2020 Women’s Prize Take 2: Blogger Edition

As much as I appreciated the structure that the Women’s Prize longlist brought to my reading and blogging life over the last two months of global chaos, in the aftermath of the shortlist announcement I have been taking a nice break from both that I didn’t realize I needed so desperately. But, I’m back on my game this weekend and getting back into both!

For a bit of further explanation here, I’ve been part of a chat group called Women’s Prize Squad comprised of some great bloggers with similar bookish interests; it’s low-key and no reading is actually required- two members of the group haven’t read any of this year’s longlist at all yet. These lovely people are: Callum, Hannah, Marija, Naty, Rachel, Sarah, and Steph. Though opinions do vary, one thing we could all agree on this year was that the official longlist wasn’t living up to expectations for us, and in a year with so many great eligible books we found that especially disappointing. So, just before the shortlist announcement, we spent an hour or two assembling our own longlist from this year’s eligible books: fiction written by women published in English in the UK between April 2019 and March 2020.

It wasn’t something we planned or prepared for in advance, and our selection method was the highly scientific process of choosing a random draft order and letting each person pick any two eligible books they wanted to nominate. This is in no way affiliated with the official Women’s Prize, if that hasn’t already been clear. I’m posting about our personal longlist now because I’m going to be reading and reviewing these books on my blog in the coming weeks/months, and for those who’ve followed along with our Women’s Prize Squad content for the prize this year and are looking for some more promising recommendations, we’d like to offer up some alternative titles. This is all in fun, and varies from titles that have been recognized by lit prizes to titles that haven’t, from titles many of us have already read, to titles not a single one of us has read. In the end, these are books we’ve been loving and/or are VERY excited about; if you’ve also been underwhelmed by this year’s WP longlist or have finished it and are looking for a new challenge or just like to look at recommendations lists, I hope this collection of some of our top choice new releases by women over the last year will have something that appeals to you as well!

Without further ado, the list:

Bunny Β Bunny by Mona Awad – Literary horror featuring a group of women in a selective New England MFA program; they call themselves Bunnies and take part in workshop rituals that blur the line between reality and their own monstrous fictions. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

The Body LiesThe Body Lies by Jo Baker – Thriller/suspense novel about a busy and distracted woman teaching creative writing in the English countryside; after a discussion about violence against women, she realizes one of her students has written her into his novel as a character with a terrifying fate. (My copy has just arrived!)

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Fantasy in which a young woman who is the sole survivor of a multiple homicide is given a free ride to Yale on the condition that she keep track of sinister and occult activities among the school’s secret societies. (I’ll be adding this one to my May BOTM box!)

The Fire StartersThe Fire Starters by Jan Carson – Magical realism set during the Irish Troubles; two fathers begin to have concerns about their children as fires break out across Belfast and the line between right and wrong blurs as the two men must choose who to protect. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

Ducks, NewburyportDucks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – Literary fiction following an Ohio housewife who spends her days baking for a living, mothering her children, and worrying constantly about the state of the modern world. Alongside her narrative is the tale of a female mountain lion searching desperately for her stolen cubs. (My 5-star review here!)

ActressActress by Anne Enright –Β Literary historical fiction about an infamous British-Irish actress (now dead) and her daughter, set partially against the backdrop of the Troubles. Years after her mother has gone mad and shot a man, Norah writes about what her mother was really like behind the wealth and fame. (My 4-star review here!)

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – Literary fiction told in short story-like vignettes that showcase the lives of twelve British women- mostly queer, mostly black. These highlight the challenges minority women have faced in historic and modern London, converging narratively around a successful theater production. (My 4-star review here!)

My Name is MonsterMy Name is Monster by Katie Hale – Science fiction set in post-apocalyptic Scotland. This story features a woman called Mother and a girl called Monster who find each other after the end of the world and rebuild a life in the now-empty world, only to realize as they learn from each other that they want different things. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

The MerciesThe Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – Historical fiction depicting a devastating storm in an isolated Norwegian coastal town that leaves most of the men there dead. As the women reassemble their lives in the aftermath, they are further challenged by a Scottish witch hunter planted in their midst, who feeds off the divided community. (My 5-star review here!)

The Man Who Saw EverythingThe Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – Literary fiction following a man who’s been hit by a car and leaves the scene with a somewhat hazy recollection of his life. As he shares what he knows, he reveals tragedies left in his wake through the years, but also a greater problem that he fails to grasp. (My 5-star review here!)

Disappearing EarthDisappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – Literary mystery in which two girls vanish in northeastern Russia; in the year following their disappearance, women from the area share their own stories, all relating loosely to the missing girls. (My 5-star review here!)

My Dark VanessaMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Contemporary fiction about a woman reevaluating a relationship she shared with a manipulative teacher during her teen years. It’s a psychological exploration of sexual abuse and its aftermath. (I’ve just ordered my copy!)

Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy, #1)Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater – Young adult fantasy featuring a character from The Raven Cycle (a YA series by the same author) who can pull things into the real world from his dreams. He is not the only person with this ability. (I’ve read The Raven Cycle but don’t own it- I’ll check this one out from the library when it reopens!)

