Women's Prize for Fiction 2020: Winner Announcement & Concluding Thoughts

Remember the Women’s Prize for Fiction?! So much time has passed since the longlist announcement back in March that the prize hasn’t been on my mind as much in the past couple months. But the winner was announced today, and it is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell! While I hadn’t been rooting for Hamnet to win, I can appreciate that it is a gorgeously written and thoughtful work of historical fiction. You can read my full review of Hamnet here, but the tl;dr of it is that, while beautifully written and quite moving at times, the book spends over 200 pages leading up to an event that the reader already knows is going to happen (based on the synopsis). For other takes on Hamnet, check out Callum, Emily, Naty, Beth, Rachel, and Fatma’s reviews!

The book that I was rooting for to win was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I became a (slightly) harsher reviewer after reading it, because Girl, Woman, Other showed me that one book really can do it all: profound social commentary that feels completely organic in the context of the story, excellent characters, beautifully poetic writing, and a fresh premise. Even though a couple of the stories in the collection weren’t as compelling as the rest, I was astounded by the book as a whole. I also would have loved to see Evaristo, and her alone, take the prize after having to share the 2019 Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood.

I also would have been very happy to see How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee win the prize, but unfortunately it didn’t even make the shortlist (I have already ranted about this once, and won’t rehash that again here). Despite being such a powerful and evocative novel, How We Disappeared has NOT gotten the attention it deserves! On Goodreads, How We Disappeared has 2,748 ratings and 475 reviews, compared to Hamnet’s 9,042 ratings and 1,547 reviews. Winning the Women’s Prize could have brought so much well-deserved attention to Jing-Jing Lee and How We Disappeared.

Looking back on my experience reading through the Women’s Prize longlist this year, I have to say that it was a bit disappointing. I made the decision to read the list in (almost) its entirety this year, because of how much I loved the WP books I read last year. Last year, I read eight books from the WP longlist, and gave them an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. This year, I read thirteen longlisted books, and rated them 3.7 stars out of 5, on average. Obviously, I can’t make statistically meaningful comparisons here, and I know that 3.7 stars out of 5 isn’t that bad. But 1) I am the type of reader who rates most books as 4 stars out of 5, and 2) I just didn’t have that deep connection with many of the books on this year’s longlist, even ones that I thought were well-written.

Part of my problem with this year’s longlist might have been the huge thematic focus on motherhood. While I’m not actively opposed to books about motherhood, I’m also not really interested in reading a dozen books about motherhood in the span of three months. I wonder why the judges centered the longlist around this theme, when surely they recognize that women have so much to contribute to the world besides motherhood? I also wonder what WP-eligible books were omitted from the longlist because they didn’t fit the theme?

Other themes that came up throughout the longlist were family sagas and family secrets; mental health, trauma, and grief; reimaginations and retellings of history; and “rich people problems.” I was particularly surprised that the longlist included three “rich people problems” novels, especially when only one of those novels (Fleishman is in Trouble) offered any type of meaningful social commentary.

I’m getting a bit ranty here, so I want to make sure that I also acknowledge the positives that came out of reading this year’s WP longlist. The best thing was connecting with other bloggers. I loved having reading buddies to exchange opinions and (especially in the case of Dominicana and The Most Fun We Ever Had) commiserate with! Also, I did rate quite a few books as 4-stars or higher. I most likely wouldn’t have read all of these books – especially Weather, Red at the Bone, How We Disappeared, and Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line – if it weren’t for the Women’s Prize.

tl;dr Although I was rooting for Girl, Woman, Other, I’m not mad about Hamnet winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I was a bit disappointed with the longlist on the whole, but loved connecting with other book bloggers over the Women’s Prize, and ended up reading some great novels that I otherwise might not have. I will most likely do it again next year πŸ™‚

my Rankings of the wp-longlisted books

  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – 5 stars out of 5
  2. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – 4.5 stars out of 5
  3. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – 4 stars out of 5
  4. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – 4 stars out of 5
  5. Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams – 4 stars out of 5
  6. Weather by Jenny Offill – 4 stars out of 5
  7. Actress by Anne Enright – 4 stars out of 5
  8. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – 3.5 stars out of 5
  9. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – 3.5 stars out of 5
  10. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – 3.5 stars out of 5
  11. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – 3 stars out of 5
  12. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – 3 stars out of 5
  13. Dominicana by Angie Cruz – 2 stars out of 5
  14. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – didn’t read (because I read many negative reviews that made me suspect I would dislike this book)
  15. Girl by Edna O’Brien – didn’t read (because it sounds like trauma porn, and also if I want to read about Boko Haram I’ll read something by an ownvoices author)
  16. The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel – didn’t read (because I didn’t have the motivation to start the Wolf Hall series this summer)

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.

