Meanwhile, At Litro: the Baileys Prize Shortlist

I was (not completely, but to a great extent) annoyed about this. I wrote a spiky column for Litro, describing how annoyed I was about it. Lovers of Kate Atkinson, I am here to avenge the wrongs she has suffered.



22 thoughts on “Meanwhile, At Litro: the Baileys Prize Shortlist

  1. Wow, the Rothschild sounds awful. I can’t stand it when authors seem to have a fear of contractions (Penelope by Rebecca Harrington, I’m thinking of you). I hated Life After Life so I can’t quite get behind the Atkinson outrage, but I certainly wish the Barrett and Chambers had been shortlisted.

    • It’s doubly frustrating because it’s not like no one sees these books before they’re published! Editors have to read manuscripts, surely. And…make corrections/suggestions? Maybe?!

    • I was so reluctant to read AGIR, I can’t tell you, and it sucked me right in. I’ve not read Life After Life, but this is much more straightforward (just one life, and its consequences), so maybe you’ll like it more!

      • Mike Evans says:

        I loved Life after Life, which I think added to my pleasure in AGIR, though I didn’t like the latter quite as much. I keep giving copies of LAL to former students who drop in on me. All of Atkinson’s books have delighted me, and and as she goes on they get better and deeper. I think she’s a natural story-teller and a serious artist (ruthless, as you say), one of the two or three most interesting writers of her generation. Good for you for standing up for her!

      • I really must read LAL, now. Yes, she is ruthless. It surprises me every time – like Austen, she keeps the mallet behind her back. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is particularly good at that. (I have to read that again too.)

  2. I haven’t read Atkinson but I’ll trust your outrage! I was disappointed that Barrett didn’t make it (I thought Rush Oh was original and different) and surprised that Strout wasn’t there.

    I’ve read three of the shortlisted books (Green Road, Little Life, and Veblen). Although I rated Little Life most highly at time of reading, my vote is for Veblen, simply because it’s completely different and imaginative.

    • YES, also shocking that Elizabeth Strout wasn’t on the list. I’ve only read Olive Kitteredge, but it was so impressive and poignant and subtle, and you’d think Lucy Barton would be exactly the sort of thing (mothers, daughters, illness, memory) that the prize panel would go for. I also really hope Shirley Barrett gets another shot. Rush Oh! was so original and funny and weird.

      • Lucy Barton was all that you would expect – I loved it. Maybe it was too subtle…

        Rush Oh! was one of those books that defies genres (darkly humorous historical fiction?!) and then people/ judges don’t know what to do with it.

  3. I really enjoyed the article’s directness and passion! I agree with you on Rothchild – I just found it very ordinary, maybe even slightly less than ordinary. But I’m one of those who doesn’t get the Atkinson high praise – I always start off her books thinking ‘this is the one I will love’ but it never quite happens. For me the surprise omission was Elizabeth Strout – I thought Lucy Barton was great.

    • Likewise, Strout’s omission is a weird one to me. I feel less passionately about it because she’s a) won the Pulitzer Prize already, and b) doesn’t have the same loooooong track record as Atkinson does of writing more-than-competent novels (plots + prose) and not getting critically recognised for them.

  4. I totally agree, it’s so frustrating! I haven’t invested as heavily in the Baileys this year as I have in previous years, but it’s really slapped me in the face with shortlists in the past. Like in 2010 when The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (a sub-par copy of The Go-Between) got shortlisted while Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger and M J Hyland’s This is How got missed off. Or in 2008 when Lottery by Patricia Wood was shortlisted instead of Nancy Huston’s Fault Lines or The Keep by Jennifer Egan. Lottery is *still* one of the worst books I’ve read in the last 10 years at eight years distance. Argh! I think you’re probably right about the judges; they rarely have a history of commitment to reading and fiction. I don’t think ‘I like reading and I’m a woman’ is a sufficient qualification. I suppose it comes down to the what the prize wants to achieve: the best books in any given year by women, in which case the judging needs to change, or just a higher profile for a range of books by women, in which case I guess you win some you lose some.

    Basically I think the Baileys would be a better prize if people like us judged it. 😉

    • It WOULD. They should ask us instead. 🙂

      You’re right about it figuring out what it wants to achieve. My assumption has always been that it’s for the best book written in the last year by a woman – mere profile-raising doesn’t strike me as a sufficient raison d’etre – but maybe that’s where it’s heading? Given that the committee uses social media very well, and so on…

  5. I haven’t read many of the longlisted books, and none of the shortlisted books, but have been following the reviews and discussions surrounding them. All of this is very interesting, and I loved reading your article and the comments here about it. I think, regardless of the shortlist (or because of the grumblings over it), all of the worthy books and authors are getting a lot of support and attention over it all – a good thing. And, I know my own reading choices will be based on trusted blogger opinions rather than the lists! Rush Oh!, Lucy Barton, and A God in Ruins are high on my list, along with a few of the ones on the shortlist.

    • Yeah, the attention is definitely the positive outcome here, no matter which book wins. I’m glad you found it interesting even without having read any of the shortlisted! I’ve really enjoyed The Glorious Heresies, been a bit “eh” on A Little Life, and obviously not impressed with The Improbability of Love. I’ve got a copy of Ruby, too, and hope to read that soon!

  6. ian darling says:

    I think Atkinson should have been on the list. Perhaps the judges felt that she hardly needed the prize or the publicity but those seem rather flimsy grounds. I kind of hate the idea of literary prizes but no question it does give some novels a much better chance of picking up a readership.

    • It does seem a little flimsy, especially given that Hanya Yanagihara and Anne Enright hardly need the publicity either! Frustrating. We’ll probably never know.

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