Women’s Prize 2021: Predictions & Eligible Titles

In previous years I’ve been a half-hearted follower of the Women’s Prize – often half or more of the longlist doesn’t interest me – but given that nearly two-thirds of my annual reading is by women, and that I so enjoyed catching up on the previous winners last year, I somehow feel more invested this year. Following literary prizes is among my greatest bookish joys, so this time round I’ve made more of an effort to look back through a year of UK fiction releases by women, whether I’ve read the books or not, and make some informed predictions.

Here is the scope of the prize: “Any woman writing in English – whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter – is eligible. Novels must be published in the United Kingdom between 1 April in the year the Prize calls for entries, and 31 March the following year, when the Prize is announced.” (Note: no novellas or short stories; the judges are looking for the best work by a woman – or a trans person legally defined as a woman.)

Based on the books by women that I have admired, loved, or found most relevant in 2020‒21, here are my predictions for the longlist, which will be revealed on March 10th (two weeks from today) and will contain 16 titles. I’ve aimed for a balance between new and established voices, and a mix of genres. I link to my reviews where available.

  1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  3. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
  4. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
  5. Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden
  6. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  7. Sisters by Daisy Johnson
  8. Pew by Catherine Lacey
  9. No One Is Talking about This by Patricia Lockwood – currently reading
  10. A Burning by Megha Majumdar*
  11. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  12. Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley**
  13. Outlawed by Anna North
  14. Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
  15. The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey***
  16. The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

* Not read yet. It seems like this year’s Home Fire.

** Not read yet, but I loved Elmet so much that I’m confident this will be a hit with me, too.

*** Not read yet. I plan to read it, but after its Costa win there’s a long library holds queue.


Note: “The Prize only accepts novels entered by publishers, who may each submit a maximum of two titles per imprint and one title for imprints with a list of five fiction titles or fewer published in a year. Previously shortlisted and winning authors are awarded a ‘free pass’ in addition to a publisher’s general submissions.”

  • Because of all the funds the publishers are expected to contribute to the Prize’s publicity at each level of judging, the process unfairly discriminates against small, independent publishers.

Bernardine Evaristo is the chair of judges this year, so I expect a strong showing from BIPOC and LGBTQ authors AND a leaning towards experimental prose, probably even more so than my above list reflects.

 

Other novels I considered:

Runners-up – books that I enjoyed and would be perfectly happy to see nominated:

 

Reads that didn’t match up for me, but would be eligible:

 

Haven’t had a chance to read yet / don’t have access to, so can only list without comment (most likely alternative nominees in bold):

  • Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa
  • You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
  • The Push by Ashley Audrain
  • If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
  • [The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi] – Update: would not be eligible according to the new requirement that trans people be legally defined as female; before that regulation was in place, Emezi was longlisted for Freshwater.
  • Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
  • The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes
  • How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon
  • A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion
  • The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy
  • The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin
  • His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
  • A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
  • Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan
  • Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
  • An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon
  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  • Jack by Marilynne Robinson – gets a “free pass” entry as MR is a previous winner
  • Belladonna by Anbara Salam
  • Kololo Hill by Neema Shah
  • All Adults Here by Emma Straub
  • Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
  • Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught
  • We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan
  • How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

I overlapped with this Goodreads list (which I didn’t look at until after compiling mine) on 28 titles. It erroneously includes The Anthill by Julianne Pachico – not released in the UK until May 2021 – but otherwise has another nearly 50, mostly solid, ideas, such as Luster by Raven Leilani, Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh, and Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh.

See also Laura’s and Rachel’s predictions.


Any predictions or wishes for the Women’s Prize longlist?

41 responses

  1. Just a very quick scan as I’m still deliberating on my own. Will be posting on Monday although mine will be wishes rather than predictions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tried to think strategically while mostly including books I’d read and loved. A list of my actual favourites from that time period would look different. Looking forward to yours!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The Vanishing Half and A Burning were the two titles I omitted from my wishlist that I think have the strongest chance of actually being longlisted! I’ll admit that The Vanishing Half deserves to be there, but it didn’t blow me away and I’ve become tired of hearing about it. A Burning just isn’t very good. I think it wants to be something like Home Fire, but the characterisation is so thin and the moral questions are heavy-handed.

