Words with JAM contributors and Bookmuse reviewers Catriona Troth and JJ Marsh read every book on the shortlist. Here are some extracts from their reviews and their own tips for the winner. Click on the title to read the full review.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
There is a joy and a terror in imagining irresistible might, accompanied by all the unavoidable decisions as how to use it. Terrifying, fascinating and one to ponder for many, many years.
And then read it again. You might change your mind.
Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀
“Just wait until her breasts are sweet orange and all the men that see her start standing still like soldiers. Small time, pregnancy will come.”
A universal story set in a richly realised world. A welcome new African voice and a writer to watch.
The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
Thematically, Grant’s tale could act as a commentary on current governmental manifestos. Healthcare and the fallout from military conflict, prejudice towards class and race, alliances under pressure and who appeals most to the fearful – entertainer or reformer, faith or science?
The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan
It's not an easy read, often harrowing and dark, disturbing and shocking, leavened with excitement and suspense of the races and some wonderfully entertaining characters; a jockey, a preacher, a chain-smoking neighbour. It's also huge not only in number of pages but scope. That said, it's a book that will stay with you a long, long time and very likely lure you back again.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
It's precise, bleak and demonstrates the writer's skill at evoking the imaginary but no less restrictive bars of a cage. In one exchange, a character explains that the expression “I fell in love at first sight” translates in Russian as “I fell down”.
At the end of this book, there's a sense of "I fell in and will never get out."
A deeply personal story of love, friendship and dedication that nevertheless reveals, in breathtaking panorama, a segment of 20th C history too little understood in the West.
As the author reminds us: “Throughout the world, for thousands of years, those whom we call good men, righteous men, have been accustomed to the sight of such things ... have not demanded justice for the victims or offered to help them.”
So which book do our reviewers tip as the winner?
Incredibly tough to pick from such a varied crop but the book that had the most impact on me, and the one I have already purchased for friends, would be Naomi Alderman's The Power.
The books I read were wonderful, but the way that Madeleine Thien wrapped the whole of China's 20th C history within the intimate story of two families was a literary sleight of hand that took my breath away.