Unfortunately, after posting for nineteen consecutive days, my goal of posting every day during the month of January has failed. However, it is only because I was accompanying a resident to hospital last night that I didn’t manage to post, so I cannot be upset that I didn’t quite reach my goal. The resident is safe and happy, I am safe and happy, and I still have lots of content for the upcoming days, so I would consider that to be a win. With that, probably unnecessary explanation over, I will share with you the first longlist of the very large project I announced the other day. This is the longlist for the first women’s prize for fiction, then called the Orange Prize for Fiction. I will be working my way through these in the next couple of months, before the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 is announced at the beginning of March. Once I have read all twenty of these novels, I will be looking at the shortlist picked by the judges, and comparing it with what I feel were the best six books, essentially a reimagined shortlist – it may be the same, it may be different, we’ll soon find out!
1. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
This is the third instalment in the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker, author of ‘The Silence of the Girls’ which was longlisted and shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The trilogy is anti-war, highlighting the experiences for soldiers in the British army using fictional characters based on real life accounts. The well-known war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen play important roles in the trilogy, alongside psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers, who provides inspiration for the title of the trilogy with his concept of nerve regeneration. This trilogy of books sounds as though it is going to provide some much needed insight into the experience of war from the front line and what happens afterwards, especially in terms of the effects on the mind. Despite surrounding the First World War, I feel this may still be relevant today, as war is a perpetual theme on most news channels. I have not read the previous two books, Regeneration and The Eye in the Door, so I will attempt to read these before embarking on this one.
2. The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn
The Book of Colour is a memoir surrounding racial discrimination, mental illness and sexual repression passed along through generations. Blackburn draws upon her grandfather and father’s experiences in both Mauritius and England, exploring the lasting damage prejudice can have upon a family. The book involves a talking pig, which Blackburn says was included to highlight how animals can often be a source of comfort, especially for children. This is the book I am currently reading, along with Elspeth Sandys’ ‘River Lines’, so one of the two is likely to be the first review I upload from the longlist.
3. Official and Doubtful by Ajay Close
Set in Glasgow, this book follows a postal clerk who discovers a blackmail letter that has a number of potential targets. Besides that extremely vague tagline, I know nothing else about this book, but it does happen to be a particularly enticing tagline. This project is already making me look outside my comfort zone, and find books to read that I ordinarily wouldn’t find.
4. The Rape of Sita by Lindsey Collen
Another book on the list that is set in Mauritius, The Rape of Sita explores how rape can have multiple effects on an individual’s perception of their identity. Whilst this will most likely be a difficult read, I think it may also be an important one.
5. Keeping Up with Magda by Isla Dewar
Another book set in Scotland, Keeping Up with Magda sounds like it is full to the brim with small town charm, and involving a cafe named after the Ocean and rock and roll music, I can’t envision what can go wrong.
6. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
This was the winner for the 1996 prize, so it will be interesting to see if it lives up to the accolade from my point of view. It has been described as a dark novel that explores abandonment, forbidden passions and dark secrets, which makes it sound as though it will be a fantastic entry into the world of gothic literature. Will it be my winner? Stay tuned to find out.
7. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
This book is based on the poet Novalis and his relationship with Sophie von Kühn when he was twenty two and she just twelve. Despite being set in the 1700s and therefore, being ‘of its time’, I’m worried about how this storyline will be pulled off without being creepy. However, it has received many positive reviews, so I’m hopeful I won’t hate it.
8. The Private Parts of Women by Lesley Glaister
I am somewhat apprehensive about this one, as it revolves around an eighty four year old woman with three personalities, one of them being apparently dangerous. This has become a cliché in films and literature, and I am worried it will glorify madness. However, I will attempt to keep an open mind, and let you know what I think in a review once I’ve read it.
9. The Passion of Alice by Stephanie Grant
The Passion of Alice is about two women with eating disorders who find solace in each other. Similar to The Private Parts of Women, I’m worried about the representation of mental illness in this one, especially as it has received extremely mixed reviews, but I’m willing to give it a chance to see what I think.
