Beginning in 1996, following a year when not a single female author was shortlisted for the Booker prize, the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction was created to combat biases towards women in the literary community. From some 200 books written by women and read by the judges in the past year, five judges selected 16 for the longlist. These are books that “best exemplify excellence, originality and accessibility”. The books span a variety of genres from throughout the world and are written in English. The winner of the award will receive £30,000, which is about $41,000 US.
Here are the 16 books on the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist:
1. H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker
Imagine a perfect world where everything is known, where everything is open, where there can be no doubt, no hatred, no poverty, no greed. Imagine a System which both nurtures and protects. A Community which nourishes and sustains. An infinite world. A world without sickness, without death. A world without God. A world without fear.
Could you . . . might you be happy there?
H(A)PPY is a post-post apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland, a story which tells itself and then consumes itself. It’s a place where language glows, where words buzz and sparkle and finally implode. It’s a novel which twists and writhes with all the terrifying precision of a tiny fish in an Escher lithograph—a book where the mere telling of a story is the end of certainty.
2. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.
The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.
3. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
There are three things you should know about Elsie.
The first thing is that she’s my best friend.
The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.
And the third thing . . . might take a little bit more explaining.
84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?
4. Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
A beautiful and poignant story of one family during the most violent and turbulent years of world history, Miss Burma is a powerful novel of love and war, colonialism and ethnicity, and the ties of blood.
Miss Burma tells the story of modern-day Burma through the eyes of Benny and Khin, husband and wife, and their daughter Louisa. After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese Occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country’s history. After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma’s first beauty queen, soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in her country, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.
Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a captivating portrait of how modern Burma came to be, and of the ordinary people swept up in the struggle for self-determination and freedom.
5. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
The long-awaited novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have been murdered.
Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America, and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.
6. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
This voyage is special. It will change everything . . .
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours, and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on . . . and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.
Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart, and wit.
7. Sight by Jessie Greengrass
The extraordinary first novel from the author of the prizewinning An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It.
It seemed, at times, an act of profound selfishness, to have a child so that I might become a parent; but selfish, too, to have a child and stay the same, or not to have one—unless the only honest choice would have been to try to become this kinder version of myself without the need to bring another into it . . .
Sight is about X-rays, psychoanalysis, and the origins of modern surgery. It is about being a parent, and being a child. Fiercely intelligent, brilliantly written and suffused with something close to forgiveness, it is a novel about how we see others and how we imagine ourselves.
8. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes . . .
The only way to survive is to open your heart.
9. When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
Seduced by politics and poetry, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor and agrees to be his wife, but what for her is a contract of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealized version of a kept woman, bullying her out of her life as an academic and writer in the process, she attempts to push back—a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape.
Smart, fierce, and courageous When I Hit You is a dissection of what love meant, means, and will come to mean when trust is undermined by violence; a brilliant, throat-tightening feminist discourse on battered faces and bruised male egos; and a scathing portrait of traditional wedlock in modern India.
10. Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Fresh and distinctive writing from an exciting new voice in fiction, Elmet is an unforgettable novel about family, as well as a beautiful meditation on landscape.
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home, he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.
Atmospheric and unsettling, Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary society and one family’s precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.
11. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
By slowly becoming everything.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years—the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, “normalcy” is declared.
Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who love her.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, mended by love—and by hope. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender. This ravishing, magnificent book reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.
12. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.
As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.
13. A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
Otto Pohl, an engineer overseeing construction of a German road in Ukraine, awakens to the unexpected sight of SS men herding hundreds of Jews into an old brick factory . . .
Inside the factory, Ephraim anxiously scans the growing crowd, looking for his two sons. As anxious questions swirl around him—”Where are they taking us? How long will we be gone?”—he can’t quell the suspicion that it would be just like his oldest son to hole up somewhere instead of lining up for the Germans, and just like his youngest to follow . . .
Yasia, a farmer’s daughter who has come into town to sell produce, sees two young boys slinking through the shadows of the deserted streets and decides to offer them shelter . . .
As these lives become more and more intertwined Rachel Seiffert’s prose rich with a rare compassion, courage, and emotional depth, an unflinching story is told: of survival, of conflicting senses of duty, of the oppressive power of fear and the possibility of courage in the face of terror.
14. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
15. The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
Mona is a dollmaker. She crafts beautiful, handmade wooden dolls in her workshop in a sleepy seaside town. Every doll is special. Every doll has a name. And every doll has a hidden meaning, from a past Mona has never accepted.
Each new doll takes Mona back to a different time entirely—back to Birmingham, in 1972. Back to the thrill of being a young Irish girl in a big city, with a new job and a room of her own in a busy boarding house. Back to her first night out in town, where she meets William, a gentle Irish boy with an easy smile and an open face. Back to their whirlwind marriage, and unexpected pregnancy. And finally, to the tragedy that tore them apart.
16. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds.
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.
So what book, on or off of the list, written by a female author, do you think should win the women’s prize for fiction? Let us know in the comments below!
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