Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Women's Prize 2018

By JJ Marsh and Catriona Troth

It's nearly time! The winner of The Women's Prize for Fiction is due to be announced today. We've read all the shortlisted novels and quite a few of the longlisters. Below, you'll find extracts from our reviews with ideal accompaniments and our own top tips for who we think should win.

When I Hit You or Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari.

A fictionalised account of domestic violence and rape within a marriage, told through many different lenses. It begins with the mother recounting, over and over, the state of her daughter’s feet when she fled home. There is poetry in this prose, and a humour so dark it’s like pepper on the tongue.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved
: Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Avoid If You Dislike: Frank and intimate depiction of domestic and sexual violence

Perfect Accompaniments: Cumin and coconut, turmeric and chilli flakes, cinnamon and star anise.


Sight by Jessie Greengrass

This was a tough one to like but eventually, I did. Greengrass allows her character to meander and ponder and consider the human condition in every aspect. Stream-of-consciousness is a term often over-used and patronised, but here Greengrass uses it to best effect. Self-awareness is the only way to X-Ray the mind.
 Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Mrs Dalloway, Zoƫ Jenny, Scarlett Thomas

Avoid if you dislike: Self-examining narrators and lack of narrative

Ideal accompaniments: A fried egg, camomile tea and a still pond.


  Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Western media has been quick to paint all those who have been drawn into the net of the Islamic State as uniformly evil – and their families as either equally evil or ignorant dupes. Home Fire dares to look beyond the headlines at the human beings caught up in the apparently unending cycle of violence unleashed by terrorism and the ‘War on Terror.’
A powerful and important book that should be read by anyone wanting to find humanity beyond the headlines.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie; Antigone by Jean Anouilh, The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

Avoid If You Dislike: Looking beyond tabloid headlines about terrorism

Perfect Accompaniment: A mug of the best coffee you can find and a quiet corner to drink it in.


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Part road trip, part social critique, part American nightmare, this beautifully written novel makes us feel the weight of the past in a visceral sense. There is an inexorable feeling of tragedy, as if we know what must happen in the end, but cannot help hoping things will turn out differently.
The book won America's National Book Award 2017 and was selected as Book of the Year by The New York Times amongst others. I can see why.
Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward or Meridian by Alice Walker.

Avoid if you dislike: Dysfunctional families, violence, ghosts.

Ideal accompaniments: Gravy and biscuits with a glass of cold water


The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The Idiot perfectly captures that nihilistic stage of late adolescence. That feeling of being out of phase with the rest of the world. Desperately seeking meaning in the most mundane of words and actions – and feeling depressed because you fail to find it. The inevitable passion for someone just out of reach. Mistaking sophistry for sophistication.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Idiot by Dostoeyevsky, The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician by Tendai Huchu, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Avoid If You Dislike: Story lines that drift rather than drive

Perfect Accompaniment: Hungarian vodka


The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar


Historical fiction doesn't get much better than this. The author's sympathies with the lot of women and comprehension of class permeate every chapter. Limited opportunities, social judgement and the currency of beauty is a delicate balance for a woman with no means other than looks and intellect. The ladies refer to their genitalia as 'the commodity'.

Gowar builds a London as it was, and a cast of characters so real, spiteful, snobbish, kindly, humble, capricious and arrogant, one cannot help but want more.

Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Sarah Waters, Rosie Garland, Angela Carter

Avoid if you dislike: The grim injustice of female situations in the 18th century.

Ideal Accompaniments: Millefeuilles and sweet wine, or freshly shucked oysters and brine.


And who do we think should win? 

Kat's tip: Utterly torn between Shamsie's Home Fire and the astonishing blend of poetry and brutality that is Kandasamy's When You Hit Me. Either would be worthy winners, but for sheer beauty of writing, my heart goes with Kandasamy.

Jill's tip: I think this is Shamsie's year, although Ward is a powerful contender. But my personal favourite was Gowar's The Mermaid. I still miss those characters.


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