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 🙂

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)

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!

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist Reaction

This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced and I am so excited! I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year, when many of the book bloggers that I follow posted their reviews of books on the 2019 longlist. Based on their reviews, I read some of the longlisted books (including ones that never would have made it onto my radar otherwise) and found some unexpected gems! In fact, my favorite book of 2019 was Lost Children Archive, which I heard about because so many of the book bloggers I follow were posting about it as part of their WP longlist review.

This year, it is my goal to read every longlisted book before the winner is announced on June 3rd. Before I announce my reaction to the books that were longlisted, I wanted to mention a few books that didn’t make the longlist:

  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: this book is critically acclaimed, but has a low rating on Goodreads. It has been on my TBR for almost a year now, but I can never seem to get to it. I had hoped it would make the WP longlist to give me the push I needed to read it!
  • Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid: this is another critically acclaimed book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while! This book is topically relevant in 2020, and I’ve heard great things about it from other book bloggers.
  • Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson: another topically relevant book that is really hot right now. I’m in the minority of people that didn’t like this book (it was “meh” for me). But I thought that given the novel’s takes on feminism and the future of humanity, its positive reception, and its Booker Prize nomination, that it would end up on the WP longlist.
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I didn’t care for The Handmaid’s Tale when I read it 10 years ago, and I don’t care to read the sequel now. I’m glad this book didn’t make the longlist because it doesn’t need any extra hype.
  • Death in Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh: I had wishfully hoped this book would make the WP longlist because 1) this book is already on my priority TBR, and 2) I love Moshfegh’s writing.

And now…the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 longlist!

  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: I’m cautiously optimistic about this book. I absolutely loved Circe, which was also a feminist re-imagination of a Greek classic. And more generally, I love books that give voices to those who have previously been silenced. So this sounds like something up my alley.
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: I was so pleasantly surprised to see this on the WP longlist! I already read this book and really enjoyed it. It is a story about a young 20-something trying to find herself and heal from a traumatic childhood…and it is really well-executed. So happy to see this novel getting more well-deserved attention. (PS – you can read my review of Queenie here)
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel: I am not going to read this book. It is historical fiction that takes place in 1500’s England AND it is close to 800 pages AND it is the 3rd book in a trilogy that I haven’t read. Hard pass.
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: this is another “cautiously optimistic” one for me. It is a WWII book, but it is more about the aftermath of the war on a family relationship, which could be really interesting. I have also heard great things about Ann Patchett’s writing, so I’m excited to read her for myself!
  • Actress by Anne Enright: I’m neutral about this book. For some reason, I usually don’t like books about actors or writers…but I did like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (a book about an actress). Could work for me, we will see.
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie: another book that I feel neutral about. I don’t quite know what to expect based on the official description, so we will see.
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara: I am pretty excited about this mystery/thriller novel that takes place in contemporary India. It sounds unlike anything I’ve read before, in a good way. My only potential reservation is that it is written from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy; whether or not this works will depend on the author’s execution.
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee: I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It sounds like it will be a difficult read (because of the subject matter), but since the novel is written about Singapore by a Singaporean author, I think the book is more likely to be written from a compassionate perspective than an exploitative one.
  • Weather by Jenny Ofill: another book that I’m excited for. Based on what little I know about it, the characters sound compellingly complex, which is something I love in a novel.
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo: a multigenerational book about family relationships and secrets, this one could go either way for me. I am intimidated by the book’s page count (532), but hopefully it will be a good read!
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz: another “cautiously optimistic.” The novel is about a woman who enters into a loveless marriage for the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, and what comes of her life after she moves. It sounds like this book contains a lot of elements that I typically like: socially-relevant themes, complex characters, and morally difficult decisions.
  • Girl by Edna O’Brien: I am pretty hesitant about this book. It is a story about Nigerian girls who were abducted by Boko Haram…and it is written by a white author. Major red flag for me, as books about marginalized people written by non-marginalized people often end up in the realm of exploitation/trauma-porn.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it is a 1500’s period piece, which is not at all my thing. But on the other hand, it is a re-imagination of history from the perspective of Shakespeare’s wife, which sounds like it has the potential to be amazing!
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: lukewarm about this. It low-key sounds like the debutante ball episode of Gilmore Girls, but spun into a novel.
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: cautiously optimistic? I think I’m the only person who isn’t mad about this book making the WP longlist. I love a novel with an unlikeable main character, and books where unrealistic characters are forced to change their way of thinking. So it sounds like this book has a lot of potential to work for me.

Are you following/reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction? What are your thoughts on the longlist? Do you agree or disagree with any of my takes? What books are you most excited for? I’m so eager to discuss!