29 April 2012

The Orange Prize

I always have a look at the Orange Prize longlist, shortlist and winner as an indication of excellent new writers and novels. I really enjoyed last year's winner, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht and was glad to have an exciting new author pointed out to me. I also really liked The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna and thought that the rest of the shortlist looked varied and interesting, although I didn't read any of the others.

This year I thought there were some really interesting choices on the longlist. I absolutely adored The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and was pleased to see it there. I had had my eye on State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and it's appearance on the longlist prompted me to buy it (my review will be up this week). I also have borrowed The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy from the library, bought The Submission by Amy Waldman and am on the reservation list for There But For The by Ali Lewis. There seemed to be a great variety of genres and styles. I was really excited to see who had made the shortlist and was massively underwhelmed when I saw it. Patchett has made it on there but Morgenstern hasn't. To make matters worse, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is there. Edugyan was on the Man Booker shortlist and I really didn't like the two thirds of it that I read. I didn't even finish it, which is hugely unusual for me, I so infrequently don't finish books but I just couldn't get through it. So the fact that that was there and Morgenstern wasn't immediately made me feel as though the judging criteria weren't in line with my own personal preferences.

The books that have made it onto the shortlist, as well as Patchett and Edugyan are:
The Forgotten by Anne Enright
Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

Of those four, The Song of Achilles had caught my eyes as I enjoy historical fiction, but I had passed it over as the focus seemed to be on the romance and the other three didn't appeal either because of the focus on scandalous or illicit relationships. I'm sure that they are well written or have some literary strengths of some description but I think it is a shame that there seems to be such a narrow scope for the shortlist. Maybe I am judging them prematurely but they all appear to be traditional in structure and to focus on romance and said illicit affairs. For a prize that celebrates the best of female writers, I think it is a shame for the shortlist to be so narrowly romantic as it feels as though it is reinforcing the stereotype of what female writers can write about. Considering the variety and creativity of ideas on the longlist it is a disappointing shortlist in terms of scope.

I may try The Song of Achilles and Painter of Silence and I will almost definitely read the winner if I haven't already, and I hope to be proved wrong once I read more of the shortlist, but I hope that future Orange shortlists celebrate the variety and creativity in female writers rather than reinforcing stereotypes about women only writing about illicit romance, however high quality it is. To be honest, they lost me this year when they shortlisted Edugyan and failed to include the magnificent The Night Circus.

Reviews to books I've mentioned and read:
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/review-34-tigers-wife-by-tea-obreht.html
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/review-36-memory-of-love-by-aminatta.html
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/review-49-night-circus-by-erin.html
Man Booker Summary 2011: http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/man-booker-prize-summary.html

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