Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction

This year I decided to read my way through the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. I’ve currently read 10 out of 16 of the longlisted titles, with plans to read four more. Today, the six books that advanced to the shortlist were announced; they are:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
My rating: 5 stars out of 5 [review]

This was my favorite read from the WP longlist, and I would have been furious if it didn’t advance to the shortlist. I found this book to be so fresh and ambitious. From the writing style, to the social commentary, to the complex characters, everything in this novel really worked for me. And of all the books on the longlist (that I’ve read so far), this one painted the most nuanced picture of womanhood. I would be very happy to see this win the Women’s Prize.

Weather by Jenny Offill
My rating: 4 stars out of 5 [review]

This was one of the more polarizing reads on the longlist, due to the novel’s inner-monologue writing-style and lack of plot. While I thought it was brilliantly compelling and intimate, other readers found it boring. Despite its mixed reception, this book was very skillfully written, and its focus on coping with uncertainty in a rapidly-changing world makes it an unsurprising choice for the shortlist. That said, I’m still not rooting for this one to win the prize because it wasn’t nearly as impactful as Girl, Woman, Other.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Currently reading
Current rating: 4 stars out of 5 (subject to change)

Another unsurprising shortlist choice, since the WP judges seem to have a soft spot for Greek mythology and Trojan War retellings (last year both Circe and The Silence of the Girls advanced to the shortlist). I do think A Thousand Ships deserves its place on the shortlist, though. While perhaps not the freshest novel, it is well-written and features well-balanced characters and nuanced takes on womanhood.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz
My rating: 2 stars out of 5 [review]

This was my least favorite read from the WP longlist. Dominicana had the potential to tell an immigration/American Dream story in a nuanced and historically interesting way…but instead it followed all of the tropes that you would expect. I won’t launch into my disappointment over this novel all over again (I already did that in my review), but I am surprised to see the WP judges shortlist a novel where the most well-developed character was the abusive husband.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
TBR

I’ve read nothing but positive reviews for this novel, so I’m excited to see it on the shortlist (and equally excited to read it soon).

The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel.
TBR

I’m not surprised to see this on the shortlist. I’ve seen overwhelmingly positive reviews for this book, and the first two books in Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy received a lot of literary acclaim. I’m really looking forward to reading this, and seeing if it lives up to the hype! And since the winner announcement has been postponed until September, I actually feel confident that I’ll be able to read the entire Wolf Hall series by then!

With only one seriously objectionable book (Dominicana), this year’s shortlist doesn’t seem so bad if you look only at the individual books that comprise it. Given the number of longlisted books that were just fine, but not particularly inspiring, memorable, or insightful, the judges did a pretty good job in advancing only deserving contenders to the shortlist.

But looking at the shortlist as a whole, I wonder: are three historical fiction novels really necessary? And do all three of the shortlisted HF novels need to be Eurocentric? Specifically, I wonder why How We Disappeared or Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line weren’t shortlisted? Of all the books on the WP longlist, these were two of the most universally well-received by fellow WP bloggers. And with three historical fiction novels written by white authors on the shortlist, their exclusion feels especially weird.

Speaking of white authors, this shortlist is not very diverse in terms of authorship! One author is Dominican-American, one is British and black, one is a white American…and the remaining three authors are white women from the UK. The inclusion of How We Disappeared or Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line not only would have made the shortlist more interesting thematically, but also more diverse in terms of authorship.

So while (most of) the individual books comprising the Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist do seem to merit their spot there, the list as a whole feels redundant and somewhat lacking. I guess this shouldn’t come as a shock, since the longlist could also be described as redundant and lacking (that’s another post for another time, though). I will be rooting for Girl, Woman, Other to win, but I suspect that it won’t be chosen since it already won the Booker Prize. The book that I think will actually win is The Mirror & The Light.

To end on a more positive note…one of the best parts of reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been reading the posts of fellow book bloggers who are also following the award. I probably would have burnt out on the longlist weeks ago were it not for daily engagement with fellow bloggers. If you’re not following them already, definitely check out Gilana, Callum, Naty, Emily, Rachel, Hannah, Beth, and Corey‘s book blogs!

