Kate Mosse introduces the evening.

Kate Mosse introduces the evening.

After so much reading and discussion, the 2016 Baileys Prize Winner was announced last night! I was so thrilled to see that my predicted winner “The Glorious Heresies” took the Bessie statue and prize. The ceremony and party took place in the ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall which was packed with people and very warm. I had a fantastic evening alongside my good friend and journalist Uli from Gays the Word bookshop. Lots of lovely chat about literature with fellow book blogger/vloggers, booksellers, journalists and publishers. It was particularly a pleasure meeting author Cynthia Bond who is so humble and was as lovely as can be. Also, I spent some time talking with Ali Smith. We had a long conversation discussing animals for some reason where I talked about my passion for owls and she confided that her spirit animal is the pink fairy Armadillo which is native to Central Argentina. She’s never seen one in person but hopes to one day.

Not only is it a thrill to know that the energetic, creative and complex novel “The Glorious Heresies” will now get more deserved attention and be read more widely, but I also placed a cheeky little bet that it would take the award so I’m now pleased to find myself with an extra £45 in my pocket! Of course, the real point of the prize (rather than parties or gambling) is celebrating the voices of excellent female authors and all the involved discussion about great literature written by women. I’ve enjoyed following the prize so much because it’s introduced me to books I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. Interestingly the consensus amongst the shadow panel I was involved with was that Kate Atkinson’s novel “A God in Ruins” should have won the prize – even though this novel wasn’t even shortlisted. What do you think? Are there any books on the long or short list you would have preferred to see win? Let's keep the conversation going!

Lisa McInerney's acceptance speech.

Lisa McInerney's acceptance speech.

Photobooth snapshop with Uli.

Photobooth snapshop with Uli.

with Cynthia Bond author of "Ruby"

with Cynthia Bond author of "Ruby"

Thanks for letting me know your thoughts about the nominated books. There’s still time to win a copy of McInerney’s novel because I’m leaving this competition open until the end of June. Just comment on my BookTube video about the Baileys Prize shortlist and subscribe to my YouTube channel for a chance to win a copy of McInerney's stunning novel.

 

If you didn’t already know, I’ve been taking part in the Baileys Prize Shadow Jury this year. Along with five other passionate readers we made it our mission to read the twenty longlisted books, select our own shortlist and crown our own winner. We met over dinner and drinks for the long final debate during which each of the novels we shortlisted was discussed in detail – as well as several books we wished had been included on the judges’ original longlist. Personally, if Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila” had been listed for the prize I would have argued that it should have won.

Our own shortlist (slightly different from the official judges’ shortlist) included the books:

“Dear Thief” by Samantha Harvey
“The Country of Ice Cream Star” by Sandra Newman
“How to be Both” by Ali Smith
“The Shore” by Sara Taylor
“A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler
“The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I’m delighted to announce our selected champion is Ali Smith!

I’m very happy with this decision as “How to be Both” is the book I wanted to win and I think it’s the book which will actually win the Baileys Prize. However, part of me does feel regretful that we didn’t choose “The Country of Ice Cream Star” because this is a tremendously inventive and radical novel which does deserve more attention. As I discussed in my review, I think there are flaws but these are outweighed by the tremendous vision Newman had to create such a complex alternative future and original narrator. Nevertheless, “How to be Both” is a tremendous novel that deserves to be celebrated. I’ll have all my fingers and toes crossed for Ali Smith at the Baileys Prize award ceremony!

Check out the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction site for more info about the shortlist and a fun The Brilliant Woman’s Guide to a Very Modern Book Club. 

Who do you want to win? Are there other novels you wish had been on the Baileys Prize shortlist?

In total I’ve read 86 books this year. Most of them were newly published novels. If you read my reviews, you’ll know how much I engaged with and got out of many of these books. Just because I’m picking ten to highlight here doesn’t mean I think many of the others aren’t great works in each of their own unique ways. There’s no way to really compare the inventive distinct voice of “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” with the refreshing perspective on WWII that “The Spring of Kasper Meier” gives or the majestic view of an extensive family in Calcutta that “The Lives of Others” provides. Still more difficult is to judge books of short stories against each other. While some stories in books like “All the Rage” or “The American Lover” or “The Best American Stories of 2014” could be counted amongst the most powerful things I’ve read this year, other stories in these books haven’t stuck with me as much. And, of course, browsing other best books of the year lists, I’m aware just how many other new much-lauded books I simply haven’t had time to read yet. I haven’t even read this year’s Booker prize winner. But I think winter is designed for cosy afternoons inside catching up with reading while drinking cups of tea.

The ten books I’m singling out here simply had a tremendous personal impact upon me. I’d gladly thrust copies into the hands of any reader and call them essential. Click on the titles to read my full thoughts on each.


Arctic Summer
A section of writer EM Forster’s life is fictionally mined by Galgut to reveal the power of a quiet life. It hit me like a punch in the face.

