Picture from Sam Holden Agency
The announcement of the Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist is always one of my literary highlights of the year so we thought I would explore the longlist in more detail and reveal which books I'll be reading.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Nine-year-old Jai watches too many reality cop shows, thinks he's smarter than his friend Pari (even though she always gets top marks) and considers himself to be a better boss than Faiz (even though Faiz is the one with a job). When a boy at school goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from episodes of Police Patrol to find him. With Pari and Faiz by his side, Jai ventures into some of the most dangerous parts of the sprawling Indian city; the bazaar at night, and even the railway station at the end of the Purple Line. But kids continue to vanish, and the trio must confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force and soul-snatching djinns in order to uncover the truth.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Finally free from his nightmare of a marriage, Toby Fleishman is ready for a life of online dating and weekend-only parental duties. But as he optimistically looks to a future that is wildly different from the one he imagined, his life turns upside-down as his ex-wife, Rachel, suddenly disappears. While Toby tries to find out what happened - juggling work, kids and his new, app-assisted sexual popularity - his tidy narrative of a spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if he ever wants to really understand where Rachel went and what really happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen it all that clearly in the first place.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Fabulous but flawed, defiant but vulnerable, Queenie Jenkins is one of the great fictional creations of the twenty-first century, and her story is, by turns, hilariously funny, dramatic and movingly tender. Caught between the Jamaican British family who don’t seem to understand her, a job that’s not all it promised and a man she just can’t get over, Queenie’s life seems to be steadily spiralling out of control. Desperately trying to navigate her way through a hot mess of shifting cultures and toxic relationships and emerge with a shred of dignity, her missteps and misadventures will provoke howls of laughter and tears of pity – frequently on the same page. So far this is the only book I've read from the shortlist...
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn't matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year's Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan's free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay. As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family's assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with Cesar at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family. This one has really caught my attention and I'll be looking to pick it up soon for sure.
Actress by Anne Enright
This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O'Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London's West End. Katherine's life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings. But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine's past, or the world's damage. As Norah uncovers her mother's secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime. Actress is about a daughter's search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad. Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Teeming with life and crackling with energy, Girl, Woman, Other is a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood. Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible. I've had the paperback pre-ordered since Christmas so I was always going to read this one! This is my pick to win.
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries. Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after. Malachi had to grow up too quickly. Between looking after Tristan and nursing a broken heart, he feels older than his twenty-one years. Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. No wonder he's falling in with the wrong crowd, without Malachi to keep him straight. Elvis is trying hard to remember to the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things. Pamela wants to run back to Malachi but her overprotective father has locked her in and there's no way out. It's a day like any other, until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
In A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective. In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash. The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all. Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent. This may well be my next audiobook.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
In Singapore 1942 as Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked. Only three survivors remain, one of them a tiny child. In a neighbouring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is bundled into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel. In the year 2000, her mind is still haunted by her experiences there, but she has long been silent about her memories of that time. It takes twelve-year-old Kevin, and the mumbled confession he overhears from his ailing grandmother, to set in motion a journey into the unknown to discover the truth. My favourite thing about the Women's Prize for Fiction is discovering books I probably never would have heard of and this is definitely one of those. Jing-Jing Lee's novel has gone straight to the top of my wishlist.
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
At a family wedding, the four Sorenson sisters polka-dot the green lawn in their summer pastels, with varying shades of hair and varying degrees of unease. Their long-infatuated parents watch on with a combination of love and concern. Sixteen years later, the already messy lives of the sisters are thrown into turmoil by the unexpected reappearance of a teenage boy given up for adoption years earlier - and the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past is revealed. Weaving between past and present, The Most Fun We Ever Had portrays the delights and difficulties of family life and the endlessly complex mixture of affection and abhorrence we feel for those closest to us.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
From a bloodied and tormented child on the rough-and-ready streets of Putney, to the service of the country’s most rich and powerful, Thomas Cromwell has ascended to the highest echelons of Henry VIII’s tumultuous court. He has survived the fall of Cardinal Wolsey and inveigled his way into the King’s confidence, overseen the overthrow of two queens and taken revenge on those who betrayed his former master. Now all of England lies at his feet, ripe for innovation and religious reform. But as fortune’s wheel turns, Cromwell’s enemies are gathering in the shadows and the question remains: how long can anyone survive under Henry’s cruel and capricious gaze? Another one I am unsurprised, but pleased, to see on the longlist.
Girl by Edna O’ Brien
Captured, abducted and married into Boko Haram, the narrator of this story witnesses and suffers the horrors of a community of men governed by a brutal code of violence. Barely more than a girl herself, she must soon learn how to survive as a woman with a child of her own. Just as the world around her seems entirely consumed by madness, bound for hell, she is offered an escape of sorts - but only into another landscape of trials and terrors amidst the unforgiving wilds of northeastern Nigeria, through the forest and beyond; a place where her traumas are met with the blinkered judgement of a society in denial. I've had this on my bookshelves for a while so I'm definitely going to start it soon.
Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home? Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week. Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker's son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written. This another book from that longlist that I'll be picking up shortly.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practise her other calling: as an unofficial shrink. For years, she has supported her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but then her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As she dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you've seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to acknowledge the limits of what she can do. But if she can't save others, then what, or who, might save her?
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish folly in small-town Pennsylvania taken on by his property developer father. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her delicacy, her brilliance. Life is comfortable and coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house's former owners in the frames of their oil paintings, or under the cover of the draperies around the window seat in Maeve's room. Then one day their father brings Andrea home: Andrea, small and neat, a dark hat no bigger than a saucer pinned over a twist of her fair hair. Though they cannot know it, Andrea's advent to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve's lives. Her arrival will exact a banishment: a banishment whose reverberations will echo for the rest of their lives. For all that the world is open to him, for all that he can accumulate, for all that life is full, Danny and his sister are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own enforced exile is that of their mother's self-imposed one: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
It's 2001, the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody's coming of age ceremony in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer, Melody's mother, for her own ceremony - a celebration that ultimately never took place. Unfurling the history of Melody's parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they've paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives - even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be. I think you can expect to see this one featured on here very soon.