So, the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) has announced its longlist for 2013 this morning. All titles published for the first time between 01APR2012-31MAR2013 in the UK by a female author are eligible, provided they are not translated works and are over 30,000 words.
The twenty titles and authors longlisted this year are:
Kitty Aldridge – A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson – Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber – The Marlowe Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu – The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti – How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes – May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingslover – Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen – The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam – Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins – The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts – Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal – The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple – Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak – Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith – NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)
It’s a list that raises a lot of questions.
First of all, 20 books in 34 days?
Here we are on 13MAR with a longlist of 20 titles announced. On 16APR they’ll announce the shortlist at the London Bookfair. That gives you 34 day to read all 20 books if they’re new to you and you want to comment on the choices made by the judges and intelligently assess those that make the shortlist vs those that don’t.
The maths just doesn’t work.
I’ve tried or read half the titles on the list which I’m personally okay with, given how many classics and non-fiction books I pick up. I find the idea of trying ten more new to me books interesting rather than off-putting.
How much prior knowledge should a literary prize expect from the average punter though?
I’ve always believed they should be pitching the list at those who’ve heard of some of the titles, are reasonably comfortable in a bookshop or library and can be persuaded to try something new. A list of twenty titles is rather daunting when seen in that light and is completely impossible in the time between the longlist and shortlist announcements. So…
How well can mainstream media, critics and bloggers cover the list over the next four weeks?
The answer has to be patchily and mostly with summaries. Doing a quick calculation (adding up the page counts given on Amazon.co.uk for each book) we have total of 7179 pages across the 20 books. That’s a lot of reading. Leaving aside the general readers though I am more concerned by the prospect of how this will be covered by mainstream media. Given that the recently released VIDA figures continue to show that the marked bias towards male authored works is alive and well, just how many critics can we expect to have read the whole list by 16APR and be able to comment intelligently about their comparative merits and themes?
It’s all very well for general readers and bloggers to crowdsource opinions but can you imagine a day where the Man Booker shortlist is announced and the critics are all saying, “Well, I only read a few on the list…”? Of course not. But WPF has almost guaranteed that the mainstream reviewers will all be filing their excuses and reasons why they couldn’t comment on all of the titles on their list. I expect to see a lot of summaries of where the authors were born, who was left off the list and easy recapping rather than actual reviews and good round ups. Which leads me onto:
How can any bookshop or library consistently stock, display and promote such a long longlist?
Chances are, they won’t. Instead what you’re likely to see is a bit of buzz but little actual promotion until the much more manageable shortlist is announced in mid-April. Books like Where’d You Go Bernadette, Flight Behaviour and Gone Girl have already done fantastically well so it’s probably not so much of an issue for them but I do wonder just how much commercial impact being on such a long longlist can have for the less well-known titles – especially if they don’t make it onto the shortlist and the display stands in April.
It perhaps seems a bit negative to focus on the length of the list and the mechanics of what it’ll mean for the books listed rather than look at the diversity of the list and the range of writing showcased… but to be honest, I find the list a little lacklustre in that respect too.
There’s seven North American authors on there, two Australians, an Israeli and a Turkish author. It’s worth pointing out that most of the authors seem to have spent time living or being educated in America at some point. I also find it surprising and a little depressing that Asia is completely unrepresented in the list.
While there is diversity on the list – The Marlowe Papers is in verse, Life After Life is reincarnation with a difference – it is very, very mainstream. My first thought when seeing the full list was how many had already been on the 3-for-2 tables at Waterstones or heavily promoted in mainstream press. For those who are already regular readers there might not be very many new discoveries here at all.
Perhaps this is to be expected though in a year where only 140 authors were entered by their publishers?