The 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize Longlist

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The longlist for the 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize was announced this morning. I was very pleased to see a few genre books selected and it was nice to be introduced to some books I hadn’t come across before.

Overall the list seems to be very balanced, with a nice mix of literary and mainstream fiction.

I’ve already tried/read half of the longlist and have taken the time to look at the other books selected. I’ve summarised my thoughts below:

The 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize Longlist

 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Five words from the blurb: genius, Microsoft, child, charismatic, comic
I listened to a dramatic production of this book on Radio 4 (hence the reason that there is no review on this blog). I found it wonderfully entertaining and am very pleased to see it on the longlist.
 
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A Trick I Learned from Dead Men

A Trick I Learned From Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge

Five words from the blurb: funeral home, death, mother, deaf, brother
This chatty, compelling read had lots of interesting facts about the work of an undertaker, but I’m afraid I found it lacked that special spark.

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NW

NW by Zadie Smith

Five words from the blurb: Londoners, estate, moved, different, lives.
The writing in this book is fantastic, but its disjointed nature means that I am struggling to connect with it. I’ve abandoned it two times already, but, given its prize longlisting today, I’ll persevere a little longer and see if it can win me over.

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The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman 

Five words from the blurb: Australia, lighthouse, childless, baby, keep
The Light Between Oceans is a book of two halves. Most people seem to enjoy one half, but not the other. I fell into the “loved the beginning” camp, but if you enjoy lighter, faster paced books then you’ll probably prefer the end. I’m surprised to see this on the longlist and can’t see it progressing any further.

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The Marlowe Papers

The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber DNF

Five words from the blurb: playwright, killed, Stratford, Marlowe, exile, Shakespeare
I don’t enjoy Shakepeare, but anyone who does will love this ambitious story written entirely in verse. It wasn’t for me, but the skill and originality of the text mean that I am rooting for it in this prize. It deserves to be the 2013 winner.

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The People of Forever are not Afraid

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Five words from the blurb: Israel, army, guarding, refugees, danger
I hadn’t heard of this book until today, but it sounds like an important work of fiction and I’m pleased that the prize has brought it to my attention.

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May We be Forgiven

May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes DNF

Five words from the blurb: quiet, life, family, strange, finding
I’m afraid the satirical elements of this book were lost on me and without the humour this book was just a strange string of outrageous consequences. It deserves its place on the longlist, but it wasn’t for me.

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Lamb

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Five words from the blurb: kid, reckless, heart, beautifully, idea
Lamb is fast paced, gripping and thought provoking. I’m very pleased to see it on the longlist.

 

Bring Up the Bodies

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel DNF

Five words from the blurb: Thomas Cromwell, rise, destruction, Anne Boleyn, Catholic
Over the years I’ve come to realise that Mantel isn’t for me, but it is no surprise to see her on this longlist.

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Mateship with Birds

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

Five words from the blurb: country, lonely, farmer, observes, life
I hadn’t heard of this book until today. It doesn’t sound that exciting, but hopefully it will prove me wrong.

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Honour

Honour by Elif Shafak

Five words from the blurb: mother, died, Turkey, betrayal, past
Elif Shafak is an author I’ve heard mentioned a lot, but I’ve not read any of her books before. This one sounds as though it could be emotional and so I look forward to trying it.

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Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn DNF

Five words from the blurb: wife, disappears, police, suspect, secrets
It is great to see a fast paced thriller on the longlist – its inclusion will hopefully bring a new audience to the prize. I’m afraid that the irritating characters and the large number of coincidences didn’t appeal to me, but the majority of the population disagree with my point-of-view!

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The Red Book

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

Five words from the blurb: power, burden, privilege, reality, woman
I hadn’t heard of this book until today, but I’m looking forward to reminiscing about the last few decades. It sounds like an entertaining read.

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How Should a Person Be?

