The Orange Prize has been reborn as the Women’s Prize for Fiction and yesterday it announced it twenty book longlist for the 2013 award. For those unfamiliar with the award, here’s how it’s described on its official website:
Set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote international fiction by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible, the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 is awarded for the best novel of the year written by a woman. Any woman writing in English – whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter – is eligible.
Below we’ve posted covers and descriptions for each of the twenty longlisted titles. Those that make the shortlist cut will be announced on April 14th. The winner of the award will be announced June 4th.
We’ve only read three of the nominees, but we’re looking forward to reading more in the coming months. Below, we’ve linked to our reviews where applicable.
By Zadie Smith
NW is Zadie Smith’s masterful novel about London life.
Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic NW follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – after they’ve left their childhood council estate, grown up and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated. Yet after a chance encounter they each find that the choices they’ve made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, NW is funny, sad and urgent – as brimming with vitality as the city itself. (from the hardcover edition)
May We Be Forgiven
By A. M. Homes
A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation
Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his younger brother, George, a taller, smarter, and more successful high-flying TV executive, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. But Harry, a historian and Nixon scholar, also knows George has a murderous temper, and when George loses control the result is an act of violence so shocking that both brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they both must seek absolution.
Harry finds himself suddenly playing parent to his brother’s two adolescent children, tumbling down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.
May We Be Forgiven is an unnerving, funny tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together. (From the hardcover edition)
How Should A Person Be?
By Sheila Heti
From the internationally acclaimed author of The Middle Stories and Ticknor comes a bold interrogation into the possibility of a beautiful life.
How Should a Person Be? is a novel of many identities: an autobiography of the mind, a postmodern self-help book, and a fictionalized portrait of the artist as a young woman – of two such artists, in fact.
For reasons multiple and mysterious, Sheila finds herself in a quandary of self-doubt, questioning how a person should be in the world. Inspired by her friend Margaux, a painter, and her seemingly untortured ability to live and create, Sheila casts Margaux as material, embarking on a series of recordings in which nothing is too personal, too ugly, or too banal to be turned into art. Along the way, Sheila confronts a cast of painters who are equally blocked in an age in which the blow job is the ultimate art form. She begins questioning her desire to be Important, her quest to be both a leader and a pupil, and her unwillingness to sacrifice herself.
Searching, uncompromising and yet mordantly funny, How Should a Person Be? is a brilliant portrait of art-making and friendship from the psychic underground of Canada’s most fiercely original writer. (from the hardcover edition)
Alif the Unseen
By G. Willow Wilson
A tour-de-force of a debut that blends classic fantasy — the fascinating, frightening, sometimes-invisible world of the djinn — that’s genies to some of us — with the 21st-century reality of a super-hacker in mortal danger in a repressive security state on the Arabian Gulf.
Alif (that’s his handle) is a brilliant young superhacker working out of his mother’s small apartment, and his computer has just been breached. While Alif scrambles to protect his clients — dissidents and outlaws alike, whoever needs to hide their digital traces, he and his friends realize that they’ve been found by ‘the Hand’ — maybe a person, maybe a program, but definitely able to find anyone, and that could lead to prison, or worse. Alif, with the help of his childhood friend Dina, an ancient book sent to him in secret by his lost love (who may be frighteningly connected to the Hand) and a terrifying protector who almost looks human, must go underground — or rather, find a way into the hidden world of the djinn. They wrote the mysterious book centuries ago, and have knowledge that might just allow Alif to infiltrate the most sophisticated information technology the world has ever seen, and perhaps save himself, his loved ones, and freedom itself. With shades of Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, William Gibson, and the timeless Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour-de-force debut with major potential — a masterful, addictive blend of the ancient and the more-than-modern, smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner. (from the hardcover edition)
Mateship With Birds
By Carrie Tiffany
Mateship n. the quality or state of being a mate; esp: fellowship
On the outskirts of a country town in the early 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a raucous family of kookaburras roosting next to his dairy. As Harry observes the birds through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song, his neighbour, Betty, has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Betty’s son, Michael, gravitates to the gentle man next door, and Harry, sensing Michael is ready to stretch his wings, decides to teach him about sex. Harry knows everything about the land. But what does he know about women? Mateship with Birds is a tender, witty novel of young lust and mature love. A glorious tale of innocence lost, it celebrates life on one small farm in a vast ancient landscape, as a collection of misfits question what a family might be. (from the hardcover edition)
The Light Between Oceans
By M L Stedman
The debut of a stunning new voice in fiction– a novel both heartbreaking and transcendent
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.
