March 19, 2013

Women’s Fiction Prize longlist announced


The Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize, has announced this year’s longlist. A member of what some call the “trinity” of UK book prizes, including the Man Booker and the Costa Book Awards, the Prize was launched in 1996 to counteract the male dominance of literary accolades.

A diverse list in 2013, including works from the UK, US, Israel, Turkey and Canada, from the prize dominating Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel to the lesser known Elif Shafak‘s Honour, it is nevertheless not without a glimmer of controversy.

Some have questioned the need for Mantel to be nominated for yet another prize, and speaking with Mark Brown at The GuardianNatasha Walter, a member of the judging panel, defended the judges’ decision to include Sheila Heti‘s How Should a Person Be, which some say is more a memoir than a novel.  Walter said, “I think that’s a red herring. If someone says their novel is a novel, then their novel is a novel.”

Last year, it seemed for a moment like the Prize would cease to exist, when their major sponsor, the phone company Orange, withdrew funding. Promises of backing from prominent UK women, including Joanna Trollope and Cherie Blair, ensured the Prize’s survival.

Author and past winner Linda Grant wrote, also in The Guardian, when the prize seemed in danger of disappearing,

“What the Orange has done is to focus on who reads and what they read. Research by Orange revealed that 70% of fiction is read by women, yet prize shortlists are dominated by men. Why? The answer is not that women are writing inferior fiction, it is that their books are not being submitted…What the Orange prize has done in the past 16 years is to open up the literary landscape to new writing; to novelists with a wider international reach than the Booker (restricted to Britain and the Commonwealth). When Andrea Levy sent me a proof of her novel Small Island, about Afro-Caribbean immigration to Britain during and after the war, I read it and told her it would win the Orange. It did, and went on to sell a million copies worldwide. There proved to be a hunger for these kinds of stories among readers, which existing prizes seemed willfully to ignore.”

The call to find something to snark about on this list is great, but I honestly can’t. It’s a pretty well rounded list, including writers from various nations, best-sellers and little known works. Of course, Mantel probably needs no further accolades (or that £30,000) at this point, but if the purpose of the Prize is to identify the honest-to-goodness best female fiction of the year, it would be hard to leave her off. The winner will be announced in June.

The complete longlist is below:

Kitty Aldridge A Trick I Learned From Dead Men

Kate Atkinson Life After Life

Ros Barber The Marlowe Papers

Shani Boianjiu The People of Forever are Not Afraid

Gillian FlynnGone Girl

Sheila Heti How Should A Person Be?

AM Homes May We Be Forgiven

Barbara Kingsolver Flight Behaviour

Deborah Copaken Kogan The Red Book

Hilary Mantel Bring Up the Bodies

Bonnie Nadzam Lamb

Emily Perkins The Forrests

Michèle Roberts Ignorance

Francesca Segal The Innocents

Maria Semple Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Elif Shafak Honour

Zadie Smith NW

ML Stedman The Light Between Oceans

Carrie Tiffany Mateship with Birds

G Willow Wilson Alif the Unseen

Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.