The 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was just announced, with some of our favorites gracing the list. But with so many noteworthy and compelling books by women released in recent months, it makes me question how on earth the judges can narrow the list down to just six?
There was a common theme among the selections picked, as novels reassessing and retelling the stories of women dominate the list. Pat Barker’s feminist retelling of The Iliad in The Silence of the Girls; a story of a teenage girl during political and cultural tension of the Troubles in Ireland in Milkman by Anna Burns; and, previous winner for The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller returning to the shortlist with Circe, a new take on the witch who seduces Odysseus.
Judges’ chair Kate Williams, Professor of History at the University of Reading, told The Guardian,
The two tropes perpetually given to us in myths and stories are the beautiful, captive princess, and the evil witch who is too ugly for a man and therefore sits around trying to kill men. Here, you get those completely turned on their heard and see they are living women, that the patriarchal system has written their stories for them, and what the truth could be. ...Suddenly we’re asking where are the women, what do the women think about this, which was ignored to a degree even 20 years ago.
The shortlist continues with debut Nigerian novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer, a dark comedy set in Lagos about sisterhood with observations on social media, men, and modern day society. This book was all over social media upon its release and received rave reviews. Diana Evans’ Ordinary People, hailed by the Huffington Post as “one of the most thrilling writers at work today,” explores two disaffected middle-aged couples, their complex relationships, and how they shift and collapse. Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage is also on the list, which isn’t a surprise since Jones just won the Aspen Words Literary Prize, which aims to recognize a work of fiction published in English that addresses contemporary social issues (and also came with a $35,000 prize.) An American Marriage is about a young African American couple who are ripped apart when the husband is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. It was also one of Oprah’s Book Club selections in February.
While it’s surprising that Sally Rooney’s bestseller Normal People and Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, the first non-binary transgender author to be nominated for the prize since it was founded in 1996, didn’t make the cut this year, Williams called the lineup,
fiction at its best – brilliant, courageous and utterly captivating … We fell totally in love with these books and the amazing worlds they created.
This year’s panel of judges also included journalist Arifa Akbar, Dolly Alderton, a columnist, broadcaster and author, Leyla Hussein, campaigner and psychotherapist and Sarah Wood, a digital entrepreneur.
The winner of the award will be announced on 5 June.
2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Milkman by Anna Burns
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Circe by Madeline Miller
2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION LONGLIST
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite The Pisces Melissa Broder Milkman by Anna Burns Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi Ordinary People by Diana Evans Swan Song Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott An American Marriage by Tayari Jones Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li Bottled Goods Sophie van Llewyn Lost Children Archive Valeria Luiselli Praise Song for the Butterflies Bernice L. McFadden Circe by Madeline Miller Ghost Wall Sarah Moss Normal People by Sally Rooney