The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel. (from the hardcover edition)
From the Orange Prize long-listed and award-winning author of The Forty Rules of Love and The Bastard of Istanbul Elif Shafak, Honour is a novel of love, betrayal and a clash of cultures.
‘My mother died twice. I promised myself I would not let her story be forgotten . . .’
Leaving her twin sister behind, Pembe leaves Turkey for love – following her husband Adem to London. There the Topraks hope to make new lives for themselves and their children. Yet, no matter how far they travel, the traditions and beliefs the Topraks left behind stay with them – carried in the blood.
Their eldest is the boy Iskender, who remembers Turkey and feels betrayal deeper than most. His sister is Esma, who is loyal and true despite the pain and heartache. And, lastly, Yunus, who was born in London, and is shy and different.
Trapped by the mistakes of the past, the Toprak children find their lives shattered and transformed by a brutal act of murder . . .
A powerful novel set in Turkey and London in the 1970s, Honour explores pain and loss, loyalty and betrayal, the trials of the immigrant, the clash of tradition and modernity, as well as the love and heartbreak that too often tears families apart. (from the hardcover edition)
Where’d You Go Bernadette
By Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world. (from the hardcover edition)
By Francesca Segal
At the age of twenty-eight, Adam is engaged to Rachel, his girlfriend of twelve years, and can foresee a brilliant future: partnership in his father-in-law’s legal firm, holidays with their extended families on the Red Sea, evenings out with the friends they’ve known since childhood in the well-heeled London neighbourhood they’ve shared since birth. It’s a perfect match: the fulfillment of the desires and expectations of everyone Adam knows and loves.
When Rachel’s beautiful cousin Ellie suddenly appears in shul at the beginning of Yom Kippur, having returned to London to escape her scandal-touched past in New York, Adam’s comfortable perspective and chosen life path begin, for the first time, to feel uncomfortable. Initially troubled by Ellie’s presence and the gossip that her questionable history arouses, he soon finds himself dangerously drawn to the worldly, vulnerable young woman, his imagination ignited by her fierce independence and lack of regard for convention. As their impossible relationship plays itself out under the watchful eyes of their close-knit community, Adam is forced to examine the competing demands of his heart and re-evaluate every choice he has ever made.
The Innocents portrays modern-day Jewish life with both wit and empathy, guiding us effortlessly through a contemporary cultural milieu whose social rules, both spoken and unspoken, are just as claustrophobic as those of 19th-century New York. Heralding the arrival of a major new literary talent, this irresistible story is a novel of manners for the 21st century. (from the hardcover edition)
By Michèle Roberts
After every war there are stories that are locked away like bluebottles in drawers and kept silent. But sometimes the past can return: in the smell of carbolic soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the colour of an undelivered letter.
Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up, side by side yet apart, in the village of Ste Madeleine. Marie-Angèle is the daughter of the grocer, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society. Jeanne’s mother washes clothes for a living. She used to be a Jew until this became too dangerous. Jeanne does not think twice about grasping the slender chances life throws at her. Marie-Angèle does not grasp; she aspires to a future of comfort and influence.
When war falls out of the sky, along with it tumbles a new, grown-up world. The village must think on its feet, play its part in a game for which no one knows the rules. Not even the dubious hero with ‘business contacts’ who sweeps Marie-Angèle off her feet. Not even the reclusive artist living alone with his sensual, red canvases. In these uncertain times, the enemy may be hiding in your garden shed and the truth is all too easily buried under a pyramid of recriminations.
Michèle Roberts’s new novel is a mesmerising exploration of guilt, faith, desire and judgment, bringing to life a people at war in a way that is at once lyrical and shocking. (from the hardcover edition)
By Emily Perkins
Evelyn and Dorothy – the twins – are seven when the Forrests move from New York City, the hub of the world, to Westmere, New Zealand. The Forrest Trust Fund now cut out of their lives, the family live under a cloudless sky, in the dust and the heat, outdoors and running wild. Their father – who they would only call Frank – works for a cab company over the weekends but is really an actor. Michael, the eldest, has a friend called Daniel whose father lives in a half-way house. He starts to live with them, punches Dorothy on the shoulder to stop her crying when she starts school, and becomes family.
Lee, their mother, takes them to a commune when she needs to get away from Frank. The memory of that place – the freedom, the dirty richness of the landscape, the stolen kisses – their chaotic childhood, undulates beneath the surface of all their lives, and brings them together in flickering moments when they grow far apart.
The passing of time happens quickly. Evelyn and Dorothee grow older, discover sex, love, have babies, and watch as they too grow old. Their youngest sister moves away and their parents decrease in importance in their lives. Daniel, like a shadow, is always in the back of their minds. Death changes everything, but somehow life remains the same.
