The 16-strong longlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction was revealed today (8 March), with five Penguin Random House titles making an appearance: H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker (William Heinemann); The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape); The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker); Arundhati Roy‘s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton); and Kit de Waal's The Trick to Time (Viking).
Previously known as The Baileys Prize, the £30,000 award recognises “excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from throughout the world”. It was set up in 1996, following a year when there were no female authors shortlisted for the Booker prize, and chair of the judges Sarah Sands said that this year’s longlist demonstrated that the prize is not a “special pleading award” for writers who wouldn’t make it in other circumstances.
The shortlist will be announced on 23 April, with the winner announced on Wednesday 6 June. Here's some more information on our longlisted authors and titles:
H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
From the internationally acclaimed, Man Booker-shortlisted Nicola Barker comes a new novel that overflows with pure creative talent. H(A)PPY is a post-post apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland, a story which tells itself and then consumes itself. It’s a place where language glows, where words buzz and sparkle and finally implode. It’s a novel which twists and writhes with all the terrifying precision of a tiny fish in an Escher lithograph – a book where the mere telling of a story is the end of certainty.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Selin, a tall, highly strung Turkish-American from New Jersey turns up at Harvard and finds herself dangerously overwhelmed by the challenges and possibilities of adulthood. She studies linguistics and literature, teaches ESL and spends a lot of time thinking about what language – and languages – can and cannot do.
Along the way she befriends Svetlana, a cosmopolitan Serb, and obsesses over Ivan, a mathematician from Hungary. The two conduct a hilarious relationship that culminates with Selin spending the summer teaching English in a Hungarian village and enduring a series of surprising excursions. Throughout her journeys, Selin ponders profound questions about how culture and language shape who we are, how difficult it is to be a failed writer, and how baffling love is.
At once clever and clueless, Batuman’s heroine shows us with perfect hilarity and soulful inquisitiveness just how messy it can be to forge a self.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.
Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.
The Ministry of Utmost Unhappiness by Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years – the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond; to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India; where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.
Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who loved her.
The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
Mona is a young Irish girl in the big city, with the thrill of a new job and a room of her own in a busy boarding house. On her first night out in 1970s Birmingham, she meets William, a charming Irish boy with an easy smile and an open face. They embark upon a passionate affair, a whirlwind marriage – before a sudden tragedy tears them apart.
Decades later, Mona pieces together the memories of the years that separate them. But can she ever learn to love again?
The full longlist for this year’s Women’s Fiction Prize is:
- H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker (William Heinemann)
- The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape)
- Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon (The Borough Press)
- Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig (Grove Press)
- Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Corsair)
- The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)
- Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray)
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins)
- When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic)
- Elmet by Fiona Mozley (Hodder & Stoughton)
- The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)
- See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Tinder Press)
- A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (Virago)
- Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
- The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal (Viking)
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury Circus)
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