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

20 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction”

  1. You’re so right that the books seem like mostly decent choices when looked at individually, but together they don’t make a particularly compelling or diverse shortlist. Such a shame. But the process itself has been lots of fun, and I’ve loved following your reviews! 😊

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  2. Thanks so much for the mention! I 100% agree with you that the whole list feels a bit lacking. Of the six everyone knew Girl, Woman, Other, Hament and The Mirror and The Light would be included so no surprises there! I just still can’t fathom why How We Disappeared didn’t get a look in. It’s easily miles better than some books on the list!

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    1. Yeah, that’s the result I was most surprised about too (even though I haven’t even read it yet)! The reviews for this book were overwhelmingly positive, and it’s the book in my TBR that I’m most excited about!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the shout out! Talking over the list with fellow readers has definitely been the highlight this year, I second your adjective choices of “redundant and lacking.” I also feel very similarly about the list as a whole, we had pretty similar reactions to each of these books! I do hope you’ll end up loving Hamnet and The Mirror and The Light.

    And I agree on the notable lack of diversity on this list! I really thought we’d get either the Lee or Anappara, if not both! I suspect Dominicana’s addition was an attempt at diversity, though there were certainly better choices. I was very surprised to see A Thousand Ships make the cut though, it’s baffling to highlight yet another Greek retelling the year after shortlisting two others! It is a solid novel though, like you say.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your longlist reviews! πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you! I’m looking forward to reading both (although it will probably be a WHILE before I get to The Mirror & The Light haha). I think you’re right that Dominicana might be a “diversity book” on the shortlist…but it’s still disappointing when Lee and Anappara wrote books that were diverse AND (this is super subjective) better-written.

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  4. Thanks for the shoutout! I am SERIOUSLY bummed about Dominicana making the list, and not the much more deserving Djinn or How We Disappeared. I’m also wondering about the inclusion of Hamnet and The Mirror & the Light – I know this Prize honors writing by women, but do we really need two books about famous white men? πŸ€”

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  5. It is very interesting to read your thoughts on Dominicana and I appreciate your honesty (I secretly love negative reviews). From the synopsis it looks like it is going to be a good story and it is a pity that there “the most well-developed character was the abusive husband.”

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    1. Thank you! I thought that the book sounded really good from the synopsis too – it was probably my biggest disappointment from the WP longlist, because I had cautiously high hopes going into it. But if you’re interested in the book based on the synopsis, I would still recommend giving it a try! The book has a high rating on Goodreads, so my opinion probably doesn’t represent the majority of readers on this.

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  6. Based on all the Women’s Prize reviews I’ve read — and I’ve read a lot! — the book that sounds most interesting to me on this list is Weather. I was going to get the audiobook ASAP, but it’s narrated by this lady whose voice I cannot stand. Since it’s a shorter novel, I think I’m going to pick it up and barrel through anyway. Reading schedule be damned!

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  7. Kudos to you, Hannah, and to all the thoughtful and committed readers who take on the long list. I just started The Mirror & the Light (GREAT first sentence . . . I mean, brilliant) and am hoping to get through it before the leaves turn again πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! This was a tough year to take on the longlist (some of the books had pretty grim outlooks on life/motherhood, and it’s a tough time to read books like that). I’m glad you’re enjoying The Mirror & The Light so far!! I’m intimidated but excited to read the Wolf Hall series πŸ™‚

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  8. Sorry that the Womens Prize has been a bit of an underwhelming reading experience, it seems to be the the general opinion of the bloggers I follow. Are you going to read along next year or has this year put a dampener on your enthusiasm?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, I’ve never read the longlist. I don’t think I would be disciplined enough to read books unless they have a strong appeal. However, I’ve much enjoyed following a number of bloggers, as they made their way through the longlist. I suppose that is the lazy way of doing it πŸ˜‰

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  9. Great post!! I’m still not over How We Disappeared not being shortlisted and groaning internally at the prospect of reading Dominicana. I totally agree that this year the longlist (and shortlist) feels completely redundant and lacking. Hopefully next year we get better books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I hope that Dominicana works better for you. It was at least one of the quicker reads, and hopefully you find other redeeming things about it too! And YES definitely hoping for better books next year!

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