    Interesting that you’ve picked Outlawed as well – I have it on my list but thought it was very unlikely to make it. However, I haven’t read it yet so it’s hard for me to judge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree the hype has gotten tiresome for the Bennett, though I think it mostly lived up to it (whereas The Prophets, this year, I’m not quite as sure about).

      I’m going to be picking up A Burning from the library on Monday. At first I was going to wait until the 8th to post, to see if I could read from some more eligible titles before issuing my predictions, but once I saw Rachel’s post, etc., I felt like I needed to hurry up!

      I was actually deliberating between Outlawed and How Much of These Hills Is Gold, but I’ve not read the latter — although it would be more noteworthy for diversity purposes, I thought a dystopian novel might fit well on the list.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read the first few sections of The Prophets but for whatever reason it wasn’t clicking with me, so I abandoned it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, interesting! I like some of the slightly different things he’s doing with the typical slavery narrative, but I do find it overwritten.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s an interesting list, I’ve only read and loved two of them – Piranesi and Exciting Times, but I own copies of a further five and would probably read several more from your picks. The Women’s Prize is one that usually doesn’t bother me, I prefer following some of the more specialist or esoteric awards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve surprised myself by how invested I feel this year. I seem to have read a lot of eligible books, more so than other years, so leaping to the making predictions stage was not too difficult. However, I’m not making any promises as to how much of a long or shortlist I’d read. Only what interests me, basically!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d love to see The Glass Hotel and The Liar’s Dictionary make the list. I think there could be a couple of strong Irish contenders – the Dolan and the McLaughlin for sure, but also The Wild Laughter and As You Were. It will be an interesting longlist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m going to give The Wild Laughter another try during Reading Ireland Month (I abandoned it after 60 pp. last year, but loved her previous novel). I hope my library hold of the McLaughlin will come in soon. Irish authors are doing well on prize lists this year — you must be delighted!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So funny that you’re more invested this year when my investment is waning! Really looking forward to following your WP coverage though, even if I won’t be reading the whole longlist. A ton of your choices were ones that I considered as well and wouldn’t be surprised to see.

    Also, I can’t wait to read your Milk Fed review. I think that one might narrowly miss the cutoff though–I googled the UK pub date and it seems like it’s April 3?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m definitely not committing to reading the whole longlist; I will pick and choose whatever I’m interested in! But it’ll be fun comparing notes with whoever does the same.

      I didn’t like Milk Fed quite as much as The Pisces and had some specific issues with it, but it was still a solid read, 3.5 stars for me. [Did you fall foul of the UK date format? Waterstones says March 4th, which over here is 4/3, not 3/4 🙂 ]

      Liked by 1 person

      1. HA I sure did!!! Oh yay, then I’d be happy to see it longlisted. Agreed, The Pisces is a much stronger book but I’d love for more people to read Milk Fed.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Well I’ve read The Vanishing Half and would love to see it win, and I have a few others (as you know!!), I’m having fun seeing everyone’s lists and looking forward to poking around the longlist when it comes out. I’m not that good at reading new fiction so not surprisingly have missed many of these!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t thought that much about what book I think could win overall — it will all depend on what they longlist and then shortlist — but The Vanishing Half could be a strong contender. In some ways it would seem like a ‘safe’ choice because it’s gotten so much attention, but, like An American Marriage, it’s both popular and well-written, and deals well with the issues it brings up.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love seeing the UK covers for these!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always like comparing cover art. Some are variations on a theme, while others are very different. I prefer the U.S. cover for Sisters.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have only read two of those, The Vanishing Half and Burnt Sugar. I loved The Vanishing Half but Burnt Sugar seriously underwhelmed me I’m afraid. I do get very interested in the Women’s Prize list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Burnt Sugar wasn’t a favourite of mine last year, by any means, but success on one prize list does sometimes foretell a spot on another.

      A Burning seems like a book for you, perhaps?

