Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist: Round-Up

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Well, well, well.
Whilst I leave you to read my thoughts (so far! This post will be updated every time I finish each of the books that still remain outstanding on the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist, I am going to need a lie down. Since International Women's Day, these sixteen amazing women have guided me through a plethora of hard-hitting, emotional topics and honestly, my heart needs a break - it needs to sit in a dark room somewhere, put a face-mask on and watch something mindless like Masterchef to recover.
That does not mean that I have not enjoyed the task, oh no, just that it is going to take a minute to recover from.

Sight, Jessie Greengrass
Jessie Greengrass’ Sight is completely introspective. It is plotless, and this may be a deal-breaker for some, but the just-under-200-pages are written in such a way that I honestly didn't even realise that, for the most part, nothing is actually happening. The dichotomy between the history of medicine (X-Rays, the birth of psychoanalysis, Victorian medical procedures) and the ruminations of the unnamed narrator around grief, motherhood and pregnancy are absolutely fascinating and made for a truly thought-provoking (and rather educational) read. The narrator debates arduously over the prospect of becoming a mother, an aspect of life that is often seen as an inevitability - women are told near-constantly that they should want to have children and this book made me feel comforted by the fact that doubts and fears in the face of the humongous life change are not completely alien.

The Idiot, Elif Batuman
If I'm being honest, this book only succeeded in making me feel like an idiot. I don't know... maybe it was too high-brow for me or maybe it was the fact that nothing happened for nigh on 400 pages, either way it just failed to engage or interest me. And honestly, it failed to seem as though the novel had any point or purpose to it whatsoever. I would like to think that I am reasonably intelligent and yet pages upon pages of this book went COMPLETELY over my head. You would seriously need to be educated at Harvard to understand where Elif Batuman was going with this, and even then I think you might struggle.

See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt
I, like so many of the population, am obsessed with true-crime. I don't know what it is about people being involved in the depths of depravity but cases like the Lizzie Borden murders just fascinate me. Although I have to be honest, Sarah Schmidt's reimagining of the events of the case just really fell flat for me. Lizzie herself is abhorrent and bizarre, and she read more like a teenager than a thirty-something-year-old, and that would have been fine if 1/4 of the book didn't leave you in her head. Add that to the fact that another 1/4, namely the Benjamin chapters, were just throw-away and unnecessary, and the constant references to rotting meat, people eating said-meat and throwing up that made my stomach (one that is affected by a litany of chronic conditions) roll; and then you end up with a rather unpleasant reading experience.

Elmet, Fiona Mozley
For most people, a book that reminds them of home is an instant favourite. As someone who has spent the last twenty-two years doing anything I can to get away from home, I am not one of them. But by god, this evokes Yorkshire life and firmly hammers down nearly every single reason why I was so eager to get away - the class disputes, the wreckage Margaret Thatcher's pit closing legacy left behind, the wear and tear, the casual racism. Someone commented on Goodreads to ask whether the book was set in some decaying version of the future, but nope, this is most certainly the present reality. But aside from the accurate depiction of life in the countryside outside of Doncaster and Sheffield, this book failed to leave me with any lasting impression - it was like we were watching the characters through a pane of glass. I did not care about them, or even really like them and in so many scenes, they often unintentionally left me feeling a little weirded out.

H(A)PPY, Nicola Barker
Despite my trepidations, the oddness of Nicola Barker’s take on dystopia was a roaring success in my eyes. The format was odd, yes, but it was done in such a way in which it balanced style and substance to create a truly fascinating, nuanced and - most importantly - human read. It is no wonder that the book was the winner of the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize and I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes the shortlist for this one.

Three Things About Elsie, Joanna Cannon
See my full thoughts on this book in its review here

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