The 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize Longlist

The newly branded Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize and then, for one year, the Women’s Prize) longlist was just announced. The shortlist will be announced on April 7, and the winner (who gets a check for £30,0000) on June 4.

Here are the titles, along with their UK covers (soon) (this being a UK prize) and blurbs either from the UK publisher’s website or from Amazon UK:

UK AmericanahAmericanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

From the award-winning author of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ a powerful story of love, race and identity.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

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UK MaddaddamMaddaddam, by Margaret Atwood.

A man-made plague has swept the earth, but a small group survives, along with the green-eyed Crakers — a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, onetime member of the God’s Gardeners and expert in mushrooms and bees, is still in love with street-smart Zeb, who has an interesting past. The Crakers’ reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is hallucinating; Amanda is in shock from a Painballer assault; and Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who is flirting with Zeb. Meanwhile, giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers threaten to attack.

Told with wit, dizzying imagination, and dark humour, Booker Prize-winning Margaret Atwood’s unpredictable, chilling and hilarious MaddAddam takes us further into a challenging dystopian world – a moving and dramatic conclusion to the internationally celebrated trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.

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UK The Dogs of LittlefieldThe Dogs of Littlefield, by Suzanne Berne.

Littlefield, Massachusetts, named one of the Ten Best Places to Live in America, full of psychologists and college professors, is proud of its fine schools, its girls’ soccer teams, its leafy streets and quaint village centre.

Yet no sooner has sociologist Dr Clarice Watkins arrived in Littlefield to study the elements of ‘good quality of life’ than someone begins poisoning the town’s dogs. Are the poisonings in protest to an off-leash proposal for Baldwin Park – the subject of much town debate – or the sign of a far deeper disorder?

The Dogs of Littlefield is a wry exploration of the discontent concealed behind the manicured lawns and picket fences of darkest suburbia.

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UK The Shadow of the Crescent MoonThe Shadow of the Crescent Moon, by Fatima Bhuto.

Fatima Bhutto’s stunning debut novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon begins and ends one rain swept Friday morning in Mir Ali, a small town in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas close to the Afghan border.

Three brothers meet for breakfast. Soon after, the eldest, recently returned from America, hails a taxi to the local mosque. The second, a doctor, goes to check in at his hospital. His troubled wife does not join the family that morning. No one knows where Mina goes these days. And the youngest, the idealist, leaves for town on a motorbike. Seated behind him is a beautiful, fragile girl whose life and thoughts are overwhelmed by the war that has enveloped the place of her birth.

Three hours later their day will end in devastating circumstances.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon chronicles the lives of five young people trying to live and love in a world on fire. Individuals are pushed to make terrible choices. And, as the events of this single morning unfold, one woman is at the centre of it all.

‘A first novel of uncommon poise and acuity, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is set in an old and protracted war for land and dignity. But its swift and suspenseful narrative describes a fiercely contemporary battle in the human heart: between the seductive fantasy of personal freedom and the tenacious claims of family, community and history’ Pankaj Mishra

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UK The BearThe Bear, by Claire Cameron.

Anna is five. Her little brother, Stick, is almost three. They are camping with their parents in Algonquin Park, in three thousand square miles of wilderness. It’s the perfect family trip. But then Anna awakes in the night to the sound of something moving in the shadows. Her father is terrified. Her mother is screaming. Then, silence.

Alone in the woods, it is Anna who has to look after Stick, battling hunger and the elements to stay alive. Narrated by Anna, this is white-knuckle storytelling that captures the fear, wonder and bewilderment of our worst nightmares – and the power of one girl’s enduring love for her family.

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UK Eleven DaysEleven Days, by Lea Carpenter.

Eleven Days is, at its heart, the story of a mother and a son.

It begins in May 2011: Sara’s son Jason has been missing for nine days in the aftermath of a special operations forces mission. Out of devotion to him, Sara has made herself knowledgeable about things military, but she knows nothing more about her son’s disappearance than the press corps camped out in her driveway.

In a series of flashbacks we learn about Jason’s absentee father – a man who died, according to “insiders,” helping to make the country safer – and Jason’s decision to join the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis after 9/11 and enter into the toughest military training in the world: for the U.S. Naval Special Warfare’s Navy SEAL Teams.

Through letters Jason wrote his mother while training, we see him becoming a strong, compassionate leader. But his fate will be determined by events that fall outside the sphere of his training, and far outside the strong embrace of his mother’s love.

As well as a touching picture of the bond between a mother and a son this is a unique look into the training, history and culture of one of the world’s elite forces. Page-turning and haunting, this is an astonishing debut which questions the very nature of sacrifice and love.

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UK The Strangler VineThe Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter.

Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing.

William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure.

What was it that so captivated Mountstuart about the Thugs, the murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travellers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? And why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy?

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UK The LuminariesThe Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2013. It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky. The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. It is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her mid-20s, and will confirm for critics and readers that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

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UK Reasons She Goes to the WoodsReasons She Goes to the Woods, by Deborah Kay Davies.

