Women’s Prize shortlist announced today

Each year the Women’s Prize seems to get bigger and better! The idea for this wonderful initiative was first conceived in the early 1990s when it became apparent that despite women authoring the majority of books published, they rarely achieved more than one or two places on the shortlist for the prestigious Booker Prize; in 1992, there was not even one woman writer on the shortlist. Author Kate Mosse was the driving force behind the prize and remains its Director. She is a formidable character and I am not surprised she was the one to get this going! The first winner was the late Helen Dunmore for her novel A Spell of Winter. Other winners have included Carol Shields, the late Andrea Levy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Eimear MacBride, Ali Smith and Maggie O’Farrell.

Over the years the Prize has had a number of sponsors and has previously been named after them (the Orange Prize and the Bailey’s Prize), but since 2018 it has been known simply as the Women’s Prize and enjoys a range of joint sponsors. Its remit is not simply to award prizes for literary achievement, but also to support reading and creativity in the community more generally and to make a space in the literary world for women’s voices.

In many ways, the Prize feels more relevant than the Booker even, and I have particularly valued how, during the pandemic, the talks with authors, which often only took place in-person in London, came to Zoom, making the work and the writers more accessible.

The shortlist for the 2022 Women’s Prize was announced today and is as follows:

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead – I’ve already read and reviewed this one as it was shortlisted for last year’s Booker, and it is AMAZING!


The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak – set in Cyrpus in 1974 at the time of the island’s division.


Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason – 40 year old Martha seems to have it all until her marriage breaks down and she has to move back to her dysfunctional family home. Can her life ever be ‘fixed’?


The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini – Alethea is in an abusive marriage. She witnesses a woman murdered by her jealous lover and seems to see what her own future might be. Can she change her life’s trajectory?


The Sentence by Louise Erdrich – set in a Minneapolis bookshop during the tumultuous period November 2019 to November 2020 which is haunted by one of its now deceased customers. New employee Tookie must solve the mystery and make sense of events.


The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki – teenager Benny starts hearing voices after his father dies and his mother develops her own mental problems. He finds solace in the public library where he meets the characters who will help him through his grief.

This is a fascinating list of books and I would happily curl up on the sofa with any of them! I have long wanted to read Louise Erdrich’s work, so I think that may be the one I go to first.

Which do you fancy?

The winner is announced on 25 May and you can enter a competition to win copies of the shortlisted books by signing up to the the newsletter here.


Book review: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

I’m travelling to Dublin on the ferry from Holyhead, north Wales as I write this, making our annual summer visit to see family and friends. I love Dublin and think of it as a second home, having visited the place several times a year for about two decades now. I haven’t seen all the ‘sights’, although Dublin Zoo, the art gallery, Powerscourt, and the Natural History Museum have all been well and truly ‘done’! When we visit we seem to spend much of our time just hanging out, visiting people, sharing meals, etc. For me, it’s only when you do that, after visiting a place so many times that you really get to the heart of it.

Normal People imgIt seems appropriate that I should be posting a review of Normal People this week, a book so very much about Ireland, the challenges and contradictions at the heart of a nation that has transformed itself in recent years. It is not just about Ireland, but about what it means to be young in Ireland and about class. It is also about identity and, in common with some of the issues faced in the UK and many other societies I am sure, the draw away from regional towns and cities, towards a centre, a capital, where there is perceived to be more opportunity, and what that means both for the individual and for society in the wider sense.

 Connell and Marianne are two teenagers attending the same high school in Carricklea in the west of Ireland. Both are very bright and hopes about their future prospects are high, but that is where the similarities end; their lives couldn’t be more different. Connell is the much-loved only child of a young single Mum. The live together in a small house and Connell’s mother cleans for Marianne’s family. Although academically a high achiever, Connell still manages to be popular and admired. Marianne is much more of a loner and lives with her working Mum and brother (a threatening figure who becomes increasingly violent towards her). She is remote from her family, not well-liked at school, and has a spiky personality.

Despite their differences, Connell and Marianne develop a closeness which soon blossoms into an intense and sexual relationship. The author portrays skilfully the subtle differences in their perspectives, which will at times lead to difficulties of communication and understanding throughout their young lives and the ebb and flow of their relationship.

The pair both end up with outstanding exam results which means that both secure a place at the prestigious Trinity College, Dublin. We follow them to college and here their positions are reversed – it is Marianne now who finds her ‘tribe’ amongst the affluent, the elite, the middle classes, and Connell who struggles to feel at home, whose financial and social background contrasts so markedly with that of his peers.

Despite this, Connell and Marianne continue to have an on-off relationship for the duration of their university careers and beyond. At times their relationship is passionate and sexual, at others it is more platonic, mutually protective. But always it is intense, even where there is little contact between them, such as the period Marianne spends on a Scandinavian scholarship with the abusive artist she has for a boyfriend at the time.

It is a fascinating and compelling book, part elegiac romance, part social commentary, where there is very little in the way of plot, but an abundance of humanity that is acutely observed and intimately drawn. The book has rightly earned its young author widespread plaudits and praise and was shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. (The winner, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which I reviewed on here recently, was a worthy victor but I don’t envy the judges having to choose between these two outstanding novels.)

Normal People is a beautiful, clever book that will at times break your heart and at other times lift it, and I heartily recommend it. The only pity is that it’s relatively short!

Normal People has been widely read and reviewed – what did you think of it?

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Facebook reading challenge – join us in June

Despite the awful British weather, it is actually June at the moment, halfway through it in fact, so it must be time for a new book on my Facebook Reading Challenge. Earlier in the week, I published a review of the May title – Lord of the Flies by William Golding, one of the great literary classics of the 20th century. So many people have studied this book at school, at a time, perhaps, when English literature was not the thing they were most into, that it can often elicit groans of anguish! In fact, coming to it again after so many years (and as a mother!), I saw new things in this book. That’s the great thing about a reading challenge; you pick up books that you might otherwise have turned away from.

This month’s theme is something from the Women’s Prize shortlist. At the time of setting the challenge I obviously did not know what was going to be on the shortlist. The title I selected is a book I have had my eye on for some time. In fact, I recommended it over a year ago in a post Hot new books for springAn Amercian Marriage by Tayari Jones has since been announced as the winner of the prize, as of 5 June, so I’m delighted to be reading it this month.

2019-06-14 10.49.53The book is about a young newly-married couple, Celestial and Roy, and is set in the American Deep South. Their lives appear full of potential until Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit. He is convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. The book concerns the effect of the separation on their marriage, how Celestial copes alone and what this means for their shared dreams.

The chair of judges of the women’s prize described the book as one that “shines a light on today’s America” and it has won praise from the likes of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, as well as achieving wide acclaim in the review columns. The whole shortlist was extremely impressive and I could have chosen any of the books on; the fact that it beat Anna Burns’s Man Booker winner Milkman, which I loved, tells you something about the high calibre.

So, if you fancy a good read and getting involved in the discussion, do join us, it’s not too late. 

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