Supper ClubSupper Club by Lara Williams – Contemporary fiction coming of age story featuring a secret society of women who give in to their hungers and feast, letting go of society-taught repressions and going back into the world with rebellious confidence about the space they fill. (I already have a copy on my shelf!)

Frankissstein: A Love StoryFrankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – Science and historical fiction taking place in a near-future world in which Artificial Intelligence is on the cusp of taking humans’ place in the pecking order; alongside debate on this topic are snippets from Mary Shelley’s history, including her famous character Frankenstein. (My 5-star review here!)

The Bass RockThe Bass Rock by Evie WyldΒ  – Historical fiction set on the Scottish coast, a place that oversees and absorbs the tales of the people who’ve lived there across centuries. The stories of three women in three timelines loosely intersect in this narrative of violence and resilience through the ages. (I’m having difficulty tracking down a copy, but as the US release date is early September I’m sure it will be easier to get hold of a little later on.)

 

I, for one, am beyond excited about this list. I’ve already read seven of the books, had seven others on my TBR, and was happy enough to add the last two. From the books I’ve read, I’ve had two 4-star ratings and five 5-stars, for an impressive average of 4.71. So while of course I cannot say this is an objectively better set than the Women’s Prize 2020 longlist (that is not quite the point here), it is obviously much more to my taste; if your taste seems to overlap with mine at all maybe there are some gems here for you as well!

We would like to eventually vote amongst ourselves on a shorlist and winner, but no date has been set. This isn’t something we want to feel pressured into reading on a certain timeline, and we won’t necessarily all read all of the books, so clearly this isn’t as rigid as the official judging process- but I will post about further developments and I’d love to chat about these books with anyone who’s read them or is planning to read them or just wants to have some fun watching how this alternate, blogger-built Women’s Prize turns out!

Are there any titles here you’ve read, or want to read? Do you think you’ll pick any more up? Particularly looking forward to any of my reviews? Let me know all of your thoughts in the comments below!

 

The Literary Elephant

32 thoughts on “2020 Women’s Prize Take 2: Blogger Edition”

  1. This is SUCH a great list. I haven’t heard of some of the books here but they sound like things I can get into (science fiction in post apocalyptic Scotland??? Magic realism during Irish Troubles??? YES PLEASE). I look forward to your (and the group’s) reviews and also to reading the books on this list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!! It was such fun to see it come together with so many exciting books! I can’t wait to read the rest, and I’d love to see your reviews for any of these that you pick up! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ooOOoOh this list is definitely leaps and bounds more exciting that the actual Womens Prize longlist πŸ‘€ so much variation in subject matter and themes!

    ive read The Fire Starters, My Dark Vanessa, The Mercies, Ninth House, and The Bass Rock and enjoyed them all! (MDV is my fav read of the bunch so far πŸ‘Œ) I hadnt heard of The Body Lies before but it sounds so interesting; its actually reminding me of a book im reading right now called Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan. Would love to also get to The Disappearing Earth and maybe Bunny ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That was exactly my impression as it was coming together, I’m glad you were excited by it as well! πŸ™‚

      That’s great to hear! I’m SO looking forward to MDV, it was one of my top anticipated reads of 2020 and one of the first books to take a spot on this list. And The Body Lies sounds fantastic to me as well. It’s one of the few I already have on hand so I think I’ll read it soon. I’ll keep an eye out for your thoughts on Based on a True Story if you’re reviewing, to compare!

      And I hope you’ll enjoy any further titles you pick up from the list! Disappearing Earth is subtle but brilliant, and Bunny sounds so intriguing!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who’s been loving these titles! πŸ™‚

      And yes, one Canadian author (I think)! Still far better than zero, I was so surprised there wasn’t any Canadian representation at all on the official list this year. We could have done a bit better here diversity wise, but it isn’t too bad considering we just threw some favorite reads together in an hour or so!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! πŸ™‚ There were so many great books eligible for the prize this year, it really was a shame to see them choose such a tame longlist!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it SHOULD BE! The WP committee can take this as our audition, we’d be the best judges. Even our hasty unprepared list looks so much more exciting than all the family sagas!

      Yay! Looking forward to your reviews, I think these will all be so good!

      Like

    1. Seemed best to make it clear… but that would be fantastic! We’d be excellent judges. They can take this as our audition. Considering how quickly we put this together I think our list turned out very well!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for linking Karissa’s review, I do follow her but hadn’t seen that one! Her take makes me more excited to read the book, it sounds like such a perfect fit for my reading taste. I hope you’ll love it as well!

      I adored Frankissstein, though I hear it’s a bit different from her other work. But I would say it’s imaginative and heartfelt! I hope you’ll enjoy it if you do pick it up. Are you a fan of Frankenstein at all? This one’s definitely geared toward that audience, which was a big part of why I appreciated it so much.

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      1. In that case you’ll definitely recognize the parallels with this one! Since it echoes the same themes and delves into Shelley’s real life I think it’s bound to appeal most to people who really like Frankenstein and its history. Frankissstein is an excellent homage, imo!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think I saw that you also added Monster, She Wrote on Goodreads. I believe Mary Shelley is included in that one, but it also has a larger focus on women horror writers who aren’t well-known including some Shelley contemporaries.

        Liked by 1 person

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