Pearl can be very, very good. More often she is very, very bad. But she s just a child, a mystery to all who know her. A little girl who has her own secret reasons for escaping to the nearby woods. What might those reasons be? And how can she feel so at home in the dark, sinister, sensual woods, a wonder of secrets and mystery? Told in vignettes across Pearl s childhood years, Reasons She Goes To The Woods is a nervy but lyrical novel about a normal girl growing up, doing the normal things little girls do.

 

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UK The Signature of All ThingsThe Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

5 January 1800.

At the beginning of a new century, Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Sir Joseph Banks’s Kew Gardens and as a deck hand on Captain Cook’s HMS Resolution. Alma’s mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, has a knowledge of botany equal to any man’s.

It is not long before Alma, an independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, comes into her own within the world of plants and science. But as her careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction.

The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. It soars across the globe from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. Peopled with extraordinary characters – missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses and the quite mad -above all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern.

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UK Burial RitesBurial Rites, by Hannah Kent.

Northern Iceland, 1829.

A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover.

A family forced to take her in.

A priest tasked with absolving her.

But all is not as it seems, and time is running out:

winter is coming, and with it the execution date.

Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes’s story.

 

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UK The FlamethrowersThe Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner.

Reno mounts her motorcycle and sets a collision course for New York.

In 1977 the city is alive with art, sensuality and danger. She falls in with a bohemian clique colonising downtown and the lines between reality and performance begin to bleed.

A passionate affair with the scion of an Italian tyre empire carries Reno to Milan, where she is swept along by the radical left and drawn into a spiral of violence and betrayal.

The Flamethrowers is an audacious novel that explores the perplexing allure of femininity, fakery and fear. In Reno we encounter a heroine like no other.

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UK The LowlandThe Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri.

From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight.

So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married, pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. For all of them, the repercussions of his actions will reverberate across continents and seep through the generations that follow.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are. With all the hallmarks of Jhumpa Lahiri’s achingly poignant, exquisitely empathetic story-telling, this is her most devastating work of fiction to date.

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UK The UndertakingThe Undertaking, by Audrey Magee.

Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises ‘honeymoon’ leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them. When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to . . .

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UK A Girl Is a Half-formed ThingA Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride.

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.

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UK Almost EnglishAlmost English, by Charlotte Mendelson.

Home is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

In a tiny flat in West London, sixteen-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family’s crushing expectations and their fierce unEnglish pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.

At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, she realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she? In the meantime, her mother Laura, an alien in this strange universe, has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she’d expect back in her life. She isn’t noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.

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UK Still Life with Bread CrumbsStill Life with Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlen.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.

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UK The Burgess BoysThe Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout.

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a legal aid attorney who idolises Jim, has always taken it in his stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan – the sibling who stayed behind – urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has landed himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

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Uk The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.

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UK All the Birds, SingingAll the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld.

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.

It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

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4 thoughts on “The 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize Longlist”

  1. I’ve read and reviewed both the Catton and Tartt — thought both were okay, but not really excellent. And I just started the Kushner today and am quite impressed after 100 pages.

    I fully intend to read Lahiri’s book but find I keep putting off starting it — perhaps this shortlisting will move me to action. I bought the Mendelson when it was Booker listed but admit a quick scan of the opening left me unimpressed and I have not picked it up again. Both the Wyld and McBride are on my buy list based on positive recommendations from people I respect.

    That seems to cover at least a bit of the longlist, so I’ll be interested in seeing which books move forward. And, no, I will not be reading the Atwood whatever happens with it on this Prize — I’ll just note that I was delighted when it did not make a single longlist in Canada’s three major literary prizes (all right, she was a Giller judge and hence ineligible, but I like to think it would not have been listed anyway). :-)

  2. Trevor says:

    I haven’t been able to finish the Catton or the Tartt, Kevin, and I admire you for doing so. I was enjoying each of them, and yet . . .

    I do have the Wyld, the Lahiri, and — yes — the Atwood here. I know I will read the first two at some point. The Atwood . . . I so disliked Year of the Flood I strangely almost feel I should read Maddaddam, if not to see if I was just out to lunch then out of morbid curiosity.

  3. Lisa Hill says:

    There are so many here that are just ordinary, that I suspect the others about which I know nothing will be similarly disappointing. This prize has lost me…

  4. David says:

    I’ve read six of them – ‘The Lowland’ was enjoyable but I find Lahiri rather over-rated; ‘Americanah’ was intermittently brilliant but nowhere near as good as ‘Half of a Yellow Sun'; ‘Burial Rites’ I thought had a lot of typical first novel flaws; ‘The Burgess Boys’ was okay but not Strout’s best; ‘All the Birds, Singing’ was very good; but the one I am thrilled to see listed is Lea Carpenter’s ‘Eleven Days’, one of my favourite novels of last year – just a fantastic bit of writing and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

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