O’Farrell, Mantel and Evaristo on Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist

Jenny Offill, Natalie Haynes and Angie Cruz also in running for £30,000 prize

The shortlist for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

The shortlist for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

 

Irish author Maggie O’Farrell has been shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction along with Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo and Hilary Mantel, who has been shortlisted three times before.

The shortlist is completed by two New York writers, Jenny Offill and Angie Cruz, and Natalie Haynes, who first made her name as the first woman to be nominated for the Best Newcomer Award at the Perrier Comedy Awards in Edinburgh in 2002.

The shortlist is evenly divided betwween historical fiction and novels set in the present day.

O’Farrell’s Hamnet tells the story of how thedeath of their son affects William Shakespeare and his wife Agnes; Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light concludes her epic, award-winning trilogy on Thomas Cromwell; and Haynes’s A Thousand Ships retells the Trojan War from the women’s perspective.

Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a multifaceted portrayal of the lives of British women of colour; Dominicana by Cruz follows a young woman from the Dominican Republic to New York city; and Offill’s Weather explores the extreme polarisation of the US.

Many will be disappointed that Actress by Anne Enright and Girl by Edna O’Brien, both longlisted, did not make the shortlist.

Women’s Prize judges Martha Lane Fox, Scarlett Curtis, Melanie Eusebe, Viv Groskop and Paula Hawkins
Women’s Prize judges Scarlett Curtis, Viv Groskop, Martha Lane Fox (Chair), Melanie Eusebe, Paula Hawkins

The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist
Dominicana by Angie Cruz Review
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo Review Interview
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel Review Interview
Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell Review Interview
Weather by Jenny Offill Review Interview

Chair of the judges, Martha Lane Fox, said: “We are all living in challenging, sad and complex times so incredible stories provide hope, a moment of escape and a point of connection now more than ever. Choosing the shortlist was tough – we went slowly and carefully and passions ran high – just as you would want in such a process. But we are all so proud of these books – all readers will find solace if they pick one up.”

The other judges are Scarlett Curtis, Melanie Eusebe, Viv Groskop and Paula Hawkins.

Now in its 25th year, the prize, sponsored by Baileys, Fremantle and NatWest, celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from throughout the world. It will be awarded to the best full-length novel, written by a woman and published in the UK between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020. Any woman writing in English is eligible.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s shortlist readings have been postponed and will now be held at the Southbank Centre on September 8th. The awards ceremony and winner announcement has also been rescheduled and will take place on September 9th.

About the shortlisted novels and authors
Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Angie Cruz’s Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

Angie Cruz is the author of the novels Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee, a finalist in 2007 for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She is founder and editor in chief of Aster(ix), a literary and arts journal, and is an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This is Britain as you’ve never read it.

This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something - a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

Bernardine Evaristo is the Anglo-Nigerian award-winning author of several books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. Her novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019. She won the Orange Prize Youth Panel award in 2009 for her novel Blonde Roots. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University, London, and vice chair of the Royal Society of Literature. As a literary activist for inclusion she has founded a number of successful initiatives, including Spread the Word writer development agency (1995-ongoing); the Complete Works mentoring scheme for poets of colour (2007-2017) and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (2012-ongoing). www.bevaristo.com

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
In A Thousand Ships, broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective, for fans of Madeline Miller and Pat Barker.

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them. In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash.

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all. . .

Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.

Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster. She is the author of The Children of Jocasta and The Amber Fury, which was shortlisted for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year award, and a nonfiction book about ancient history, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life. She has written and presented two series of the BBC Radio 4 show, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics. In 2015, she was awarded the Classical Association Prize for her work in bringing classics to a wider audience.

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
‘If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?’

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.

Hilary Mantel is the author of 15 books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, the memoir Giving up the Ghost, and the short-story collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring up the Bodies, have both been awarded the Man Booker Prize. She has been shortlisted three times for the Women’s Prize, for Beyond Black, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Two extraordinary people. A love that draws them together. A loss that threatens to tear them apart.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the bestselling memoir I am, I am, I am, and eight novels: After You’d Gone, My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand that First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions for a Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, This Must Be The Place, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and Hamnet. She lives in Edinburgh.

Weather by Jenny Offill
From the author of Dept. of Speculation, a dazzling and deadpan new novel about hope and despair, fear and comfort as it plays out in these times of environmental and political turbulence.

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practise her other calling: as an unofficial shrink. For years, she has supported her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but then her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right wingers worried about the decline of western civilization.

As she dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to acknowledge the limits of what she can do. But if she can’t save others, then what, or who, might save her?

Jenny Offill’s novel Dept. of Speculation was shortlisted for the Folio Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award. She is also the author of the novel Last Things, and four books for children. She lives in upstate New York with her family.

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