Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Celebrating Women Writers

International Women's Day is an opportunity to celebrate women writers. Most of my favourite writers are women, including Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Helen Garner, Edith Wharton, JK Rowling, Anna Funder, Elizabeth Gaskell, Maya Angelou, Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, Anne Tyler, Joan London, LM Montgomery, Jeanette Winterson, Jane Austen and George Eliot.

On International Women's Day 2017, the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction announced the longlist for their 2017 award. It is a fascinating list and many authors I have not heard of.

Here's the list:

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Set against the backdrop of social and political upheaval in 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me is the story of a couple struggling with infertility. The story shifts perspectives from husband and wife and whether their fragile marriage will survive. By all accounts this is a beautifully crafted, though heartbreaking novel. Adebayo has published numerous short stories. This is her first novel.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
British author Naomi Alderman has crafted a dystopian world in which women are the ones with power, literally. Teenaged girls suddenly develop the power to conduct electricity through their hands, and with this the ability to control those around them. Written from multiple points of view, Alderman's thriller shows how power corrupts, as she turns gender politics on its heads. I am keen to read this book.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Frequent readers of this blog will know how much I love my fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood. This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which Shakespeare plays are rewritten as modern novels by authors like Jeannette Winterson, Anne Tyler and Atwood. I have not ready any of these, but I would likely start with Atwood.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint
This novel is inspired by the story of Alice Crimmins. Set in Queens, New York, in 1965. Ruth, a single mother, discovers her two young children have gone missing and are soon found dead.  As the police investigate they centre their attention on Ruth. Did she murder her own children?

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
This coming of age tale is about a disadvantaged girl and her horse. Eleven year old Velvet Vargas participates in a program to give disadvantaged kids an opportunity to spend time in the country.  The story traces her relationship with her host family over several years.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
After the Second World War two teenage siblings are sent away to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Kent. Here they meet other residents - ex servicemen, a university graduate, and various others with the affliction.

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride won the Bailey's Prize for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing in 2014. In her latest novel, an 18 year old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and dreams of becoming an actress. She meets an older man, an established actor, and begins a relationship with him.

Midwinter by Fiona Melrose
Father and son farmers in Suffolk are enduring a particularly hard winter on the land their family has worked for generations. They are haunted by the death of their wife and mother. This is a novel about guilt, loss and love.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
The Forges are an old Kentucky family descended from the first settlers. They are now horse breeders wishing to breed the next Secretariat. This is a novel of ambition, race, and reckoning.

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Set in 1950s South Africa, this is the story of two elderly neighbours, one white/one black, who are sworn enemies. The women were both successful business women, now retired and widowed, giving them more time to put towards their bitter feud.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
Rose and Pierrot are orphans raised in a Montreal orphanage by nuns. Both are prodigies - he as a gifted pianist, she as a dancer and comedienne.  When they are of age, they are separated and have no means of contact. Working as servants during the Great Depression, they descend into poverty trying to survive.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Set in Victorian London, this is a historical novel about two people who fall for each other in an unusual way. Cora Seaborne is a London widower who moves to Essex and meets Will Ransome, the local vicar. Mysterious disappearances are attributed to a legendary Serpent, and a moral panic ensues.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx
I have heard great things about this huge novel by Annie Proulx. I love her work but have not yet attempted this 700+ page beast. Spanning 300 years, this is the story of immigrants to New France, who were wood-cutters or barkskins, and their descendants.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Neve cannot escape from her toxic marriage to Edwyn. She is a thirty something writer, he is an older man with ill health. Neve sees her parents' marriage in her own relationship. Is she reliving the past?

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, it is a safe bet that Thien's novel will be shortlisted for this award. This is the epic story of an extended family in China who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
A melancholy tale of two childhood friends - Gustav and Anton - in Switzerland. The first part focuses on Gustav's childhood. The next is on his parents, and in the final part Gustav and Anton are older men reflecting on the choices they made.

These titles will be reduced to a shortlist of six, with the winner announced on 7 June 2017.