Thoughts on the Shortlist

In May this year, I took up the project of reading the books that are shortlisted for the Women’s Prize before the winner is announced. You can read a summary of each book and my initial response to the short sample I read for each one here. The winner is going to be announced on Wednesday and I have read five out of the six books. (If you read the original post in May, you’d know that from the start I decided not to read The Mirror and the Light for the time being.)

Here are my thoughts. I arranged them from my least favourite to most.

Weather by Jenny Offill*

To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what the protagonist was talking about. I could understand each sentence and paragraph. But why they were next to each other or what I was supposed to see, think or feel, was completely lost on me.

Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell**

It was beautifully written. I liked the scene and the atmosphere. But the story was too quiet for me. I was not gripped from the beginning, and by half way I was impatient to get it over and done with. People said it moved them to tears. It didn’t do that to me. See my full review here.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz**

I finished this a couple of days ago and it was still fresh in my mind. I like the short chapters. It’s very readable. It has a fascinating subject but very much under developed. See my full review here.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes***

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Finally there’s one book where things happen. I like the short-ish chapters. I appreciated how within one war, all woman in different chapters ended up in tragic circumstances but each circumstance unique. There are quite a lot of them, but they are distinctive. So much so that I think the intimidating ‘list of characters’ at the beginning of the book unnecessary. See my full review here.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo***

Among the stack this one comes on top, although I kind of expected an even better book for a winner. I like that the issues under spotlight are presented and discussed from many perspectives in a balanced and fair way. And each character is seen from many angles. One second she’s categorised as homophobic, the next she’s favoured for her fight to give women a voice. One second she’s the most politically-correct person in the room, the next she can appear ridiculous or judgmental. See my full review here.

I’ve no idea which one will win since I presume the deciding factors will be more complicated than the writing and the story only. And to be honest, overall I’m a bit disappointed and I don’t think I care which one wins. I have my answer. One thing comes out of this project is that I probably won’t be reading through shortlists anymore in the foreseeable future, nor newly published books that come out month by month endlessly, unless there’s a good reason (e.g. James Rebank’s English Pastoral). The hype surrounding the prized and hot-off-the-press books has disappointed me more often than not – which is both ironic and unfortunate.

But fear not, even if I stop reading new books altogether, literature stretches back hundreds of years. Read on!

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