I didn’t post my initial reaction to this year’s Women’s Prize longlist or my plans to read it in its entirety, but I have been slowly working through it. I’ve now officially finished reading the longlist and am looking forward (with much excitement!) to Monday’s shortlist announcement. Without further ado…
When the Women’s Prize 2019 longlist was announced on March 4, I was shocked to discover that I had already read nine (!) of the sixteen titles. I read seven of them in 2018, up to a year prior to the announcement, and two in early 2019.
Having already read over half of the list, I decided to try finishing the longlist before the shortlist announcement. I didn’t declare this intent very loudly because I wasn’t entirely sure it would happen (the only other longlist I’ve read took me about six months to complete. I have a long-standing habit of jumping around genres and reading commitments).
Of the remaining seven, I was familiar with only two titles (Number One Chinese Restaurant and Lost Children Archive) at the time of the longlist announcement. But I was game for the rest.
At this point, I have read all sixteen books, but I have one left to review (Remembered). I wanted to prioritize this overview/prediction post as many hours as possible before the shortlist announcement.
I’ve arranged the photos above in the order that I read the longlist. Below, I’m listing each of the titles in order of my personal preference, from most to least favorite. Here’s how the longlist turned out for me (titles linked to my full reviews):
- Milkman by Anna Burns, 5 stars
- The Pisces by Melissa Broder, 5 stars
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, 5 stars
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, 5 stars
- Normal People by Sally Rooney, 4 stars
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, 5 stars
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, 4 stars
- Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn, 4 stars
- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, 4 stars
- Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton, 3 stars
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, 3 stars
- Circe by Madeline Miller, 3 stars
- Ordinary People by Diana Evans, 3 stars
- Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, 3 stars
- Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, 2 stars
- Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden, 2 stars
(Yes, there’s a 4-star in the midst of the 5-stars, that’s not a mistake. Normal People felt like a 5-star book based on the literary merit I saw in it and its ability to bring out all sorts of emotions during my read, but I rate based on enjoyability and it resonated with me so deeply at one point that it made me very uncomfortable, which I acknowledged with a 4-star rating. It still has a solid place among my favorites.)
There were more extreme highs and lows for me in this longlist than in the last longlist I read, the 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Unfortunately, most of my top favorites came from the nine titles I read before the longlist announcement, and most of my least favorites came from the titles I read most recently. I’m usually a save-the-best-for-last type, so I would not have chosen to read them in this order if I’d had more control over it. But overall, I do think this is a very strong list and almost everything felt worth my while. I don’t anticipate reading the entire longlist every year, and with that in mind I do feel at the end that this was a great year for me to read every title.
One of the most interesting aspects of this particular longlist is the way that so many of the titles felt linked to others from the list. I enjoyed piecing together so many ways in which these titles seemed to be speaking to each other. Someone more savvy with graphics might have been able to map this out better, but I’m simply going to list some of the similarities I encountered:
- Circe and The Silence of the Girls and The Pisces: retelling Greek myth elements
- The Silence of the Girls and Circe and Swan Song: giving voice to familiar women history has regarded unfairly (perhaps)
- Ghost Wall and Lost Children Archive: (inadvertently?) leading one’s children astray
- Freshwater and The Pisces: challenging gender norms, examining mental health
- Milkman and Bottled Goods: exploring the consequences of rumor in a time of governmental conflict
- Number One Chinese Restaurant and My Sister, the Serial Killer: exploring hurtful/helpful sibling relationships
- Normal People and Ordinary People: elevating the everyday
- Ordinary People and Swan Song and Remembered: questioning and pushing the bounds of hauntings/ghosts
- Ordinary People and An American Marriage: depicting black relationships in the modern world
- Praise Song for the Butterflies and Remembered and Lost Children Archive: raising awareness of historical (and recent) societal wrongs
- Remembered and An American Marriage: depicting racial injustice
There are probably many connections I’ve missed here, as there seem to be SO MANY thematic similarities in this list and I waited too long to start jotting them down. It’s so interesting to consider how the conversations these books seem to encourage are both related to one another and also tangential to each other. But sadly, some of these pairings seem so closely tied that I find it unlikely that both titles would pass on to the shortlist. (For instance, does anyone expect to find TWO Greek retelling books advance?) It bothers me that these similarities might limit the shortlist, but even in my own predictions I’ve taken such considerations into account.
Also taken into account: the fact that some of these titles don’t need the publicity that a win would grant them. (For instance, Milkman and Normal People have already received quite a bit of buzz, largely due to their places on the Man Booker 2018 list, which Milkman went on to win.) Then there’s the fact that this longlist is nicely balanced as far as both topics covered and countries represented, which I’m sure the judges will want to reflect in the shortlist as well. And so my six favorites from the ranks above are not actually my predicted contenders for the shortlist.
The books I hope (and might more realistically expect) to see advance are as follows:
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
- The Pisces by Melissa Broder
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Some additional thoughts- I would not mind Milkman advancing to the shortlist, though I rather hope it doesn’t win for the mere fact that it is already a prize winner and there are other great contenders here. I would not mind seeing My Sister, the Serial Killer advance, though I think Ghost Wall is the stronger novella and I doubt more than one of the three novellas will advance. Based on popularity in other reviews, I would not be entirely surprised to see Swan Song, Circe, or Number One Chinese Restaurant advance, though personally I hope not to see that happen.
If shortlisted, I will probably reread: Ghost Wall, The Pisces, and/or Freshwater in the lead-up to the winner announcement.
And finally, I’m going to predict a winner. I’m actually going to predict two winners at this point, though between the shortlist and winner reveals I’ll limit myself to endorsing only one of the six possibilities. But as we’re still at sixteen contenders for the moment, I’ll say that:
- The title I most want to see win at this point is Freshwater.
- But the title I think is actually most likely to win, based on its general reception and strong merit, is Lost Children Archive.
I could be completely wrong about all of these guesses. In fact, I probably am. I’ve never predicted a shortlist or prize winner before, so I feel rather unqualified though I am having a lot of fun pondering the choices!
Speaking of fun, I’ve been loving seeing so many differing opinions and reviews of these longlisted titles! Literary prizes are a great way to join in with a large group of readers who are all talking about the same books at the same time. And I’d love to talk about theories and preferences even more in the comments below, so if you’ve read any of these titles, please let me know what you thought, and what you hope will happen next!
The Literary Elephant