Roddy Doyle shortlisted for Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction
Nina Stibbe makes the shortlist for the third time with Reasons to be Cheerful
The judging panel: broadcaster and author James Naughtie; musical comedian and improviser Pippa Evans; Everyman’s Library publisher David Campbell; comedian Sindhu Vee; and vice president of the Hay Festival and director of National Trust Wales, Justin Albert
Roddy Doyle’s latest book, Charlie Savage, the tales of a middle-aged Dubliner, has made the six-strong shortlist for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction 2019.
The prize faced controversy last year when it was withheld because no book was judged funny enough to deserve to win. Bestselling author Marian Keyes accused judges of a “sexist imbalance” in the prize, which has only been awarded three times in its 18 years to women writers, after she failed to make the shortlist. This year’s shortlist features four women.
“Say what you like about me, but my books are funny,” said Keyes. “What more can I do to qualify? Things that women love are just automatically dismissed as frivolous nonsense. Football could be considered as frivolous nonsense but it’s treated as hard news in the newspapers. So I think by giving the men the prizes, it just reinforces that the men are more important.”
Nina Stibbe has made the shortlist for the third time with Reasons to be Cheerful, the third instalment of her series of novels detailing the life of Lizzie Vogel. Also notching up a third nod by the prize is Lissa Evans with her eighth novel, Old Baggage, about a former suffragette. Londoner Kate Davies makes the grade with her first novel for adults, In at the Deep End, about a woman’s sexual awakening. She is joined by American novelist Jen Beagin with her second book Vacuum in the Dark, the adventures of a 26 year-old cleaning lady. Completing the list is New Zealander Paul Ewen with his second portrayal of the international literary scene in Francis Plug: Writer in Residence, which serendipitously references the Wodehouse prize.
The shortlist was selected by a judging panel, which includes musical comedian and improviser Pippa Evans; comedian Sindhu Vee; broadcaster and author James Naughtie, Everyman’s Library publisher David Campbell, and a vice-president of the Hay Festival and director of National Trust Wales, Justin Albert.
The winner will be announced during Hay Festival (May 23rd-June 2nd). They will win an extra special rollover prize of a methuselah of Bollinger Special Cuvée, along with a case, a particularly large rare breed pig named after their winning novel and a complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse. Previous winners have included Helen Fielding, Ian McEwan, Terry Pratchett, Hannah Rothschild and Howard Jacobson.
The six shortlisted novels are:
Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin (Oneworld)
Judge Sindhu Vee says: ‘We all have a companion voice in our heads. Never more so when life is unpleasant but we can’t really change anything. How lucky we’d be if that voice was Jen Beagin’s. Honest (sometimes brutal), compassionate and always able to pick out what’s funny in the darkest spot. Vacuum in the Dark had me grinning in recognition and laughing even as I winced.’
In at the Deep End by Kate Davies (Borough Press)
Judge Pippa Evans says: ‘I laughed out loud reading this hilarious exploration of sexual awakening. Kate Davies’ debut novel reads like she’s an old hand at comic writing. So, so funny whilst exploring the sadness and danger of wanting to be loved.
Charlie Savage by Roddy Doyle (Vintage)
Judge Justin Albert says: “A belly-achingly funny, surprisingly optimistic and heart-warming book written by a writer at the very height of their literary powers. A book to savour, and to re-read time and again”
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (Transworld)
Judge David Campbell says: “Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage is both a brilliant evocation of the suffragettes’ great struggles and a great comedy. Mattie is a wonderfully engaging figure in this beautifully written book. I loved it.”
Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen (Galley Beggar Press)
Judge James Naughtie says: “Francis Plug: Writer in Residence is hilarious and poignant too, cutting through the absurdity that our eponymous hero generates wherever he goes, and touching on some raw truths. Paul Ewen is a comic writer of real originality and in Plug, he has created a joyous character who can be relished – laughed at, sympathised with, and even, surprisingly, understood. We have met him before, and we hope we will meet him again.”
Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (Viking)
Judge Pippa Evans says: “Nina Stibbe is a comic magician with detail that paints the most fantastic comedy picture. I have never considered working in a dental surgery and now have no desire at all. But I’d happily read about this one for the rest of my life! This book is definitely a reason to be cheerful.”