Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, 2019


It’s happened! It’s out! The Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist was released at midnight (which, as ever, is a truly baffling time to announce anything; the only good reason to do it is so that it’s top of the books news first thing Monday morning, but as Naomi Frisby has pointed out, it doesn’t make things easy for anyone with a regular day job who wants to promote the prize.)

There are sixteen books on the longlist; I’ve already read seven of them. Some of the contenders are unsurprising: The Silence of the GirlsMilkman and Normal People were all pretty safe bets. Some are surprisingly delightful: I loved Diana Evans’s Ordinary People and Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant but never expected them to make the longlist, so hopefully this will get them some more attention. Obviously I’m delighted that Ghost Wall is there. Of the ones I haven’t read, the only two I hadn’t heard of at all are Yvonne Battle-Felton’s Remembered and Bernice L. McFadden’s Praise Song for the Butterflies, so I’m thrilled to have those authors to discover.

One very nice thing about this list is the number of authors of colour on it. Battle-Felton, Tayari Jones, and McFadden are African-American; Oyinkan Braithwaite is Anglo-Nigerian while Diana Evans is black British and Akwaeke Emezi is Nigerian. Lillian Li is Chinese-American, and Valeria Luiselli is from Mexico. It’s a proper 50:50 split, for possibly the first time (I haven’t the time to double-check the numbers on this at the moment). Also, Emezi is trans non-binary, which is definitely historical, and frankly overdue.

At the moment, my priorities are Melissa Broder’s The Pisces (which I’m reliably informed is very sexy and weird), Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater (which has been on my radar for some time anyway), Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods (which is from a very small publisher), and Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive (which I think we have a proof copy of, somewhere in the shop). My heart is still with Ghost Wall, though, which was far and away the best novel I read last year.

How about you? What excites you most about this list? What could be better? What do you wish had made the cut? (I’m sad not to see Siri Hustvedt’s Memories of the Future, for one thing…)

27 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, 2019

  1. Woo, you’re at nearly halfway already! I’ve read 5, DNFed 2, and have no interest in 3, but that still leaves a fair few I’d happily read if I could find copies. (The Pisces is both bonkers and fascinating; I think you’ll love it.)

    So Naomi’s not running a shadow panel this year, but are you still unofficially shadowing?

    1. Wanna know what you DNF’d! Yes, I’m still shadowing (it was always unofficial; the Women’s Prize organizers have never paid the slightest attention to what we did). I’m just excited to have the chance to chat books with Eric and Antonia again!

      1. Swan Song (which, although well written, is way too long) and Number One Chinese Restaurant. That’s fun — I’m glad you three can continue the tradition 🙂 I know what it’s like to have the prize organizers mostly ignore you from our Wellcome shadow panel. I think occasionally their Twitter person retweets our reviews, but that’s it.

      2. I’m vaguely anxious about Swan Song (rich ladies being manipulated by a mean, campy writer, even Truman Capote, is not a premise that thrills me) but I’ll give it a go. Isn’t it a bummer that prizes haven’t gotten on board with the shadowing, for the most part? The Arthur C Clarke Award and the Young Writer of the Year Award are the only two I can think of that dignify the shadow panel with official notice, and I think it’s a really clever move; the others are missing a trick.

      3. A few prizes run official blog tours, including Wellcome and Dylan Thomas. That seems to be the extent of their humouring of ordinary readers.

  2. I’ve read two, Circe and American Marriage, which I loved. I’m reading Milkman now and I’ve got Normal People. Most of the others I hadn’t heard of. Are there books you thought would be on the list that aren’t?

    1. A little surprised by the omission of the Hustvedt; I also thought The Water Cure and Crudo were distinct possibilities, and given that a crime novel was nominated for the Booker this year, I’d have liked to see Tana French on the Women’s Prize list for The Wych Elm (which is all about privilege and extremely well executed). Trying to think of others…oh yes, Lissa Evans’s Old Baggage. It’s funny and charming and simultaneously very angry, which is not a combination that I see rewarded very often on Prize lists.

  3. I am so thrilled that The Pisces made the list. I happened to really really love it and hope you will too. It is bonkers but still so relatable (I am relating way too hard to too many female characters that have been deemed unlikeable by reviewers though, I am unsure whether that should give me pause).
    I will definitely try to read the longlist but some of those books don’t quite sound like my cup of tea. But I am looking forward to checking the books out for myself.

    1. I mean, “merman sex” definitely has me interested. Also, I strongly identify with your relating to “unlikeable” female characters. “Likeability” shouldn’t be considered a tool of literary analysis anyway.

      1. Yes! And the main character is SO compelling. I could not help but root for her even when she does horrible things.

  4. I was convinced the Braithwaite was a total outlier when I included her on my wish list and I’m absolutely delighted that the judges included it. It’s a brilliant book. Such a shame about the Hustvedt, though. The Luiselli is excellent – you’d never believe it was her first book in English.

    1. Braithwaite’s book is one that’s had such a quick, positive critical response, it almost makes me want to avoid it (because I’m contrary), but if you liked it… Can’t wait to start Luiselli. I think our proof copy has been snaffled by another bookseller and I am forlorn.

  5. I’ve read five, and of those, I’d probably champion either Ghost Wall or Milkman – but nothing I really adored & have already read has made the list, which is a shame. I’m most looking forward to reading Normal People, Lost Children Archive, and Remembered, which were all on my TBR list anyway.

    1. I wouldn’t be sad if Milkman won either – it’s sheer genius – except in the sense that I don’t like it when a book wins two major prizes at once; it feels…I don’t know… unnecessary.

  6. SO thrilled about all the diversity on this list! I’m glad you looked up the stats because I was too lazy to do that in my own post, but a 50:50 split with white authors and authors of color is just brilliant. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on The Pisces and Freshwater. Right now I’ve read 8 and I’m also rooting for Ghost Wall – Milkman has my heart but it doesn’t need the recognition!

  7. I’m so glad to see Ghost Wall on there. Normal People was a given, even though I found it disappointing. I’d liked to have seen Putney on there but lots here to check out.

    1. Oh yes, Putney! That also seems to have been generally overlooked at the time of its publishing – I know Zinovieff is said to have done a beautiful job, but I do wonder if the subject matter was enough to put people off.

  8. I’ve read just one! The Lillian Li which I really enjoyed, I own several here, so looks like I have some great reading ahead if I can find the time. The Braithwaite, which I don’t own sadly, is the one I want to read though, ain’t that always the way!

    1. I’m really glad you liked Li! It seems to have had a lukewarm reception on Goodreads, though I found a good deal to like about it and persuaded a colleague to read it too – and she loved it. I also really want to get to the Braithwaite…

  9. I’ve read… ZERO! But that’s no surprise cos I don’t tend to read very many new releases these days and my diet last year was largely Australian. Looks like some interesting ones on here though and I do have copies of Milkman and Ordinary People lying in wait.

  10. I’m keen to read The Pisces, Freshwater, and Ghost Wall — all have been on my radar for months now. I’m impressed at the diverse range of titles they’ve selected for the list; it’s great to see women of color receiving the recognition they deserve, and the books are all so different from each other.

    1. Yes! That’s another thing – generic diversity. No straight-up crime and no graphic novel (unlike the Booker…) but they’re doing pretty well.

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