In a narrative that shifts and moves, growing as wild as the characters, The Forrests is an extraordinary literary achievement. A novel that sings with color and memory, it speaks of family and time, dysfunction, aging and loneliness, about lethargy, heat, youth, and how there is always something inaccessible and secretive, lying just out of reach. (from the hardcover edition)
By Bonnie Nadzam
Winner of the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
Lamb traces the self-discovery of David Lamb, a narcissistic middle aged man with a tendency toward dishonesty, in the weeks following the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. Hoping to regain some faith in his own goodness, he turns his attention to Tommie, an awkward and unpopular eleven-year-old girl. Lamb is convinced that he can help her avoid a destiny of apathy and emptiness, and even comes to believe that his devotion to Tommie is in her best interest. But when Lamb decides to abduct a willing Tommie for a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies, planning to initiate her into the beauty of the mountain wilderness, they are both shaken in ways neither of them expects.
Lamb is a masterful exploration of the dynamics of love and dependency that challenges the boundaries between adolescence and adulthood, confronts preconceived notions about conventional morality, and exposes mankind’s eroded relationship with nature. (from the hardcover edition)
Bring Up the Bodies
By Hilary Mantel
The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn
Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.
At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head? (From the hardcover edition)
The Red Book
By Deborah Copaken
Can a weekend change your life?
Clover, Addison, Mia and Jane were college roommates until their graduation in 1989. Now, twenty years later, their lives are in free fall. Clover, once a securities broker with Lehman Brothers, living the Manhattan dream, is out of a job, newly married and fretting about her chances of having a baby. Addison’s marriage to a novelist with writers’ block is as stale as her artistic ‘career’. Mia’s acting ambitions never got off the ground, and she now stays home with her four children, renovating and acquiring faster than her Hollywood director husband can pay the bills. Jane, once the Paris bureau chief for a newspaper, now the victim of budget cuts, has been blindsided by different sorts of loss. The four friends have kept up with one another via the red book, a class report published every five years, in which alumni write brief updates about their lives. But there’s the story we tell the world, and then there’s the real story, as the classmates arriving at their twentieth reunion with their families, their histories, their dashed dreams and secret longings, will discover over the course of an epoch-ending, score-settling, unforgettable weekend. (from the hardcover edition)
By Barbara Kingslover
Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman’s narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel’s inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.
Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.
Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world. (from the hardcover edition)
By Gillian Flynn
Marriage can be a real killer.
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around. (from the hardcover edition)
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid
By Shani Boianjiu
Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.
In a relentlessly energetic and arresting voice marked by humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu, winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” creates an unforgettably intense world, capturing that unique time in a young woman’s life when a single moment can change everything. (From the hardcover edition)
The Marlowe Papers
By Ros Barber
On May 30th, 1593, a celebrated young playwright was killed in a tavern brawl in London. That, at least, was the official version. Now let Christopher Marlowe tell you the truth: that his ‘death’ was an elaborate ruse to avoid his being hanged for heresy; that he was spirited across the channel to live on in lonely exile, longing for his true love and pining for the damp streets of London; that he continued to write plays and poetry, hiding behind the name of a colourless man from Stratford – one William Shakespeare. With the grip of a thriller and the emotional force of a sonnet, this extraordinary novel in verse gives voice to a man who was brilliant, passionate, mercurial and not altogether trustworthy. The son of a cobbler who rose so far in Elizabethan society that he counted nobles among his friends and patrons, a spy in the Queen’s service, a fickle lover and a declared religious sceptic, he was always courting trouble. When it caught up with him, he was lucky to have connections powerful enough to help him escape. Memoir, love letter, settling of accounts and a cry for recognition as the creator of some of the most sublime works in the English language, this is Christopher Marlowe’s testament – and a tour de force by an award-winning poet: provocative, persuasive and enthralling. (From the hardcover edition)
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best. (From the hardcover edition)
A Trick I Learned from Dead Men
By Kitty Aldridge
After the disappearance of their father and the sudden death of their mother, Lee Hart and his deaf brother, Ned, imagine all is lost until Lee lands a traineeship at their local funeral home and discovers there is life after death. Here, in the company of a crooning ex-publican, a closet pole vaulter, a terminally-ill hearse driver, and the dead of their local town, old wounds begin to heal and love arrives as a beautiful florist aboard a ‘Fleurtations’ delivery van.
But death is closer than Lee Hart thinks. Somewhere among the quiet lanes and sleepy farms something else is waiting. And it is closing in. Don’t bring your work home with you, that’s what they say. Too late. (from the hardcover edition)
Have you read any of the twenty titles on the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist? Which do think will make the shortlist cut? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.