10. Egg Dancing by Liz Jensen
Reading the synopsis, this sounds like a satire based around pregnancy, which could either be genius or completely insensitive, so we shall see. The book outlines various clashing opinions on a new drug called Genetic Choice and the subsequent efforts of a family trio in solving problems surrounding it.
11. So I Am Glad by A.L. Kennedy
Even after reading the synopsis for this book, I am unsure what it is about – it seems to be some exploration of voice, sound and the arts with themes of addiction and sexuality interwoven within it. I’m always interested to read books I wouldn’t normally choose for myself, and this is certainly one of them.
12. Spinsters by Pagan Kennedy
A road trip taken by two unmarried sisters in their thirties is the focal point for this book. It is set in the 1960s and explores the societal implications of being unmarried during this time period, whilst also acknowledging the cultural changes that were beginning to occur. Regardless of the mixed reviews, my interest is especially piqued by this one, as I feel it could provide some interesting social commentary, and I am quite fond of road trip imagery.
13. Never Far From Nowhere by Andrea Levy
Following two sisters with Jamaican parents growing up on a council estate, this story explores both the pressures and the triumphs of growing up. Similar to ‘The Book of Colour’, this book seems to explore skin colour and racial prejudice, and as Andrea Levy later went on to win the Orange Prize with her book ‘Small Island’, I have a feeling the writing is going to be impeccable.
14. Mother of Pearl by Mary Morrissy
Following three perspectives – a baby, the baby’s kidnapper and the baby’s mother, this book explores the concept of family and what makes a family. It sounds as though it will raise some interesting questions whilst providing a darkly entertaining read. Furthermore, Mary Morrissy is Irish, and I’d like to make an effort to read from more Irish authors where possible.
15. Promised Lands by Jane Rogers
Based on two timelines – one from the 1700s and one from the then present day – the book explores themes of settlement, morality and disability. It is set in Australia, which I’m looking forward to, as I read very little fiction set in Oceania and I would like that to change.
16. River Lines by Elspeth Sandys
Another book set in Oceania, this time in New Zealand, River Lines follows the experiences of two women – one who struggles with her father to follow her dream of becoming a nurse, and one who grows up privileged but falls in love with a radical artist, causing her to rethink her family dynamics. I’m currently reading this one, and am enjoying it for the most part so far, although I will post a full review once I’ve finished.
17. The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine
The main character in The Love Letter works in a bookshop in New England, and finds her life changing when she receives an anonymous love letter one day. This book piques my interest slightly less just because I’m not always a fan of romance books, and this one sounds as though romance will be heavily featured. I’m hoping it proves me wrong, and I enjoy it regardless, but we will see.
18. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
Following Olivia, who is Chinese American, this book explores superstition, identity and love with two of the largest countries in the world as its backdrop. I’ve been wanting to read more own voices novels in an attempt to gain more insight into different factors that may influence a person’s sense of identity, and Amy Tan was on my radar for this reason, so I’m excited to finally get to one of her novels this year.
19. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
After reading A Spool of Blue Thread a few years back, I always meant to get around to reading more by Anne Tyler, but never did. Therefore, I am excited to have the opportunity to read this one. Ladder of Years follows a forty year old woman who walks away from her family in order to reinvent herself as a single woman with no ties. The book sounds like it will explore the concepts of family and abandonment alongside the pressure society places upon mothers. Hopefully, I will enjoy this instalment in Tyler’s bibliography as much as A Spool of Blue Thread.
20. Eveless Eden by Marianne Wiggins
This book follows the foreign correspondent at an American newspaper and a photographer who meet in Africa whilst reporting on an ecological disaster, and the subsequent affair that ensues. There are not many reviews available online for this one, and the book is thoroughly out of print, so I am embarking on this particular adventure without much prior knowledge.