The beginning of March signals two things: spring is on its way and the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction will shortly be revealed. This year the list will be announced on 10th March (we have to wait until the 20th for spring) and I thought I would try and predict the sixteen titles. I say ‘predictions’; some of them are definitely wishes, books I keep meaning to get to but for one reason or another haven’t.
This is the third year I have done a predictions post, and also the hardest. I really struggled to narrow the choices down; there have been so many great titles over the last 12 months, but I have finally done it. Here are the Top Five that just missed the cut, the ones I will be kicking myself over if they’re included:
- The Shadow King – Maaza Mengiste
- Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi
- Insatiable – Daisy Buchanan
- Outlawed – Anna North
- Little Gods – Meng Jin
It seems kind of odd to be leaving two critically acclaimed Booker nominees off my main list, but I’m going for it. Out of the sixteen books that appear on my list I have read…none of them. Not yet anyway. Fingers crossed by the time the shortlist comes out, restrictions will have eased and my library will be open so I can nab copies. But enough of my ramblings, let’s dive into the predictions.
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Two African American identical twin sisters run away from home at sixteen and as adults live very different lives. One sister passes for white, with her white husband knowing nothing of her past. The other lives in the small community that she tried to leave with her black daughter. The sisters’ lives are about to collide as their daughters meet. Everyone probably has The Vanishing Half on their list; it would be a surprise if it wasn’t longlisted. It has been a critical and commercial success, and the timely subject matter makes it a sure bet for this year’s Women’s Prize.
If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha
This debut novel focuses on four friends – Kyuri, Miho, Ara, and Wonna – who all live in the same apartment block in Seoul. The women are attempting to navigate through a world defined by impossibly high standards of beauty and sexism, determined to make better lives for themselves. If I Had Your Face has also been getting rave reviews, and is one of the novels I’d really love to get to. It also seems sadly relevant to our current beauty-obsessed culture, one that is another uncomfortable but necessary read.
Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi
Gifty is a neuroscience student at Stanford University, specialising in depression and addiction. Her brother Nana died of a heroin overdose and her mother is now suicidal. Whilst Gifty is attempting to use her research to explain and treat her family’s problems, she increasingly finds herself drawn to her childhood faith. Gyasi’s debut Homegoing was a massive hit on release – how was that never nominated? – and Transcendent Kingdom promises to be just as impactful. I love family dramas, plus the conflict between science and religion intrigues me, making it one I want to get to ASAP.
Love After Love – Ingrid Persaud
Mr Chetan, following the death of a colleague, moves in with widower Betty and her son Solo. Over time, the three become family until one night Solo overhears his mum reveal a devastating secret. He runs away to New York and lives as an undocumented immigrant, leaving his family behind in Trinidad. However another secret, this time Mr Chetan’s, also threatens to upset everything. Love After Love won the First Novel Award at the Costa Book Awards earlier this year, and it could very well make the Women’s Prize longlist too. Again, I would be surprised if it didn’t make it.
The Mermaid of Black Conch – Monique Roffey
Speaking of the Costa Book Awards, we have The Mermaid of Black Conch. Scooping both the Best Novel and overall Best Book, this book is set on the fictional Caribbean island of Black Conch. Aycayia is a beautiful woman cursed to live as a mermaid, who is one day entranced by a fisherman and his song. David is singing to himself whilst waiting for a catch when he spots Aycayia. As well as the Costas, The Mermaid of Black Conch has also been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and Folio Prize, and longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, so it’s safe to say the novel has been very well-received. I could see it easily adding the Women’s Prize longlist to its’ growing list of accolades.
My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell
In 2000, fifteen year old student Vanessa has an affair with her English teacher Jacob Strane. Seventeen years later, a former pupil of Strane’s accuses him of sexual abuse and reaches out to Vanessa, who always believed she willingly engaged in the relationship. She is now forced to question the events of her past, and how the man she loved and admired might not be what she believed. My Dark Vanessa is one of my riskier choices. I don’t have an exact UK release date but, more importantly, the subject matter is bound to divide people. Would the judges be willing to risk alienating some readers? I have no idea. I included it here though because, again, its’ disturbing topics are painfully relevant.
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
One night, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her black babysitter Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to a supermarket. There has been an incident at the Chamberlain house and she doesn’t want Briar to see it. However, at the supermarket Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar by a security guard and fellow shopper. Alix attempts to redress the situation, but ends up causing more pain. This is another of my riskier choices, again because of the UK release date. If it is eligible, I can see Such a Fun Age making the cut as it has been a massive success and being longlisted for the Booker last year. It is divisive: people either love it or hate it. Admittedly I am currently only 50 pages in, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far and can’t wait to see what side of the fence I fall on.
Sisters – Daisy Johnson
Sisters, you will be shocked to discover, is about a pair of sisters. July and September were born just ten months apart and are inseparable. However, when they move with their mother to the coast they begin to drift apart from each other. A sense of unease begins to permeate the house, and events in the girls’ pasts start to be uncovered. I read Daisy Johnson’s debut Everything Under a couple of years ago and really liked it. I found her writing to be lyrical and evocative, so I have no doubt Sisters will also be expertly written. The plot also sounds interesting, so could definitely make the longlist this year.
Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden
Mrs Death is fed up doing her job for all eternity, and decides to find someone to vent her frustrations and write down her memories. She settles on Wolf Willeford, a troubled writer, and together they travel across space and time to witness death and discuss the past and present. Along the way, a friendship forms between the unlikely duo and their relationship starts to facilitate hope in the pair of them. This sounds so unique and original, even if it doesn’t make the list I’ll still read it. However, I really hope it does, as it would be nice to see more experimental work on the list. I know accessibility is one of the criteria for the prize, which might count against Mrs Death Misses Death, but the universal themes and dynamic central relationship might balance it out.
Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan
Ava leaves Dublin to work in Hong Kong as an English teacher. However she is finding life dull, stuck teaching wealthy children and actively avoiding roommates. But her situation changes when she is caught in a love triangle between British banker Julian and Hong Kong lawyer Edith. Who will she decide to be with? Exciting Times appeared to be everywhere at the tail-end of 2020, drawing comparisons to Sally Rooney. This made me reluctant to pick it up, which was unfair of me. I have heard nothing but praise from those that have read it, and I’m a sucker for a good love triangle. Maybe the judges are too?
Kololo Hill – Neema Shah
In Uganda 1972, the Amin-government announces a horrific decree: all Ugandan Asians must leave within ninety days. They can only take what they can carry, leave their money, and never return. We follow newlyweds Asha and Pran , as well as Pran’s mother Jaya, as they are forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known and seek refuge in the UK. Will they make it? And will they be able to settle in Britain if they do? Again, this is one I would read regardless if it makes the longlist. The story of refugees fleeing is very apt in the current political climate, and I’m sure parallels can be drawn between the 1970s and today. It’s also tackling a period of history many might be unaware of, so I’m hoping the Women’s Prize gives Kololo Hill and its story a boost.
Luster – Raven Leilani
Edie is a twenty-something black woman struggling to make it as an artist. She begins an affair with Eric, a married man whose wife has agreed to an open marriage. Slowly, Edie finds herself integrating into his small family, becoming friends with both his wife and adopted black daughter Akila. I’ve seen this described as uncomfortable and painful but also thought-provoking and brutally honest. Leilani’s black humour seems to have split opinions, but it would be interesting to see a more humorous book on the longlist. It’s critique on race and relationships also makes it sound topical and an excellent book to debate about.
A Burning – Megha Majumdar
Set in present day India, A Burning follows three characters and how their lives become intertwined. Jivan is a young girl who is falsely accused of a terrorist attack because of a tactless comment she made on social media. PT Sir, one of Jivan’s teachers, joins a right-wing political party and his ascent becomes linked to his pupil’s fall. Finally, Lovely has an alibi that would help clear Jivan, but could potentially cost her everything she holds dear. This sounds brilliant, combining thriller elements with a scathing critique on class and power, and what people will do to achieve them. I can’t think of anything quite like it at the moment, and I hope to read it sometime this year. It feels very fresh and original with a really great plot.
The Pull of the Stars – Emma Donoghue
Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital where pregnant women are quarantining together after becoming sick with a new flu. Her life is about to change with the arrival of two outsiders – Doctor Kathleen Lynn and volunteer helper Bridie Sweeney. Over the course of three days, the women’s lives begin to intertwine and alter. Donoghue is no stranger to the Women’s Prize, having won the award for the brilliant Room. Whether that helps or hinders her chances this year remains to be seen, but I think The Pull of the Stars has a good chance of being nominated. Mainly due to the subject matter. Admittedly, reading about a pandemic in the middle of a pandemic might be a bit much for some, but the themes surrounding women’s bodies and how they are treated makes it a very apt choice for the prize.
The Harpy – Megan Hunter
Lucy and Jake live a seemingly normal life, with their children with Lucy giving up her career to raise the kids and settle into a new routine. One day, she receives a call that shatters her world: a man telling her that his wife has been having an affair with Jake. After confronting him, the couple decide to stay together but on one condition: she is allowed to hurt him three times as punishment. He doesn’t know how or when. As the novel progresses, Lucy starts to change both mentally and physically. This one I’m not sure about. Thematically, I can see it on the longlist but the problem is the word count. The Prize has a very strict word count and, because The Harpy is a slight book, it might be disqualified because of this. Hopefully not, as the blend of gothic, magical realism, and literary fiction makes it a very unusual and thought-provoking work.
No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood
Last, but certainly not least, is No One is Talking About This. The novel is split into two sections. In the first, our protagonist is a social media starlet, travelling the world to meet adoring fans. She goes to panels and conferences, discussing the Internet or ‘the Portal’ as she appears to deem it. The longer she stays in the Portal, the more convinced she is that a group of voices are dictating her thoughts. The second part of the novel sees her receiving texts from her mum, urging her to come home. This feels like a very satirical attack on social media and Internet culture, something I’m becoming more interested in. The Portal sounds like something that belongs in science fiction, and I love novels that blend genres and experiment. I haven’t read Lockwood’s previous work, but I have heard nothing but good things.
And that is it! My predictions for the 2021 Women’s Prize longlist. Like I mentioned, this year was particularly difficult. I’m sure I will be editing and re-editing this list until it gets published, suddenly convinced a book I’ve missed will make it.
Let me know if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned, and who you think (or hope) will make the longlist.