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

Five words from the blurb: self-help, confessional, shameless, conversations, life
I had heard of this book and seen the way it divides opinion, but I assumed it was a self-help guide, not a novel. I’ve never been a fan of self-help guides so I’m pretty sure it will annoy me, but I’ll try to keep an open mind and hope I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Flight Behaviour

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Five words from the blurb: Appalachian Mountains, mother, discovers, nature, miracle
I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time. It is next on the TBR pile and I’m hoping it is just as good (or even better than!) The Poisonwood Bible.

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Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

Five words from the blurb: magic, adventure, beasts, Arab, censor
I hadn’t heard of this book until today, but I love the fact that a fantasy novel is on the list. This book sounds wonderfully original and I’m looking forward to trying it.

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The Innocents

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

Five words from the blurb: sweethearts, family, intertwined, unexpected, trouble
I’d heard of this book, but the troubled family premise didn’t excite me. I’m hoping that the writing will be good enough to win me over.

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The Forrests

The Forrests by Emily Perkins DNF

Five words from the blurb: sensory, flickering, moment, odd, family
I’m pleased to see The Forrests on the longlist. I found the meandering, dreamlike prose frustrating, but the quality of the writing was obvious from the start. Recommended to fans of Virginia Woolf.

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Ignorance

Ignorance by Michèle Roberts

Five words from the blurb: society, Jew, war, village, hero
I’d not heard of this book and I’m a bit worried that I’ve heard the story of Jews hidden during the war too many times before. Hopefully this book will contain some special spark that enables it to compete with all the other books on a similar subject already out there.

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Life After Life (Signed, Limited Edition)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Five words from the blurb: turbulent, events, chances, past, moments
I’ve not had much success with Atkinson’s previous books, but this one is receiving rave reviews. Hopefully the originality of the premise with be enough to entertain me.

What do you think of the longlist?


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39 Comments

  1. Lizzi says:

    I agree that is a nicely varied and balanced list, and there are some really interesting books that I hope do well. I’ve put together my predictions for the shortlist on my blog here: http://theselittlewords.com/2013/03/13/womens-prize-longlist-announced-but-who-will-be-on-the-shortlist/

    Will be very interesting to see which ones get the most attention!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lizzi, Of the ones I’ve tried I think Matel, Perkins and Barber will make the shortlist. I’ll have to read a few more before I try to predict who will fill those final 3 places.

  2. Kath says:

    I’m really happy to see what’s been included on this year’s list, it does seem to strike a good balance between some interesting new (to me) names and established ones. I have about nine of the titles on my TBR, and besides Lamb which I’m reading for book research and our book club title which is Gone Girl, I don’t know how many of them I’ll have read by the time the shortlist – or even the final prize – is announced but I’ll happily add most of the remaining titles to that groaning TBR pile.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kath, It is good to hear that you’re reading Lamb – it is my favourite read of the list so far. The fact I’ve tried so many already is a good indication that they sounded appealing. I look forward to trying the rest and comparing notes.

  3. David says:

    It’s an okay longlist, but as ever with the Orange/Women’s Prize I find it too long. I think a shorter list of a dozen or fifteen books would have been stronger.

    I’ve read nine of them, not all of which would have made my own longlist, but there you go. Mantel, Kingsolver and Smith I’d expected to see there and I think they all deserve to be. I’m thrilled to see ‘The Forrests’ there as I thought it was wonderful. I’m also pleased to see ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ which I found to be an absolute delight. ‘Lamb’ I thought was a thought-provoking, compelling read and nicely ambiguous, though I did have a couple of issues with it. ‘Ignorance’ is beautifully written – impressionistic almost – but I found my interest waned about halfway through. ‘Mateship with Birds’ seems to be one that people either love or hate, and I’m afraid I was in the latter camp: I can’t fault the writing but I found it really disagreeable. But, I can see the merit of both the Roberts and the Tiffany even if they didn’t work for me. ‘A Trick I Learned from Dead Men’ however doesn’t (to my mind) belong on a literary prize list: it’s just really average (as was Aldridge’s previous book) – I can’t imagine anyone caring enough about it to either love or hate it.

    I’d heard of all of the others but as I’ve not bought any of them I think that tells you that I’ve not been that desperate to read them either. The only exceptions to that are ‘May We Be Forgiven’ which I’ve had my eye on for a bit, and I’ll probably pick up the Kate Atkinson if they have it cheap in Tesco’s.

