Baileys Prize Longlist 2017


Aahhh, the Baileys Prize longlist announcement! Its timing is a boon to readers and booksellers alike: at the beginning of March, the next year’s big hitters mostly aren’t out yet (the first round will come in May) and last November’s surge of pre-Christmas publications has probably already been devoured by the serious and/or professional reader. March in books is like March in vegetables; you just have to lump it til spring starts. Except for the Baileys Prize, which provides a much-needed shot of excitement and, sometimes, impetus to check out titles you may have overlooked.

This year I am following the prize as part of the Shadow Panel, along with Naomi, Eric, Antonia, and Meera. This was also the first year in which I recognized every single title on the longlist, which is probably due to the fact that I’ve been paying ever closer attention to books news.

It is not as diverse as it might look. Most of the listed authors are established; only three are non-white. I’m not sure what constitutes a “small” or “independent” publisher – Serpent’s Tail are independent but have serious literary bona fides, as have Granta – but it’s interesting that none of these publishers are new to me either. In the past there has generally been at least one or two wild cards; none of these entries surprise me hugely.

What surprises a little bit is a host of absences: Idaho by Emily Ruskovitch. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton. Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn. I suppose this only goes to show that the state of English-language writing by women is flourishing – the longlist has 16 books on it instead of 12, which also supports this theory – but still, their absence is notable. (Especially given the presence on the list of Barkskins, which has provoked extremely tepid reactions from virtually every book person I know.)

Most appalling in its absence is Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. What possible excuse can there be for leaving it off?

Anyway. I’ve read six and a half of the longlistees (including most of the big ones, hurrah!), which is good because we only have three weeks to the shortlist announcement. The full list is below; links are to my reviews, where they exist.

Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate) – read after announcement; review

The Power by Naomi Alderman (Viking) – read after announcement; short review

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth) – read after announcement; short review

Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Picador) – read after announcement; review

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill (Serpent’s Tail)

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant (Virago)

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber) – read after announcement; review

Midwinter by Fiona Melrose (Corsair) – reviewed in a Superlatives post

The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan (4th Estate) – reviewed in a Superlatives post

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus) – read after announcement; short review

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (riverrun) – tried to start three times, couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it, ended up abandoning

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail) – read twice, and discussed in a Superlatives post

Barkskins by Annie Proulx (4th Estate) – read after announcement; review

First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta) – reviewed at Shiny New Books

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Granta) – read after announcement; short review

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus) – read after announcement; short review

Which book are you most excited for? Is there a book I haven’t read that you think I should get to without delay? Any notable omissions or inclusions you’re furious about?

32 thoughts on “Baileys Prize Longlist 2017

  1. Your reactions are spot on with mine! I was amazed that the list omitted Homegoing and was deeply disappointed at the lack of writers of color and writers with lesser publicity. I, too, am reading along and will be interested in your thoughts and reviews and how they match or differ from mine. Here’s to binging!

  2. I’ve read 6 of them, and find myself strangely uninterested in the rest (including Barkskins). The only one I’ll definitely aim to read is The Power, since I already have it on my Kindle. What’s your strategy for getting through them before the shortlist announcement? Hag-Seed is delightful (but not a prize winner); read it without delay.

    1. I have no strategy except for just powering through, but my reading speed has been getting better and better, so I think I’ll probably manage it. (Having read the big ones also really helps; the only as-yet-unread chunkster is Barkskins and I can probably do it in an empty weekend.) Hag-Seed does beckon; I’ve just started The Gustav Sonata and like it, but think it will have to go somewhere incredible to justify all the lavish praise on the cover…

      1. I don’t doubt you’ll manage to read them all 🙂 I’ve read a few Tremain novels and not been blown away by any of them; The Road Home was my favourite of those.

      2. Of her backlist, the one that most immediately appeals to me is Restoration, although Sacred Country looks good too – have you read either of those?

  3. I’ve read Hagseed and The Gustav Sonata which were both great but I don’t think are winners. And Little Deaths which I didn’t rate at all. Also flabbergasted that The Tidal Zone omitted

    1. Oooh, you’re the first person I’ve heard to not like Little Deaths! Now I’m way more excited to read it 🙂 Currently about halfway through The Gustav Sonata (have made it to the section on his parents’ marriage and his father’s “crime”) and am really impressed with the control and lucidity of the writing. Tremain does what Kate Atkinson does, making something readable and yet not lightweight or superficial.

      1. Ha! Very promising beginning but then lost its way on both plot and character which was very frustrating. Totally agree on Tremain – a pleasure to read.

  4. I don’t know much about these books, except for the ones by Atwood and Thien. Last year I read about half the longlist, and this year I’m not sure which ones to read. I’ll be interested to see how you like them.

    1. Of the ones I’ve read so far, I’d highly recommend Gaitskill, Morgan, Riley if you’re feeling tough, and now Tremain now.

  5. I recognise all the titles but haven’t read any of them yet. Was interested in your comments on what was left off – I was also surprised that Swing Time wasn’t there (I didn’t love this book as much as some but expected it to be there). Was really surprised that Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things didn’t make it either (not just because of the Australian element but because of the themes it addresses).

      1. Which makes me wonder even more about the picked-it-because-of-the-publicity factor at work in the official panel’s choices…

  6. Agreed on Lack of Homegoing! I’ve read Gustav Sonata. Loved it! I reviewed it on my blog if you want to read more about it but to some it up in two words: pitch perfect

      1. Possibly “enjoy” is the wrong word, but I thought the second section—Erich and Emilie’s story—made the book.

      2. You’re right. Enjoy is far too strong. I found Esi’s story incredibly evocative. I may have shed a number of tears reading that!

      3. Oh, you meant with regards to Homegoing! Sorry, I thought you were talking about a different book! But, by happy chance, my answer remains the same—Esi’s section was really important for me, although the section about the criminal coal miners was a close runner-up.

      4. That was my fault!! The Gustav Sonata is a beautiful book. Loved how the boys friendship develops! Lovely to read we have the same opinion on Homegoing tho!

  7. I’m sad that Homegoing is not on the list, but yay for three Canadians! And for being on the shadow panel!
    I can’t help but notice how nice the books looks all lined up – they seem to have a black/yellow/orange/white theme going. Have fun reading!

    1. Yes, it’s great to see the Canadians there! Someone bought Madeleine Thien’s book at work today, which was really fantastic—I haven’t read it yet but I wanted to encourage him to pick it up, and he did.

  8. Eek! I haven’t read *cough* any of them! I am surprised by Barkskins being there (picked to recognise her career rather than as worthy in itself I’d wager). I’d have liked to see Claire Fuller’s new one Swimming Lessons there which I loved.

    1. Yes, Swimming Lessons is another surprising omission. I think you’re probably right about Barkskins—I still haven’t read it, it’ll probably be the last one I get to…

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