      Like

  9. Another option that’s just occurred to me: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I salute your stamina and perseverance in not only reading so many clearly excellent titles yourself, Becky, but also in compiling this extensive list. I tend not to read many recently published works (too many unread titles on my shelves!) so can only spot one title from your own longlist, the Susanna Clarke, I know I’ve read for definite—but I can see a few I will probably get round to in the coming years!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love making lists! This was a fun post to put together. I’m drawn to recent books in part because I like to be part of the conversation around literary prizes, including what’s eligible and what most deserves to win. (Note that I’m not and never have been a “Becky”! Even my mother slips up and calls me that sometimes, but I do hate it.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oops, sorry! I thought I’d typed ‘Beck’ but predictive text obviously thought it knew better. In Wales Becca is the more common diminutive of course but I shan’t be calling you that either!

        Like

    2. Ha ha! I have two childhood friends who get to call me Becca and Becks, respectively — but they are literally the only two who do so. My, er, stepsister-to-be goes by Bekah (from a different spelling of our name).

      Like

  11. The only one I’ve read on your actual list is the Emily St. John Mandel and she seems to be a good bet (I’ve read some on the other layers of your list, but not many, maybe I’ll do better this year without my focus on backlisted authors). Because I’ve still not yet read the Bennet, and did enjoy her debut well enough, I thought maybe I”d toss a hold on a copy, but there are more than two thousand other readers who were much more directed about that goal than I’ve been. Phew, but that’s okay, I’ve got plenty of other books on my stacks. Oh, and I forgot to mention in your library post, that I loved Monique Roffey’s Green Bicycle, so I would love to read this one too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two THOUSAND holds?! That’s insane! It was certainly one of the It books of the year over here, and it sounds like it’s the same in North America. I wonder if it will live up to the hype for you, if you ever get the chance to read it.

      I’ve not read Roffey before, but this novel has gotten a lot of prize attention over here, winning the Costa category prize and overall award, and now having a place on the Folio shortlist — which I am receiving for review, so I should be able to read it that way instead of from the library.

      From my actual list, I think the Clarke, Gyasi, Lacey and Williams, at least, would appeal to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel like I’ve checked for it before and there were only a few hundred holds; it’s rare to see a hold list THIS long and, even though there are a lot of copies and they’ve just ordered another hundred, anyone waiting for a copy better have lots of other good reading to enjoy in the meantime.

        They’re all of interest; I don’t think I’d’ve added the Lacey without your endorsement. The trade pub reviews didn’t grab me in an insistent way; I wonder how many good books I miss out on because of that lukewarm response to a review.

        Like

      2. The Toronto library system is just on a whole different scale: here a very popular book might have six copies.

        Like

  12. The Charmed Wife is such an unusual novel, and so well written, I think it should be entered into the competition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed the premise but was slightly disappointed with the execution. It would certainly be eligible. One never knows, though, which titles a publisher has submitted for prize consideration, since they are limited to two.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Quite an impressive list! I love Piranesi. I just received Unsettled Ground from a give-away but haven’t read it yet. We Are All Birds of Uganda is on my TBR. I’ve started Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, but keep getting sidetracked. I need to get the audio. I have a few others on my TBR. You’ve done such a great list–I’ll be back to read about more of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Hope you enjoy Unsettled Ground. Fuller is one of my favorite contemporary writers.

      Like

  14. […] you’d like to see another blogger’s list, Bookish Beck’s is here. She’s more in the business of predictions than […]

    Like

  15. Again, six titles match my list here. https://youtu.be/LJCheJv3QXM

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Haven’t read any of your picks but own a couple. Will look forward to the list reveal tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tomorrow for us 😉 I wonder if any will overlap with the Stella list — if that’s a possibility based on publication dates.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aus authors really don’t get much of a show at the Women’s Prize. Ever. 😕

        Like

    2. That’s a shame. A lot of people were tipping The Yield by Tara June Winch. (Kate Grenville did win it once, but that was a while ago now!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I really enjoyed The Yield. Have just finished the new Grenville – good but not outstanding.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve still only read the one book by Grenville, The Idea of Perfection, but I’d like to try her historical fiction. I have a copy of The Secret River.

        Like

  17. […] revealed on the 10th, contained its usual mixture of the predictable and the unexpected. I correctly predicted six of the nominees, and happened to have already read seven of them, including Claire Fuller’s […]

    Like

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