15 thoughts on “Women's Prize for Fiction 2020: Winner Announcement & Concluding Thoughts”

  1. How We Disappeared sounds like an interesting book. Will definitely add it to my TBR! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I do agree, Girl, Woman, Other is a very well written book.

    P.S. Someone recommended Hamnet to me because I mentioned I love historical fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I hope you enjoy How We Disappeared! (Or perhaps enjoy is the wrong word, since the subject matter can be quite devastating, but I hope you like the book).

      And I hope you have a great time with Hamnet as well! Although it wasn’t my personal favorite, it’s still a beautifully written novel πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely share your feelings here! How We Disappeared would have done something really great as a winner, whereas I feel that Hamnet doesn’t bring much with it, at least not as much as HWD would in terms of a historical fiction that tells the story of forgotten women. Girl, Woman, Other is just so brilliant, I am still seething that it shared the Booker with Atwood!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yay!! I had been worried that I was being too harsh or complaining too much in the post, so it’s nice to hear that you felt similarly! And that’s a great point about HWD focusing on forgotten women (vs Hamnet which focuses on someone people are more familiar with)!!

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  3. Great post! GWO and How We Disappeared were the titles I’d have been happiest to see win as well. It’s a shame this year’s prize underwhelmed on the whole, but it was fun following along and discussing the list with everyone 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hannah, your thoughts on this year’s WP list are extremely interesting. I always wonder what hidden biases go into such selections, and what unvoiced group dynamics might be at work within any panel of judges for something as subjective as literary or artistic merit. When you do get to the Wolf Hall series, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts: I loved the first two. We can discuss the third one when you get there πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m trying to read more books by Latina authors, but Dominica was disliked by everyone, and the last several books I’ve read I didn’t enjoy for different reasons! I added a bunch of books by Latinas to my TBR this past week, so I’m hoping something clicks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s part of the reason why I felt so frustrated with Dominicana’s inclusion on the longlist and shortlist! If the judges are only going to include ONE Latina-authored book, then please make it a really good one and not a lazy “diversity pick.”

      Hopefully one of the Latina-authored books on your TBR works out!! Your comment makes me realize that I don’t read many Latina authors either; I will try to incorporate more into TBR as well πŸ™‚

      Like

      1. My reading tends to focus on authors in the U.S., and I read loads of books by black authors because that’s my background in education, but being on the other side of the U.S., I don’t see many Hispanic/Latinx people and forget that I should read more *embarrassed face*

        When I was last teaching, the college had many students who were from South America and Mexico. Many were undocumented, as were their parents. I was a lot more aware then, but I need to make an effort.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed reading your thoughts of WP. I have no views on whether Hamnet was a deserved winner, since I barely read any of the longlist. GWO was great, but I do get what some people are saying about different books getting a chance. And GWO already had its time in the spotlight.

    Even if I didn’t join in, it has been fun to follow all the reviews. I do feel bad for you about the disappointing quality of this year’s selection, which may have been one of the reasons, I didn’t pick up more. On the other hand, I really enjoyed The Dutch House, which most of your group didn’t get on with at all. I wouldn’t say it was prize winner material though, not edgy or remarkable, just (in my humble opinion) a solid read πŸ˜‰ .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s a good point that GWO has already won prizes (even if the Booker win was shared), and that the judges may have wanted to spotlight a different book. While it wasn’t my first choice, I think Hamnet is a solid choice to win the Booker. If you like historical fiction (esp. Elizabethan England!) with a hint of magical realism, you’ll probably enjoy this one!!

      And I’m glad you enjoyed following the WP coverage!! I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts if you end up picking up any of the other longlisted books! And I’m glad you had a good experience with the Dutch House. I thought there were a lot of interesting ideas and stories there, but I got frustrated with Danny as narrator because he was so passive!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, yes, so much yes! I had a lot of fun reading Hamnet but wouldn’t necessarily have chosen it personally as the winner this year- GWO would’ve been a fantastic choice, especially in response to the Booker debacle, and it really is a tragedy that How We Disappeared didn’t go farther! It was a somewhat disappointing longlist year with such a strong motherhood focus (there is definitely more to womanhood than motherhood, and I shudder at the thought of excellent books being turned away for lacking this theme!!) but it was fun to talk about them with other readers. I’m very glad to have “met” you thanks to the WP this year! And already looking forward to exchanging thoughts on next year’s list. πŸ™‚ Hopefully it’ll be more varied in theme!

    Liked by 1 person

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