The Women’s Prize for Fiction is perhaps my favourite book prize, and certainly the one I enjoy following the most. Everyone’s reactions and reviews to predictions, the longlist, shortlist, and eventual winner provide plenty of food for thought, and I love discussing the books with everyone. It is hard to believe the prize is 25 years young – probably because I hear so much about it, it seems to have gone on forever.
As the longlist will be announced on Tuesday 3rd March this year, here are my predictions of what might be on it. We’ll find out how right (or probably wrong) I am soon! My list is in no particular order, and where I have reviews of the books I will link them. I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail here, so if you want more information on the books then my reviews are where I’ve discussed my thoughts. All I’ve included here is a plot synopsis and why I think it might be on the longlist. But without further ado, I’ll dive into my predictions.
1. The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
What? A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments follows three different women; Agnes, Daisy, and the formidable Aunt Lydia. Through their narratives we learn more about life in Gilead, its relationship with the outside world, and a potential plot to overthrow the government.
Why? The Testaments is a really popular choice for the longlist and it is easy to see why. It co-won the Booker Prize last year, and Atwood has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize three times. It is hard to imagine it not being on the longlist at least.
2. Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo
What? Twelve stories that centre on mostly black British women, spanning from the 1900s to the present day. Through these interconnected stories Evaristo explores the both feminism and race, and the experience of growing up as a black woman in the UK.
Why? This is obviously the other Booker Prize winner from last year, and the one I’ve heard most people say should have won outright. Admittedly I am one of the few people who has yet to read Girl, Woman, Other but the rave reviews it has had from both critics and the public means it is highly likely it will be longlisted. It would be a big surprise if it didn’t make the cut.
3. The Confessions of Frannie Langton – Sara Collins
What? In 1826, Frannie Langton is on trial for the murder of Mr and Mrs Benham, with whom she lived as a maid. The novel flashes back to Frannie’s life as a slave on a plantation in Jamaica and traces her journey to England and subsequent relationship with the Benhams. But one question lingers: is she guilty?
Why? Again, this has also had a huge amount of praise from critics and readers, and won the 2019 Costa First Novel Award. Collins’ writing is beautiful, and she manages to tackle a lot of hard-hitting topics, from racism to women’s right. Despite being a historical fiction novel, its themes are still relevant today.
4. Starling Days – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
What? It opens with a young woman called Mina standing on George Washington Bridge. Despite her protestations that she isn’t about to jump, the police don’t believe her and her husband Oscar is called. The two newlyweds’ complicated relationship is then explored during the course of the novel.
Why? This was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award last year, so it has had award buzz before. But I mainly want to see Starling Days on the longlist because I think Hisayo Buchanan is a great writer. Her debut Harmless Like You was really beautiful and thought-provoking, and it would be nice to see her work get a boost from a nomination.
5. Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
What? Queenie, a twenty something journalist living in London, is on a break from boyfriend Tom. Confused and alone, her life starts to take a turn for the worse, professionally and with friends and family.
Why? Queenie has been really popular with readers – including myself. I really enjoyed it. The Women’s Prize jury sometimes picks popular contemporary books – I’m remembering both Three Things About Elsie and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine making the longlist. As I think Queenie is a much stronger novel than those two, I hope to see it on the list.
6. The Mirror & the Light – Hilary Mantel
What? I feel like this book doesn’t need much of an explanation. This is the final part in Mantel’s trilogy on the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell.
Why? Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (which I’ve still not read yet) have been nominated for countless awards; also both won the Booker prize in their respective years. So it seems likely that The Mirror & the Light will be just as well-received as its predecessors.
7. Saltwater – Jessica Andrews
What? Lucy is a recent University graduate who travels to her grandfather’s cottage in rural Ireland. Whilst there she reminisces on her childhood and growing up in the north of England, and her subsequent Uni days in London.
Why? Saltwater is quite an ambitious novel but Andrews pulls it off. People will either love this book or hate it; it is told in vignettes and hops between different periods of time. It would definitely be an interesting addition to the longlist; I can see it generating a lot of discussion.
8. Patsy – Nicole Dennis-Benn
What? The eponymous Patsy finally receives her visa and goes to live in New York, leaving young daughter Tru behind in Jamaica. We then follow both womens’ lives: Patsy realises life in the USA isn’t what she expected whilst Tru struggles with her identity and the idea her mother left her with no intention of returning.
Why? Like my inclusion of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, I would like Patsy to be nominated as Dennis-Benn is a great writer and deserves more recognition. Plus, the critical acclaim Patsy has been getting makes it a possible contender. I can’t wait to read it regardless.
9. Girl – Edna O’Brien
What? Our narrator is Maryam, captured, abducted, and married into Boko Haram. She witnesses and experiences many horrors whilst trapped. Yet when she is finally rescued and freed, her life is still filled with hardships as she is judged by society for what happened to her.