    I was thinking, after I commented on your speculation post the other day: there is one other book that I thought should definitely be on the list and I’m hugely disappointed that it isn’t: Dana Spiotta’s ‘Stone Arabia’.

    Anyway, off the nine I’ve read so far ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ is easily my favourite, boring a choice as that may be!

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I agree that the shorter lists tend to be stronger, but I don’t mind being introduced to a few more titles – it is normally quite easy to see which ones are making up numbers, but it also allows them more flexibility to add a more diverse range of titles.

      It looks as though we agree on most of the titles. I thought the Alderidge and the Stedman were both average reads, but I can see how they might appeal to people who aren’t used to literary fiction.

      You’ve intrigued me with your comments about ‘The Mateship of Birds’ The premise sounds so dull that I can’t imagine it splitting opinions! It will be interesting to see if I fall into your camp.

      I look forward to comparing notes with you as I read the rest of the list.

  4. I enjoyed this post as I’ve just been putting library holds on all the books from the list I want to read! I’m most excited by The Marlowe Papers, it seems very unusual and original.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sam, Yes. My library has been getting a lot of my business today too! I went down there and managed to pick up three books and put two others on hold. I’ve nearly got the set now :-)

  5. Ellie says:

    I agree, hadn’t heard of The People of Forever are Not Afraid before but it was one of the few on the list I thought I must try and read that. I have Alif the Unseen and have heard stunning reviews so will try and read that soon too. I’m not overly impressed by the list, there’s a few I might read but mostly not that bothered.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ellie, Yes. I’ve been reading amazing reviews for Alif the Unseen too. I’m a bit worried it might be too weird for me, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Hope you enjy them too.

  6. I’ve only read two (Gone girl, which I loved, and NW – which was good but flawed IMHO). The one I’m excited about, and I am glad that you can root for it despite if being a DNF is The Marlowe Papers. I have it on my pile and will read it soon.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I hope that you enjoy The Marlowe Papers. I think it will require a lot of work to fully appreciate it, but the rewards will be great if you do. Good luck!

  7. FleurFisher says:

    I love the variety of the list, but there are a couple of books I gave up on, a couple I liked but wouldn’t have longlisted, but no book I’m thrilled to see there and nothing I can point to and say I’d like it to win.

    The Marlowe Papers is the book I’d chose as a winner if I was pushed, but I have a feeling the judges will be after something with wider appeal.

    I’ve liked Michele Robert’s writing in the past so I will pick up my copy and hope it has that special something.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, Actually you are right. There is no book that I’m personally thrilled to see on the list. Tell The Wolves I’m Home, Heft and Calamity Leek are all missing. Judging panels never seem to have the same taste as me. :-( Hopefully I’ll discover a gem or two among the books I haven’t read.

  8. My comment got eaten earlier I think, I love your summaries of the books, very handy guide especially given the length of the list. :) I reserved Alif the Unseen today, I saw a couple of very mixed reviews last year that wondered about the way the plot strands blend together but I do like the idea of djinns etc and it’s an unusual pick for the list. I’m going to have another go at The Marlowe Papers as well I think, I had a go last year and got a bit stuck with it, though I agree it’s worth cheering.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, Oh no! Sorry to hear your comment was eaten. I’ve reserved Alig the Unseen too. I’m first in the queue so hopefully it won’t take too long to arrive. Let’s hope we both enjoy it!

  9. Jenny says:

    I am very excited to see Where’d You Go Bernadette on the longlist. I’m sure it won’t advance any farther, but I thought it was an absolute dear of a book, and I like seeing a more cheerful book show up on awards lists.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Actually, now you mention it, it does seem like a very happy longlist. A lot of the books seem quite positive in nature. I wonder if there is some darknes buried in the books I haven’t read.

  10. Obviously my reading has been much sparser in the past year than I would normally like, but I will say that I did manage to read Kingsolver’s newest book last year. It is not as good as Poisonwood Bible, that is for sure!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, Oh no! I was hoping to love Flight Behaviour. You’re my book taste twin and so I’m now a little disappointed. Hopefully we’ll end up disagreeing on this one!

