Last year I read 100 books. It was the first year I really kept track of my reading. A few months in, I looked at my lovely virtual bookshelf and thought “Where are all the women?”
Just in time, the Baileys prize shortlist came to save me. What a shortlist it was! Identity, war, love, death, trauma, stolen paintings… It took me from Iceland to Nigeria to India to Ireland. I raced the judges to their decision, and was well pleased by Eimear McBride’s deserved win.
Time, then, to do it all again. Thanks to that kickstart back in spring last year, I’ve read almost exclusively women ever since, and REGRETTED NOTHING. Here’s this year’s longlist:
Rachel Cusk: Outline
Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart
Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?
Xiaolu Guo: I Am China
Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief
Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing
Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven
Grace McCleen: The Offering
Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star
Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
Laline Paull: The Bees
Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights
Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home
Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone
Ali Smith: How to be Both
Sara Taylor: The Shore
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread
Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests
Jemma Wayne: After Before
PP Wong: The Life of a Banana
I’ve already read Elizabeth is Missing, The Paying Guests, and How to be Both, with the latter two making it onto my top ten on 2014 list. Station Eleven is sitting on my bookshelf to be read, largely thanks to Sara Barnard‘s raving about it. I have A Spool of Blue Thread on reserve at the library because I read my first Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, last year and loved it.
Chair of judges, Shami Chakrabarti, described this year as a “particularly strong one for women’s fiction.” From a brief perusal of blurbs, it looks to me like this longlist is gratifyingly full of books not only by women, but about women. Just last week, Lauren James was pointing out the disproportionate success of male-led fiction. I can only see a couple of books on the list that seem to be about men, and a good number about women and their relationships with other women. Patricia Ferguson’s Aren’t We Sisters?, Sara Taylor’s The Shore, and After Before by Jemma Wayne stand out to me especially, though I could of course have it all wrong, not having read the books yet. Unrelatedly, there are at least three dystopian novels (Station Eleven, The Country of Ice Cream Star, and The Bees) on the list, which is a surprisingly strong showing for a specific genre – evidently, there’s a lot of mileage in stories of societies collapsing.
I won’t be attempting the longlist, but I will definitely read the shortlist when it’s announced in April. I’m hoping debut novelist Emma Healey does well with Elizabeth is Missing, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of the longlisted novels that have caught my eye. The more women I get to read, the better! (If I get to drink Baileys at the same time, I will be living my dream.)