Two Vintage titles - Imogen Hermes Gowar's debut The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, and Elif Batuman's The Idiot - have been included on the six-book-strong shortlist for this year's Women's Prize for Fiction.
Sarah Sands, 2018 chair of judges and Editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme said:
“The shortlist was chosen without fear or favour. We lost some big names, with regret, but narrowed down the list to the books which spoke most directly and truthfully to the judges,” said Sarah Sands, Chair of Judges. “The themes of the shortlist have both contemporary and lasting resonance encompassing the birth of the internet, race, sexual violence, grief, oh and mermaids. Some of the authors are young, half by Brits and all are blazingly good and brave writers.”
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 winner of this year's prize will be announced on 6 June.
Here's some more information on our two shortlisted titles:
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 full longlist for this year’s Women’s Fiction Prize is as follows:
- The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape)
- The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)
- Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray)
- When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic)
- Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury Circus)
For more information about the prize, visit the Women's Prize for Fiction website.