Happy International Women’s Day! I have been keeping my eye on the Women’s Prize the last couple of years (as well as the Booker prize) but during the lead up to the announcement of the longlist I thought I would try to read as many books off the list as possible. The longlist has 16 novels which I’m going to share in this post and the short list, which comprises 6 books, will be released at the end of April. My hope is that I will have read the winner by the time it is announced in the middle of June. To make this list more interesting I have organized them in order of how interested in them and will most likely be picking them up. Fingers crossed that some of the ones I read will actually make the short list.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, a Black punk artist before her time. Despite her unconventional looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her one night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Sometimes it’s easy to fall between the cracks…
At 3.04 p.m. on a hot, sticky day in June, Bess finds out she’s pregnant.
She could tell her social worker Henry, but he’s useless.
She should tell her foster mother, Lisa, but she won’t understand.
She really ought to tell Boy, but she hasn’t spoken to him in weeks.
Bess knows more than anyone that love doesn’t come without conditions.
But this isn’t a love story…
Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence , asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading ‘with murderous attention,’ must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation and furious reckoning.
The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.
Two young Vietnamese women go missing decades apart. Both are fearless, both are lost. And both will have their revenge.
1986: The teenage daughter of a wealthy Vietnamese family gets lost in an abandoned rubber plantation while fleeing her angry father, and is forever changed by the experience.
2011: Twenty-five years later, a young, unhappy Vietnamese-American disappears from her new home in Saigon without a trace.
The fates of both women are inescapably linked, bound together by past generations, by ghosts and ancestors, by the history of possessed bodies and possessed lands. Violet Kupersmith’s heart-pounding fever dream of a novel hurtles through the ghostly secrets of Vietnamese history to create an immersive, playful, utterly unforgettable debut.
On a perfect August morning, Elle Bishop heads out for a swim in the pond below ‘The Paper Palace’ – her family’s holiday home in Cape Cod. As she dives beneath the water she relives the passionate encounter she had the night before, against the side of the house that knows all her darkest secrets, while her husband and mother chatted to their guests inside…
So begins a story that unfolds over twenty-four hours and fifty years, as Elle’s shocking betrayal leads her to a life-changing decision – and an ending you won’t be able to stop thinking about.
Nephthys Kinwell is a taxi driver of sorts in Washington, DC, ferrying ill-fated passengers in a haunted car: a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk. Endless rides and alcohol help her manage her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris, who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River.
Unknown to Nephthys when the novel opens in 1977, her estranged great-nephew, ten-year-old Dash, is finding himself drawn to the banks of that very same river. It is there that Dash-reeling from having witnessed an act of molestation at his school, but still questioning what and who he saw-has charmed conversations with a mysterious figure he calls the “River Man,” who somehow appears each time he goes there.
When Dash arrives unexpectedly at Nephthys’s door one day bearing a cryptic note about his unusual conversations with the River Man, Nephthys must face both the family she abandoned and what frightens her most when she looks in the mirror.
Creatures of Passage beautifully threads together the stories of Nephthys, Dash, and others both living and dead. Morowa Yejide’s deeply captivating novel shows us an unseen Washington filled with otherworldly landscapes, flawed super-humans, and reluctant ghosts, and brings together a community intent on saving one young boy in order to reclaim themselves.
Dawn breaks across the archipelago of Popisho. The world is stirring awake again, each resident with their own list of things to do:
A wedding feast to conjure and cook An infidelity to investigate A lost soul to set free
As the sun rises two star-crossed lovers try to find their way back to one another across this single day. When night falls, all have been given a gift, and many are no longer the same.
The sky is pink, and some wonder if it will ever be blue again.
Alethea Lopez is about to turn 40. Fashionable, feisty and fiercely independent, she manages a downtown boutique, but behind closed doors she’s covering up bruises from her abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair with her boss. When she witnesses a woman murdered by a jealous lover, the reality of her own future comes a little too close to home.
Bringing us her truth in an arresting, unsparing Trinidadian voice, Alethea unravels memories repressed since childhood and begins to understand the person she has become.
Her next step is to decide the woman she wants to be.
It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land, meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows.
