In preparation for the announcement of the 2019 Women’s Prize winner on June 5, I thought I’d (finally) share some of my thoughts on the shortlist, and have some fun predicting a winner!
In case you missed it, in March I wrapped up my experience with the entire longlist, including a rank of personal favorites and a (completely wrong) shortlist prediction; all of my longlist reviews can also be found through that post.
I shared an initial reaction to the Women’s Prize shortlist only on Instagram (same handle as the name of my blog, if you’re interested in checking it out) in which I tried to express some positivity about the many similarities in theme between the shortlisted titles. I do appreciate juxtaposition between works, and one of my favorite aspects of the longlist was the many similarities in theme that could be drawn between the sixteen mostly-exciting titles, and so I wanted that satisfaction and intrigue to carry over to the select titles that advanced. I don’t regret that stab at optimism, but as the weeks have passed I’ve grown increasingly less willing to say that I find the shortlist exciting in any way.
Which is perhaps a bit misleading- on their own, I enjoyed every single one of the shortlisted titles. No exceptions. I considered that my underwhelmed feelings about the shortlist might have been influenced primarily by the fact that only one of my top favorites made it to the shortlist, the one that I least wanted to see advance because of the attention it was already receiving as the winner of the 2018 Man Booker. And yes, I am a bit bitter about all of the excellent titles I loved that did not advance. But it seems more productive to focus on what is on the shortlist, and my hopes for what comes next.
In order of ascending favoritism (least to most), here is the order in which I would PREFER to see the shortlisted titles advance. I’ll save more realistic expectations for the end of my personal ranking. Titles are linked to my full reviews of each.
Ordinary People by Diana Evans. 3 stars.
Though I found Evans’ prose beautiful, her themes worthwhile, and the small inclusion of a ghostly element quite appealing, this book was never a standout for me on the longlist and is without a doubt the title I’m least excited about seeing on the shortlist. It’s a perfectly good book that I’ve seen plenty of praise for among shortlist readers, and I certainly don’t begrudge it that. But I think the list has a lot more to offer than Ordinary People does on its own, and I can’t see it being a very strong contender for the winning slot, despite its quiet power. I don’t want it to win, and I would be shocked to see that happen.
Circe by Madeline Miller. 3 stars.
I appreciated this book more in concept than execution. It’s a wonderful attempt at updating and feminizing a popular Greek myth, and I’m beyond thrilled to see that trend continuing in modern literature. I loved Circe’s character, and Miller’s writing is beautiful. The final paragraphs alone make the entire novel worth the read. But ultimately I found this book too episodic for my taste, with an imbalance in the pacing and the characterization of various supporting roles. I know this one has been a very popular favorite from the beginning, but Miller has already won this prize for The Song of Achilles, which I have not yet read but seems to be the preferred Miller novel, at least among the crowd that I follow. I would not be surprised to see this one win, but I hope that it will not.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. 4 stars.
This updated and feminized Greek retelling fit my personal reading taste a bit better than Circe, though it seems generally to receive less popularity. Interestingly, the aspect I most appreciate about this book is also the aspect I least enjoyed reading- the much-debated chapters from Achilles’s POV. Though I think the Point that their inclusion makes is meaningful and convincing, I found them also rather disturbing and uncomfortable. As I think Barker is trying to achieve a sense of outrage over Achilles’s ownership, it feels a bit unfair to dislike the book for accomplishing just that. But in the end, though I found this book rather brilliantly written, I’m also very conflicted about the ways it made me feel. I don’t particularly expect or want this one to win, though I would respect the choice if it did.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 4 stars.
It’s been over a year since I first read this title, and in the time between then and now, my opinion on it grew muddied. I found myself remembering only my criticisms of the book. So I decided to reread this title recently, in order to represent my thoughts of it more accurately in this post. I’ve linked the title to my original review from 2018, and here is the link to my updated conclusions. I’ll say here that though my memory of this book soured over time, I found myself returning very closely to my original reaction upon rereading. Though I’m ultimately disappointed that this book focuses on one romantic relationship instead of delving more deeply into any of the compelling impacts of wrongful incarceration that it touches on, Jones’s prose is considered and captivating, and makes fair points that I’ve not seen elsewhere in the niche that is prison literature. It’s a somewhat-flawed but ultimately deserving book. I don’t really want it to win, but I won’t be upset if it does.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. 5 stars.
I absolutely adored this book from cover to cover, though despite excellent themes and implications I did find it a “fun” read, which frustratingly seems almost to lower its chance of winning; but I would very much like to see a fun book go the distance and win this year’s Women’s Prize. The dynamic between these sisters is fraught and delightful, and the feminist touches woven into their story add gravity to the surface amusement. My Sister would be the most exciting win, for me; it seems like the least obvious choice from the list, it’s accessible, and it accomplishes plenty within its short page count. I’m not holding my breath for this one to win, but I would be absolutely thrilled to see it happen.
Milkman by Anna Burns. 5 stars.
This book will always hold a special place in my heart because I had the great fortune to be reading (and falling in love with) it on the very day that it won the Man Booker a few months ago. I understand why the style of this book has alienated many readers, but once I acclimated to the writing I found that for me it was not something to overcome in order to appreciate the underlying work, but yet another facet to appreciate about the work as a whole. I would not have changed a single word or element of this novel. I must say this is the book that I think most deserves the win from this year’s shortlist offerings. It would be exciting to see Milkman come away as the first-ever winner of both the Man Booker and the Women’s Prize!
I read these shortlisted titles over a span of months, four of them in 2018 and only one (Ordinary People) after the announcement of longlisted titles. When predicting the shortlist, I considered rereading as many as three of the titles that advanced, but as none of the three that I most wanted to reread showed up here, I ended up rereading only one title. I must say it’s been a relaxing change to have completed the reading ahead of the shortlist announcement and be able to simply ponder these six books over the last few weeks rather than rushing to finish reading and trying to form last-minute opinions; I’ve never had that experience before in my life, and who knows if I’ll manage it again. Such has been my experience with this year’s Women’s Prize shortlist.
And now, it is time for my winner prediction:
Though I would love to see My Sister the Serial Killer take the gold here, I’m officially backing Milkman for the win! Runner-up guess: Circe.
(It feels like cheating to have mentioned three titles, but I’m really only expecting Milkman to win!)
If the shortlist reveal has taught me anything, it’s to have fun with the predictions and not get too invested in the results I expect. On one hand, the exclusion from the shortlist of so many promising longlisted titles will make almost any win here a bit disappointing in my mind, but the fact that I liked all of these books means that no winner will seriously upset me. Mostly, I’m just curious to see which way this will go!
Did you read any/all of the shortlist? Which book would you like to see win?
The Literary Elephant