2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire , a 21st-century rewrite of Sophocles’s Antigone, has won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Congrats to her!

There was a lot of discussion about this year’s prize over at The Mookse and the Gripes Goodreads group (see here). Paul reviewed Home Fire here. And if you want to look back a further to Shamsie’s 2009 novel, Burnt Shadows, I reviewed it here.

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By |2018-06-06T16:44:11-04:00June 6th, 2018|Categories: News|5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Bellezza June 7, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    This book has had so much acclaim, from winning the prize you mention here to being included on the Booker long list last year. Frankly, I don’t get it. I remain largely unimpressed and surprised by the judges’ decision. Bellezza, party of one. :)

  2. Trevor Berrett June 7, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    I can come sit at your table, if only because I’m completely neutral, not having read the book!

  3. David June 7, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    This is not a book I am familiar with, but I nevertheless have two thoughts about it. Firstly, I find it interesting that in a lot of one-line descriptions of the book it is described as being a version of Antigone transported to the current times. But none of those one-liners bother to mention which modern society the story is set in, as if that either should be obvious or should not matter. The original story is set in Thebes. Home Fire is not set in 21st century Thebes or even Greece more generally. If my 30 seconds of googling is accurate, it takes place in Britain and involves ISIS. Versions of Antigone set in modern China or Darfur or Venezuela or Myanmar would each be very very different stories. Kamila Shamsie’s name is not familiar to me. The only person named “Kamila” I have ever known was from the Caribbean. Google (good ol’ google) says the name is Polish. So even the author’s name tells us nothing about where the story might be set. I just find it interesting that when the setting change is the crucial detail about this book, most sources care a lot about when the story happens, but little about where it happens.
    .
    Second, I wonder how much of the book’s interest is derived from the fact that it is based on Antigone. Does the reader who knows this fact and is already familiar with plot of the play have information that fundamentally changes how they read the book? Is it essential to know this before reading the book? Or is this perhaps ultimately just a peripheral matter that helps create buzz for the book, but that ultimately has little to do with how good the book is? I would be curious to hear what those who have read the book think about this (series of) question(s).
    .
    Some people might call the structure of the book a “gimmick”. I distinguish between things that are “gimmicks” and things that are “premises”. Something is a “gimmick” is it seems designed to attract attention, but ultimately does not have any real importance to the story. But a premise is when the thing is an idea that is explored by the work. So if someone could read the book not knowing anything about the story of Antigone or that this is a modern take on an ancient story and have basically the same reading experience, then it’s a gimmick. If part of the point of the book is the fact that it mirrors the ancient story, then it’s a premise.
    .
    Ok, that’s enough from me about a book I have not even read. :-)

  4. Trevor Berrett June 7, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Ha! I welcome thoughts by people who have not read a book, and I thank you for admitting it as you went into it! For your first question, I’d point you to Paul’s review, of course! He explains the setting well:

    Shamsie relocates Antigone to Britain in the second half of the 2010s, and her conflict is not just between family and state but also between one’s religious and cultural beliefs, particularly for British Muslims, and both family and state. She also addresses the troubling question of why young people are, despite the well documented excesses of the regime, attracted to leave their country of residence and their families and journey to Islamic State.

    Since I linked to it it’s even easier than Google!

    My guess — I know! I haven’t read it either! — is that the book is strengthened, or at least enriched, by knowledge of the source, but it sounds like one that folks enjoy on its own as well. As for the appeal? Well, I’ll say that I had no interest in the book until I learned it incorporated Antigone, and then I was interested. Though, well, still haven’t read it . . .

  5. David June 7, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    Trevor, all of the articles about the book get around to telling the reader that the book is set in Britain – eventually. My point was that in the first information we are given it seems most don’t think the location is worth mentioning. For example, for a review in The Guardian from last August, the headline reads “Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie review – a contemporary reworking of Sophocles” and then the blurb below that says, “The story of Antigone plays out in the modern world, in this Man Booker-longlisted exploration of the clash between society, family and religious faith.” Both mention the shift of the era from the ancient world to the modern one, but neither mention the location or culture in which the novel takes place. You have to wait for the second sentence of the second paragraph to get a mention of “London” as a location.
    .
    Even in Paul’s review, his opening paragraph reads, “Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a 21st Century rewrite of Sophocles’s Antigone. It perhaps isn’t the best book on the 2017 Man Booker longlist, if measured by pure literary merit, but it may very well be the most important and thought provoking.” His first sentence mentions the time period, but nowhere does he mention the place the story is set. In fact, it is only in the sixth paragraph, the one you quoted, where he gets to talking about the geographical and cultural location of the novel.
    .
    With recent discussions we have had here about stories like Sadia Shepard’s “Foreign-Returned” and, connected to it, Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji” the issue of what might be interesting (or problematic) about relocating an existing story to another time period and another culture is one that sparked a lot of interest. I’m just surprised that few who write about this book think it might be worth describing it as “The story of Antigone relocated to modern Britain” rather than the less specific “modern world” that The Guardian used. Antigone in modern India or modern Chechnya might be very different stories.
    .
    Having just read (the excellent) Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, where the very title of the book lets you know where the story is set and what classic novel it draws on, I can’t imagine calling it “a story inspired by Frankenstein set in the modern world” and not mention that it takes place in Iraq. That is not at all incidental information to understanding what the story is about.

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