjoy them all :-) I’m sure you’ll love The Tiger’s Wife.

  12. Steph says:

    Many of these books I haven’t even heard of, but as you say, this is why these awards can be so enriching as they have the potential to expose us to books we might not have otherwise discovered on our own. There are a few on the list that I have read (Great House and Room), and a few others that I am planning to read (Goon Squad, Tiger’s Wife, Swamplandia) but I’ll have to look into most of the others! I predict that Tiger’s Wife, Goon Squad, Room, and Great House make the short list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Seph, I agree with your shortlist selection, with the possible exception of Room. I think it is very different in style from the others and I think it might surprise people by not making the cut. I think that will be a real shame, but I can see it heading in that direction.

  13. Monica says:

    It goes to show that all these lists are so subjective, and therefore always good to look in the nooks and crannies as well as the eye-level shelves of awarded books, so to speak.

    Good guessing too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Monica, I agree. I often find that I most enjoy books dropped at the long list stage (or even those that didn’t even make the cut in the first place!) It is a good way of drawing attention to some of the lesser known books, but no guarantee of enjoyment. I always recommend searching in all the darker corners of a bookshop :-)

  14. Love this time of year! And nice work on the predictions. I had only considered which Canadian authors might have works included — and was very pleased to see Kathleen Winter’s Annabel therein (though I know you didn’t love it) — so I wasn’t at all disappointed in the list because I haven’t read many eligible works anyway or taken time to give it a good think beyond these borders. Most of the longlisted books are unfamiliar to me, but a few were already on my TBR list, or had been set aside midway for various reasons, so I’m looking forward to exploring them and the rest of the list over the next few weeks. And, hopefully, finding some new favourites!

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint, I’m a big fan of Canadian authors, so I’m pleased to see that a few made the list too. I hope that you enjoy the rest of Annabel and find a few new to you authors to enjoy :-)

  15. Biblibio says:

    I’ve read none of the titles. How’s that for a good statistic?

    As for the style (characters and tone over plot), I feel like most of the so-called “literary” awards do this these days. It seems to come with the turf – in order to be taken seriously, the book needs to focus on character development and stylistic writing rather than on plot and a good story. Not that character-based books are bad (not at all), it’s just that the balance is missing…

    1. Jackie says:

      Bibliobio, I’d like to see a balance between the two too. I struggle to enjoy most books without a plot and so hope that I can find a few with more than just good writing styles. I think the Orange Prize is in danger of alienating the general public by missing out on gripping reads. I know I will pay less attention to it in future if it swings too much towards the literary end of the scale.

  16. Chinoiseries says:

    My library happened to have a few (yay!) so I borrowed them immediately. I’ve got “The Pleasure Seekers”, “The Invisible Bridge” (huge!), “A Visit from the Goon Squad” and “The Memory of Love” and a few others requested (they’re either lent out or on order). Hm, so you didn’t like “The Tiger’s Wife”? I have been pondering to get it on audio, but maybe I shouldn’t?

  17. Amy says:

    I just read Great House and was disappointed in it as well… really enjoyed Annabel though. Haven’t read any others from the list but some sound interesting.


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