As the dust settles on another year of the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, I think it’s important to remember just how amazing this prize is. In a world where women still struggle for equal pay, this is a celebration of all things woman. Specifically women in the world of literature.
This year the judges has the arduous task off whittling down the twenty longlisted books to just six. The six were decided and announced, but there could only be one winner. I was sent the shortlisted books, albeit much later than anticipated, which explains the lateness of my article, and set down to work through them. Of the six books shortlisted there was a mixture of already established award winning authors and debut authors, the range of books was staggering, and I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the judges were discussing each of them.
For me, some books stood out more than others, some for good reasons, some for bad. I didn’t particularly enjoy The Green Road by Anne Enright, I connected with some of the characters, but not others, they didn’t seem fully formed or believable, and the storyline was incredibly convoluted.
The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild also left a bitter taste in my mouth, whilst it was a charming story and I enjoyed the protagonist I just felt that it all got rather messy in places and I feel that it could have had at least 100 pages chopped out and made for a slightly better read. As it was The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie failed to capture my attention too, it was a book I struggled with and I still can’t quite put my finger on why.
Ruby by Cynthia Bond was a powerful read. I’ve seen other people describe certain sections of this book as graphic, but that’s what pulled me in, the visceral realness that was cleverly interwoven with aspects of the supernatural. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (the book that won the esteemed Bessie prize) also pulled me in, with three dimensional characters that jumped from the page and an incredible skill for storytelling. There’s no clear line between good and bad in this book, but rather a grey area where the characters are just doing their best to react to the situations they find themselves in. The book is humorous but at times it’s also heart-breaking.
But for me the gem in the shortlist was a book, that although receiving critical acclaim and being nominated for numerous literary prizes, seemed to miss the prize again this time. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a book that might intimidate a lot of people from the size but it had me hooked from the first paragraph. There’s just something incredibly beautiful about Hanya’s storytelling, the characters felt real and even early on when she was introducing them, I could feel that Jude was going to be a character I would love. The story is told so effortlessly that before you realise you’ve worked through 400 odd pages of the 640 page tome. Gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking it brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, and there was more than a few times where I wanted to reach into the book and hold the character of Jude. It’s a powerful novel and I’m genuinely surprised it didn’t receive the accolade.
That being said, we should be thankful for what Bailey’s Prize really is, a celebration of women from all over the world sharing stories and being celebrated for their skill. We at Belle About Town would like to pass our congratulations onto all the women both longlisted and shortlisted this year, and we look forward to seeing and reading the talent on next year’s shortlist. Viva La Bailey’s Prize.