Wainwright and Women’s Prizes: Predictions & Wishes

It’s that time of year when all the literary prize news comes at once. Tonight: the announcement of the Wainwright Prize winners. (I was honoured to be invited to the ceremony, but traveling into London was more than I felt up to handling under the circumstances.) Tomorrow, the 8th, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded. It’s been so long since the shortlist announcement that my enthusiasm has waned, but nonetheless, I make predictions and wishes for it as well as the Wainwright below.

 

Wainwright Prize

I’d read (or skimmed, or decided against) all 13 of the UK nature writing nominees, as well as a few from the global conservation longlist, before the shortlists were announced (see my mini-reviews and predictions).

Unfortunately, my favourite from the lists, Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald, did not make it through to the final round. To some extent it was a victim of the new division into two prizes: the idea seems to be to separate the narrative-driven, personal writing from the scientific, environmentally minded nonfiction. Books that draw on both genres, like Macdonald’s essays this year, and Tim Dee’s and Kathleen Jamie’s excellent travelogues (Greenery and Surfacing) last year, fall into the gap.

Since the shortlist announcement, I’ve read more of Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn and started Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs. Both are exceptionally written and impressive in scope, but as her portraits of the world’s derelict places have truly captivated my imagination, I stand by my initial prediction that Cal Flyn will win the global conservation prize.

As for the nature writing prize, I’m torn: The book that I think is of most lasting UK importance, with vital lessons to teach, is English Pastoral by James Rebanks. By contrast, the book that I wholeheartedly loved and admired was Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour. I’d be happy to see either one win.

 

Women’s Prize

Like last year, the winner announcement was delayed by several months, giving me time to forget all about it. Back in April I was very invested in the race (see my thoughts on the longlist; my wish list correctly predicted four of the six on the shortlist), and since then I’ve read and enjoyed a couple more from the longlist.

I predicted it would be Women’s Prize fodder when I read it back in June 2020, and I still think it the safest, strongest contender: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It’s easy to see this following in the footsteps of An American Marriage: a book club book concerned with race and relationships.

So that’s what I think will win, whereas I marginally preferred the superficially similar but subtler Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and would like to see its author get some recognition, so that’s what should win.

Next prize to think about: The Booker, whose shortlist will be announced on the 14th. On the 13th I’ll give my thoughts on the longlisted novels that I’ve read so far.

15 responses

  1. The Cal Flyn would be a worthy winner, as would the Rebanks. I’ve yet to read the Gilmour, and have just reserved it from the library. Yes, the Gyasi would be a good contender for the Women’s prize. I’ve yet to read the Bennett: I enjoyed An American Marriage, though didn’t find it memorable.

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    1. I hope you enjoy Featherhood; it’s a lot like H Is for Hawk, but with a seam of humour.

      That’s an interesting point about American Marriage et al.: are these books compelling at the time, but not of lasting significance?

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      1. I tend to agree. A good holiday read maybe?

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  2. I have my eye on the Cal Flyn and have been worrying the Rebanks might be a bit too red in tooth and claw for me. And I would like the Gyasi to win even though I haven’t read it and I have read The Vanishing Half!

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    1. I don’t remember the Rebanks being very raw. It would fit in well with other books you’ve read on land use. Mostly it’s saying, here’s why we know that the current state of farming is broken, and here’s a different way. I was so impressed by his humility to admit he’d been wrong and is now trying something new.

      Ha, that’s a funny way round! I’d be happy with either result, but I do think Transcendent Kingdom is that bit more literary and beautiful.

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  3. I’ve got both Featherhood and Islands of Abandonment and am looking forward to reading both, though unlikely within the time frame of the prize, which doesn’t matter because they sound wonderful anyway.

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  4. Update: Wainwright Prize. I correctly predicted the Rebanks for UK nature writing; Merlin Sheldrake won the global conservation award (my review: https://bookishbeck.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/september-releases-gyasi-mckay-sheldrake-tremain-woolfson/). Kind of a shame it’s two white men … just like last year.

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  5. I loved the Bennett and Gyasi both, so I’d be happy to see either win the Women’s Prize! I haven’t yet read that Fuller novel but it’s on my TBR and I’ve loved the other books by her I’ve read.

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    1. Unsettled Ground was my least favourite from Fuller so far, but she’s so good that that’s not really a criticism!

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  6. I haven’t really been reading along with the Women’s Prize this year, but I did try The Vanishing Half and gave up on it halfway through. Maybe I should revisit…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s interesting to hear; I thought it was a very quick and fluid read. What bored you about it? I read 5 of 6 from the shortlist (bar the Jones) and enjoyed them all. Maybe the winner announcement will inspire you to finish it, or read another one!

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      1. To be honest, I think it wasn’t the right time for me to read it. I had a lot going on and it just didn’t hold my attention. I think I’ll go back to it and start from the beginning when I have the chance to read it in a few sittings rather than in bits and pieces.

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      2. That sounds like a good plan. I’ve had a few reads in recent years where I’d DNFed but then went back and ended up loving it. Mood and timing can have a big effect.

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  7. Update: Women’s Prize. What a surprise for Piranesi to win! I would have considered it 4th or 5th most likely, out of the 6 on the shortlist. But it’s a book I very much enjoyed, and it’s good to see something from a slightly hybrid genre win.

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