In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart.
Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.
Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer who has been loved every day of her adult life by one man, her husband Patrick. A gift, her mother once said, not everybody gets.
So why is everything broken? Why is Martha – on the edge of 40 – friendless, practically jobless and so often sad? And why did Patrick decide to leave?
Maybe she is just too sensitive, someone who finds it harder to be alive than most people. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain, at 17, and left her changed in a way that no doctor or therapist has ever been able to explain.
Forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional, bohemian parents (but without the help of her devoted, foul-mouthed sister Ingrid), Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is ever too broken to fix – or whether, maybe, by starting over, she will get to write a better ending for herself.
Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as famous artist and notorious egoist Ray Hanrahan prepares for a new exhibition of his art – the first in many decades – and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good.
His three children will be there: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure Jess, the youngest, who has her own momentous decision to make . . .
And what of Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife? She is an artist, too, but has always put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must finally make a choice.
From her days as a wild child in prohibition America to the blitz and glitz of wartime London, from the rugged shores of New Zealand to a lonely iceshelf in Antarctica, Marian Graves is driven by a need for freedom and danger.
Determined to live an independent life, she resists the pull of her childhood sweetheart, and burns her way through a suite of glamorous lovers. But it is an obsession with flight that consumes her most.
Now, as she is about to fulfil her greatest ambition, to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole, Marian crash lands in a perilous wilderness of ice.
Over half a century later, troubled film star Hadley Baxter is drawn inexorably to play the enigmatic pilot on screen. It is a role that will lead her to an unexpected discovery, throwing fresh and spellbinding light on the story of the unknowable Marian Graves.
Britain is awash, the sea creeps into the land, brambles and forest swamp derelict towns. Food production has moved overseas and people are forced to move to the cities for work. The countryside is empty. A chorus, the herd voice of feral cows, wander this newly wild land watching over changing times, speaking with love and exasperation.
Jesse and his puppy Mister Maliks roam the woods until his family are forced to leave for London. Lee runs from the terrible restrictions of the White Town where he grew up. Isolde leaves London on foot, walking the abandoned A12 in search of the truth about her mother.
After the tragic death of his father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. Then his mother develops a hoarding problem, and the voices grow more clamorous. When ignoring them doesn’t work, Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret; a homeless philosopher- poet who encourages him to find his own voice amongst the many; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
Blending unforgettable characters with everything from jazz to climate change to our attachment to material possessions, this is classic Ruth Ozeki – bold, humane and heartbreaking.
First, there were the flamingos. And then there were two families. Sherry and Leslie and their daughters, Rae and Pauline – and Eve and her son Daniel.
Sherry loves her husband, Leslie. She also loves Eve. It couldn’t have been a happier summer. But then Eve left and everything went grey. Now Daniel is all grown-up and broken. And when he turns up at Sherry’s door, it’s almost as if they’ve all come home again. But there’s still one missing. Where is Eve? And what, exactly, is her story?
FLAMINGO is a novel about the power of love, welcome and acceptance. It’s a celebration of kindness, of tenderness. Set in 2018 and the 80s, it’s a song for the broken-hearted and the big-hearted, and is, ultimately, a novel grown from gratitude, and a book full of wild hope.
Moving away from their lovely apartment in Munich isn’t nearly as wrenching an experience for Frau Greta Hahn as she had feared. Their new home is even lovelier than the one they left behind and life in Buchenwald would appear to be idyllic. Lying just beyond the forest that surrounds them is the looming presence of a work camp. Frau Hahn’s husband, SS Sturmbannfuhrer Dietrich Hahn, has been assigned as the camp’s administrator.
When Frau Hahn’s poor health leads her into an unlikely and poignant friendship with one of Buchenwald’s prisoners, Dr Lenard Weber, her naive ignorance about what is going on so nearby is challenged. A decade earlier, Dr Weber had invented a machine believed that its subtle resonances might cure cancer. But does it really work? One way or another, it might save a life.
A tour de force about the evils of obliviousness, Remote Sympathy compels us to question our continuing and wilful ability to look the other way in a world that is in thrall to the idea that everything-even facts and morals-is relative.