The Blazing World
What could be the most inventive and daring artistic hoax of the century forces us to question our assumptions about gender and the meaning of art.

The Walk Home
This short novel about a Glaswegian boy caught in the crossfire of ideological and family struggles deserves to be more widely read and remembered.

The Incarnations
Fantastically inventive and the most relentlessly entertaining book I’ve read all year, Barker’s novel of stories within stories subversively questions the meaning of identity.

H is for Hawk
This memoir about grief breaks the mould showing Macdonald’s very personal experience of managing her feelings through training a goshawk and exploring the life of writer TH White.

How to be Both
Smith is a revolutionary writer. Language is never a passive, dead thing in this author’s books. In this new novel her words perform gymnastics and make me want to do backward hand-springs.

The Paying Guests
No two love stories are the same. This novel gives us the tale of a most extraordinary affair that shows how we can be both generous and selfish in passion.

Lovely, Dark, Deep
Many books of short stories come across as uneven, but every tale in this collection stands out. Using an impressive arsenal of literary styles, Oates writes about people as far ranging as an unlikeable victim of cancer who won’t tell anyone about her illness and a viciously aggressive teenage boy writing about his death.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Rachel Joyce’s literary sequel to her popular first novel, shows an elderly woman physically inhibited by her illness shining light on her lifetime of experiences like a prism reveals the entire spectrum of colours.

The Repercussions
Two disparate stories that are divided by a century come together in this tremendous and emotionally-enthralling novel about war, photography, sexuality and race.

Tonight I attended the South Bank Centre’s reading from all six Booker shortlisted authors. It was wonderful seeing Ali Smith and Neel Mukherjee coming out to the stage arm in arm like old chums. When each author took their turn to read they all spoke about their high regard for the fellow authors on the shortlist and what a pleasure it's been doing the Booker circuit together. The event was chaired by Kirsty Wark. Thank god they got this wonderful journalist in to interview the authors and ask intelligent questions. In past years the interviews haven't always been conducted by such a fine person. Wark joked at the end of the even that the writers got along so well they would obviously go on to form an authors' commune. Before Ali Smith read she greeted every section of the audience and gave her sympathy to the sign language interpreter on stage as the opening of the artist's section of her novel was no doubt a challenge to interpret. They gave each other a cheeky thumbs up. It was wonderful hearing all authors read and give such thoughtful answers about their writing. 

It’s felt like this year’s Booker has been more awash with controversy and descent than any other year I can remember. After the excitement last year of having a female author majority on the shortlist, this year’s prize received severe criticism by some for only including three women on the long list. The prize was also open to American authors for the first time this year – leading only to two Americans on the shortlist – but the prize was criticised for squeezing out most authors from other Commonwealth countries. I heard one of the directors of the prize counter this argument with the opinion that books from those other countries simply weren’t as strong as most of the British and American contenders. Many readers were frustrated when the long list came out this year that several titles weren’t published yet. Still other bloggers and people on twitter have dismissed the shortlisted titles as books they aren’t that interested in.

Personally, I still feel as excited as ever about the prize and here’s why. Early in the summer a friend recommended that I read Neel Mukherjee’s “The Lives of Others.” I did so and was bowled over by the strength and originality of this author’s writing. Reading about how this complex family network gradually imploded amidst the political strife of the time, I was wrapped in the individual stories of each striking character and the great symbolic weight of the house they inhabited. I wrote about the book here and remember thinking what a shame it was this book would probably pass by largely unnoticed. Given the subject matter, length and complexity of the novel it’s one that I was worried would slip between the cracks and go largely unnoticed. When the book was published I attended Mukherjee’s reading at the South Bank Centre in one of their smaller event spaces. The author spoke eloquently and everyone felt moved, but the audience was only half full. Now here he is on the Booker shortlist and tonight the largest South Bank auditorium was packed full listening to Mukherjee read. It’s the power of this prize to bring a talented literary voice like his to popular attention.

Certainly, plenty of other authors who weren’t long listed or even considered for the prize deserve attention as well. But at least the prize has given an author like Mukherjee a better chance to be heard. Although Ali Smith is an incredibly well-regarded author now, I’m certain her public appeal wouldn’t be as high if it weren’t for her inclusion on the Booker list in past years. That she’s been singled out again as worthy of being on the short list for her fantastically moving “How to Be Both” makes me feel that the well-read judges of the prize do care about quality in literature over public appeal. Although I greatly enjoyed reading Ferris and Fowler’s novels, I am really rooting for Mukherjee or Smith to win. It seems slightly ridiculous comparing the two as stylistically these books couldn’t be further apart from each other. But both are worthy of being read and, if I had to place a bet on who will win tomorrow, I would bet on Neel Mukherjee taking the prize. He is tipped as the favourite, but this time I think the bookies have it right.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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