Women's Prize Longlist 2019 Reviews

Women’s Prize Longlist Review – Bottled Goods

Bottled Goods


Publisher: Fairlight Books

Format: Paperback

Pages: 188

Rating: 4/5


Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods explores themes of love, family, marriage and communism through a collection of flash fiction. These excerpts give us an insight into Alina’s struggles after her brother-in-law defects to France from a troubled Romania. She begins to lose faith in her marriage and all the while, her mother seems to be rooting for her to lose. Where can Alina go from here, and is there anything left for her in her mother country?

The format of flash fiction was incredibly engaging for me. The short, chaotic sections reflected what I imagine life would have been like in 1970s communist Romania and they felt appropriate for the story. I understand that other people may find them jarring and disruptive, however, so this is something to bear in mind. 

Alina’s character development is extremely interesting to witness on the page. We watch her go from a timid tour guide, to a proud wife, to a terrified school teacher, to a strong woman who eventually only needs to make peace with herself to be happy. The wide array of emotions van Llewyn made me feel as a reader showcases her ability to write excellent characters. Alina’s mother, in particular, had me becoming angry to the point where I had to put the book down for a while. 

The aspects of magical realism interspersed within the pages of this book added a multitude of layers to an already compelling story. They created a hybrid that is effective in making the reader wonder if they have imagined what they’ve just read. There was certainly not an emphasis placed on these aspects, leaving it subtle and delicate, rather than overbearing. Many readers who are beginners with magical realism or who aren’t the biggest fans of it will appreciate this. 

Sophie van Llewyn seems to have mastered the art of showing rather than telling, with much of our perceptions of the world she has created being witnessed through Alina’s eyes as she experiences it. This ensures there is tension throughout and the story never gets a chance to feel stale. 

Many readers have said they would have preferred the book to be longer and in some ways I agree. It would have been interesting to delve further into Alina’s future and see if she continues to feel she has made the right decision for herself. However, I also feel the book is effective and striking the way it is. 

I would sincerely recommend this book to everyone but particularly those of you who are interested in non-traditional formats. I’m definitely interested in reading more from this author in the future. 

If you’re interested in Bottled Goods, a copy of it can be purchased from Book Depository here. Please note that this is an affiliate link and if you buy any books through it, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I will be putting this commission towards improving the content I create for this blog.  

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