  11. Sandy says:

    Amazingly, I have read three of these…Bernadette, which was great, Gone Girl, which I loved (really Jackie, suffer through the horrid characters because it is crazy good), and Light Between Oceans (not sure I would agree with it being on the list). Looks like you had issues within the list as well…

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Yay! It is great that you’ve read some this year! It’s good that we;d include the same books on our longlist. Hopefully I’ll find a few more gems that I can persuade you to read. :-)

  12. Vasilly says:

    This is a really helpful post. I haven’t read any of these books but after looking the list over, many of them are going on my reading list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Vasilly, It is nice to know you found it useful. I hope you enjoy reading the ones you select!

  13. stujallen says:

    i ve read two NW and Honour ,have ignorance and would like to try the people … sounds like one I would like Jackie as ever you’ve read a lot as one would expect from you ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’ll have to head over and look back at your Honour review. I hope you enjoy Ignorance :-)

  14. JoV says:

    I like the way you offer your thoughts in every single book on the longlist. It is amazing that you have read so many or DNF so many and have at least a good picture of what the books are like. I look forward to compare notes and I hope I read quicker than what I am reading now to get through some of these! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I look forward to comparing notes too! Happy reading!

  15. It is a really interesting and varied list. I’ve read Bring Up the Bodies and it would be quite an achievement if it emerges the winner of this lot. Kingsolver beat Wolf Hall in 2010 so she might do it again. I’m intrigued by The Marlowe Papers, very ambitious but it would be amazing if she’s pulled it off. I’ve just started on Gone Girl though it doesn’t really put women in a positive light! I’ve picked up a copy of Honour too so looking forward to that. This seems a much more literary list than last year’s.

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, This list does seem to be of a higher quality than last years. There are a few average reads in the list above, but there were some terrible ones last year!

  16. Charlie says:

    I can’t pretend to know enough about them to give a proper opinion, having only read NW, but I am very pleased that Zadie Smith’s book is there. And I’m not surprised to see Flight Behaviour or Gone Girl either (though from reading various reviews I can understand why it didn’t work for you). All said, it looks a fair list and has lots of popular books on it which is always nice to see. I wonder if Hilary Mantel will win it by some sort of default!

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, I’m quite happy to see Gone Girl on the list. Although I didn’t enjoy it I can see that it is fantastic for its genre. I must give NW another try. Hopefully it will suddenly click once I get past a certain stage. Enjoy browsing the list!

  17. Laurie C says:

    Seeing Gone Girl on a list like this surprises me. I bought a copy of NW I was in such a hurry to read it and then it sat on my shelf while I read book after book for reviewing instead of for pleasure!

    1. Jackie says:

      Laurie, I wasn’t that surprised to see Gone Girl on the list. It wasn’t to my taste, but so many people love it so it must be doing something right.

  18. Lucybird says:

    I’ve read Ignorance and Life After Life. Ignorance way ok, nothing special really- I can’t see it winning. Life After Life however was absolutely fantastic.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucybird, I’m sad to hear Ignorance was only OK. I hope I enjoy it slightly more than you did.

  19. I’m not feeling free to obsess about this list this year, as I have in past years, so I’m not sure how far I’ll get with my reading, but a lot of the titles do look interesting, and I am intrigued by what you’ve said about the overall sense that it is a less-dark list in general. I’ve only read the Stedman novel, and I haven’t done much more than casually leaf through most of the others yet, but I haven’t seen anything that makes me cringe either (always a good sign)! Hope you enjoy the others that you plan to try.

    1. Jackie says:

      Buried in Print, Not cringing is a very good sign! I hope I can avoid that too. It is quite a light list, without the heartbreak normally present (although I haven’t read Honour or People of Forever yet) I look forward to comparing notes if you decide to read any of them.

  20. Jenners says:

    I just finished listening to the Bernadette one — best marriage of narrator and material ever!!! And you must try “Life After Life.” Superb! I loved it … and you have to admire how she tells the story!

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