Why? Edna O’Brien is an incredibly prolific and well-respected author who has won countless awards over the years. It is hard to imagine her not on any awards longlist. Girl also tackles a hard-hitting and disturbing subject matter, yet one that needs to be told and never forgotten.
10. Doxology – Nell Zink
What? The novel is split into two sections. The first is set in New York City in the 1990s, where three friends Pam, Daniel, and Joe have set up their own punk band. However, the band isn’t successful, and Joe fairs a lot better as a solo artist. Pam and Daniel have a daughter called Flora. In the second section we follow a now grown Flora in the present, who is a young environmentalist.
Why? Zink tackles issues (political, environmental) that we are affected by today, and does so with aplomb. Also by starting in the 1990s and finishing in 2016, Zink also looks at the changes the US has gone through during this period through the eyes of this one family. A very timely novel whose relevance might see it on the longlist.
11. Long Bright River – Liz Moore
What? A psychological thriller which follows Mickey Fitzpatrick, a policewoman whose job is to patrol the 24th District. Because she has been there for years, she knows most of the sex workers who live there by name. And it will ultimately be down to her to capture a serial killer who is targeting these women, despite her boss attempting to bury the news of the crimes.
Why? Admittedly, psychological thrillers don’t often appear on the Women’s Prize longlist (can Little Deaths be counted as a psychological thriller?). Yet, most people were surprised when Liz Moore never made the longlist for her novel The Unseen World, so perhaps the jury would want to rectify that this year. Plus Snap made the Booker longlist a couple of years ago, so perhaps the Women’s Prize might follow suit?
12. A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes
What? This is a retelling of the Trojan War, told from the perspectives of the many women involved in the conflict. We hear from Greek and Trojan women, as well as the goddesses and their experience of warfare.
Why? I’m in two minds about including this. Last year both Circe and The Silence of the Girls were shortlisted for the prize. Given this, I’m not sure if the jury will want to stay away from classical retellings or not. A Thousand Ships has been receiving acclaim from both critics and the public so that might also sway them.
13. 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World – Elif Shafak
What? Again this is a novel split into two parts. The first deals with sex worker Tequila Leila, who has just been murdered and follows the last 10 minutes, 38 seconds of her life. The second looks more at the people she remembered during that small period, and how their lives intersect.
Why? 10 Minutes… was shortlisted for the Booker last year and I can see it making the longlist of the Women’s Prize. Shafak discusses women’s rights in Turkey throughout the novel so its subject matter might also appeal to the judges. It is one where I would be surprised if it didn’t make it.
14. The Dutch House – Ann Patchett
What? In the 1940s Cyril Conroy begins building a vast real estate empire, starting by purchasing the Dutch House on the outskirts of Philadelphia. However, this starts a chain of events leading to devastating consequences. As the novel is spread across five decades, it is clear the Dutch House has made an indelible mark on the Conroy family.
Why? Patchett is already a Women’s Prize winner, scooping the gong for Bel Canto a few years ago. She might pick up her second this year, as The Dutch House has been getting a lot of praise. It is also a Sunday Times top bestseller and made countless ‘Top Books of 2019’ lists so it is loved by a lot of people.
15. Adults – Emma Jane Unsworth
What? At first glance, Jenny McLaine has a pretty good life. She owns her own home, she has a cool job working for a magazine, she has a ton of friends. Yet her life is slowly spiralling out of control. Hence why one day her mother shows up at her doorstep.
Why? The premise makes it sound sort of similar to Queenie, so it will be interesting if both of them make the longlist or just one (or possibly neither). I’ve heard mixed things about Unsworth’s first novel Animals but this one seems to be faring better so it might have a chance to sneak into the longlist.
16. Strange Hotel – Eimear McBride
What? It is hard to describe the plot of this book. The different sections follow the same woman but all take place in different hotel rooms. She travels to places like Prague, Oslo, Avignon, and Austin and we hear her thoughts and feelings but in the confines of the hotel.
Why? Now, this is a risky one. Strange Hotel looks more like a novella than a novel, and the Women’s Prize has a strict word count. If the book is below it, it won’t be nominated. If it is eligible though it definitely has a shot – McBride won the prize with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and was nominated for The Lesser Bohemians.
And those are my predictions for the Women’s Prize longlist 2020. Whew!
I tried to include a mixture of established authors and those perhaps just on their first or second novel. It’s always nice to see up and comers on awards lists; it gives them a career boost plus introduces me to authors I haven’t heard of. There was also plenty of books that I couldn’t include but wanted to: The Doll Factory, Hamnet, and Weather are all possible candidates too.
Let me know who you think or want to be on the longlist!