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Musings on Fiction Prizes

So, I completely missed the announcement of the shortlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this week (I have become a but of a hermit, trying to finish university assignments) hence why I’m only writing this now.

I love when shortlists are announced, because they always provide the opportunity for some really interesting debates. Essentially, shortlists (and long-lists), and prizes in general are a statement of value. ‘These are the best books of the year. Read them.’ Statements like that are obviously going to spark debate about what constitutes ‘good’ literature. Debates about plots, genres, structure, characterization. Whenever I see “Shortlisted for /Winner of [insert prize name here] “, I always try to see what it was that the panel may have found interesting about the book, and whether I would have picked it myself.

I think that’s part of the success of prize culture: it gets people reading, and talking about those books that they’ve read. With the spread of social media, the debates are even bigger (in some ways, more heated) – people want to be a part of it all, they want to share their opinion. It’s obviously great for all the books mentioned, and even each author’s other works. There’s that amazing story of A.S. Byatt’s previous titles being re-released after Possession: A Romance winning The Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize) in 1990, and they all sold better in one year than they had in all the years previously. Being shortlisted almost always guarantees becoming a best-seller, for the very reason that some use shortlists as reading guides. It also means great publicity for future works, although some believe it puts added pressure on authors (new works will always be compared to shortlisted or winning books).

One of the best things about prize shortlists, I think, is that it gets people reading (and enjoying) fiction that they otherwise may not have read.  There are so many titles that I picked up because they stood pride of place in the bookshops during ‘prize season’. It diversifies people’s reading habits – they may go on to read more from that author or genre, or they may even be inspired to write something themselves.

After seeing the shortlist for The Bailey’s Prize, I’ve decided to take a couple of them for my holiday reading. I have 20 hours for each journey to fill, and I’m pretty excited to finally have some time to read for pleasure.

The book that really caught my eye was The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. There’s something about the whole ‘Irish underworld’, the lives of those on the periphery of society, that really interests me about the synopsis. Although it mentions a murder, it seems like this is a story about ‘real’ emotions, about love and regret and loneliness. it sounds thrillingly dark and exciting, but still grounded in reality rather than a generic ‘horror’ (if that makes sense). So this is my first choice.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara also looks really good. How people and relationships change over time, but the connection still draws people to each other. Past traumas resurfacing, and affecting people in new ways. I do like when novels seem to focus on small groups or communities, rather than individuals – I think there’s just something more substantial about the plot and characterization, something more interesting about the work. Obviously it depends on the skill of the author at bringing characters to life, and I have enjoyed novels written from a subjective point of view or focusing on the life of an individual, but generally, I like shifting between different characters, and seeing how they connect and interact.

These are probably what I’ll be writing about and reviewing next. I just wanted to take the opportunity to write here again – it’s amazing how quickly the days pass when you have university deadlines to meet. Catching up with all the publicity from The Bailey’s Prize basically reminded me what great fiction is currently out there, and it made me excited to soon have the chance to read some of it again.

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