16 April 2013

Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

The shortlist for the Women's Prize was announced this morning:

- Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
- A. M. Homes: May We Be Forgiven
- Barbara Kingsolver: Flight Behaviour
- Hilary Mantel: Bring Up the Bodies
- Maria Semple: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
- Zadie Smith: NW

It seems like a very strong, if high-profile, list. I have read Life After Life, Bring Up the Bodies and Where'd You Go, Bernadette and I loved all three. I think Mantel will have her strongest competition to date in Atkinson's Life After Life which I thought was, quite frankly, perfect. I absolutely loved it and I think I would choose it over Bring Up the Bodies. Whilst I can't say I liked it more that the other two, I thought Semple's novel was moving and quirky and I enjoyed it an awful lot. Those three books are three of the best I've read this year. I was very sad not to see The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber make the shortlist as I thought that was an exemplary novel and staggeringly well written and it's a real shame it won't get a bigger audience through being shortlisted.

The other three on the shortlist I already own but haven't got around to reading yet. May We Be Forgiven has been on my to-read list ever since it came out and I think is going to be the one I try first. I was very impressed by Kingsolver's The Lacuna, although I felt it lacked an emotional connection, and I loved White Teeth, although I read it when I was a teenager, so I'm hoping to really enjoy all of the shortlist.

It is, however, a very well established shortlist - Atkinson, Kingsolver, Mantel and Smith are very well known authors and have all won major awards before. Homes is well established amongst literary crowds and Semple is an established screenwriter, having written for Arrested Development. All of the novels had a lot of buzz around them when they were published unlike many of the rest of the longlist. However, books don't deserve to be shortlisted for major awards just because they are not very well known and the strength of the three novels I've already read makes me believe that it's a, perhaps unfortunate, coincidence that the most established authors have made the shortlist. And of course one could argue they are more established because they write the best books! Bring Up the Bodies and Life After Life are certainly two of my all time favourite novels!

I personally feel there's too much literary snobbery going on generally and I'm a huge believer that something can be both popular and literary. My favourite book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger which was a huge mainstream success and I really resent being made to feel as though this is a bad choice just because it is popular! I hated the snobbery around the Man Booker last year being too readable - we're on dangerous ground when a book being readable is a criticism. Books are there to be loved.

So, I'm excited to read the rest of the shortlist and to see who wins on 5th June. So far, my vote is for Life After Life.


  1. The Time Traveller's Wife is one of my all time favourites too! It looks as though we had very similar thoughts on this shortlist - I'm also sad that Barber didn't make it. I'll be very interested to see which book they pick as their winner. I have a feeling Atkinson could win this year too.

  2. I loved The Time Traveler's Wife as well. And yes, a book being popular does not mean it is not good. I'll be there cheering for Atkinson til the end. She's such a great writer! But at the same time, I see Life After Life is not a mainstream novel, it is not beach reading either. It's a complex book with some very important feminist issues dealth with.