The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

I have now read all the novels on the Baileys Womens Prize for fiction shortlist. As a reminder, they are;

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah
Hannah Kent: Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri: The Lowland
Audrey Magee: The Undertaking
Eimear McBride: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing
Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch

Should be the winner
Should be the winner

Cutting straight to the chase, there is no doubt in my mind that Americanah is the superior novel of the six. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells a good love story but, more particularly, her take on race and racism is brilliant. She tells it both by being directly polemical – her heroine, Ifemelu, writes a clever blog on the issue – but she illustrates this in many ways throughout the novel. Her take on racism is not just white racism towards blacks, though that certainly occurs, both in the US and in England, but also the differences between African-Americans and what she calls American-Africans, i.e. Africans who have emigrated to the US, and even between different Africans. It is brilliantly done and shows what many critics have already said, namely that Adichie is now one of the foremost novelists of the twenty-first century. This is not to do down the other five novels. However, they unfortunately happened to be up against a strong contender. I enjoyed four of the five. Indeed, I thought all could have been strong contenders, were it not for Americanah. However, I have to admit that I did not particularly enjoy A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Some critics thought it was the work of genius so don’t take my word for it. But beware. It is written in stream of consciousness/ disjointed sentences style somewhat à la Joyce so if that is what you enjoy, you may well appreciate McBride’s take on the usual Irish stereotypes of drink, sex, sexual abuse, religion, etc.

Surprisingly did not make the shortlist
Surprisingly did not make the shortlist

Last year’s shortlist had five very experienced and well thought of novelists. None of the six was a first-time novelist. This year’s list has three first-time novelists, which is a fine achievement and it is good to know that there are so many good novelists coming through. Last year’s list had three British and three US writers. This year there are no British writers and five different nationalities represented. I have not read any of the other writers on the longlist except for Eleanor Catton‘s The Luminaries, a surprise omission from the shortlist. This omission os a decision I can more or less agree with, as I thought Catton’s previous book, Rehearsal was the better book. There are two or three others on the longlist that I hope to get to.

A novel featuring multiple violent deaths and a few words in Dutch
A novel featuring multiple violent deaths and a few words in Dutch

A few facts

Nationalities represented: Australia, India, Ireland (two), Nigeria, USA
First novels: Burial Rites; The Undertaking; A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Second novels: The Lowland
Third novels: Americanah; The Goldfinch
Longest novel: The Goldfinch (784 pages)
Shortest novel: A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing (224 pages)
Novels in which the main character is a woman: Americanah; Burial Rites; The Undertaking (jointly with a man); A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Novels in which there are multiple violent deaths: Burial Rites; The Undertaking; The Lowland; The Goldfinch
Novels in which a language other than English is (occasionally) used: Burial Rites (Icelandic); The Undertaking (German); A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing (Irish); The Goldfinch (Dutch). The Lowland has a quote from Giorgio Bassani in Italian in the foreword

Are women now writing better novels than men? Based on what I have seen this past year, at least in the English-speaking world, the answer is a categorical yes.

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