I’ve been following this wonderful book prize for a long time. In the past two years I’ve felt very certain about who will win the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction – and I’ve been right! Yay Ali Smith & Lisa McInerney! But this year I think it’s really tough to guess. There are five incredibly strong novels on this list (and one which made me go huh?) I could go through and list reasons why I think one book will be chosen above another, but to be honest it’s too close to call and I don’t think there’s a way of gauging a proper prediction. If I screw my thinking cap on really hard I’d deduce that Naomi Alderman’s “The Power” will win. But if I listen to my heart it’s telling me Madeleine Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” will win. So that’s the best guess I can make.

Who do you think will win? Are there any on the shortlist you’re still aching to read? Or have you studiously made your way through the entire list? 

I had brunch with the shadow panel organised by Naomi this morning and we had a good long chat about our own shortlist and chose one novel as our own panel winner. Our pick will be announced on Tuesday and the real prize's winner will be announced on Wednesday, July 7th! I'll be going to the ceremony and I'm very excited to see who will win. 

An exciting announcement this past week is that in the future this prize will be known as simply the 'Women's Prize for Fiction' rather than the Baileys Prize, as Baileys will now just be one of multiple sponsors. 

Click on the titles to read my full reviews of the shortlisted books and/or watch this video where the fabulous Anna James and I break down the Baileys Prize 2017 shortlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziwhLux3pqQ

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
First Love by Gwendoline Riley

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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The geeky act of making lists of favourite books is a pleasure I don't think we should deny ourselves. What better way to get a snap-shot of someone's reading tastes and pick up on recommendations for great books you might have missed over the year. I read 112 books this year, many of them newly published in 2016 and many of them highly enjoyable. However, these ten books all show great craft but also feel personally significant to me. Click on the titles below to read my full reviews of each book. You can also watch my BookTube video talking about these ten books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7x_TPKvl7I&t=71s

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

Anyone who knows how Oates is my favourite author might think it is an obvious choice for me to put a new novel by her on my list, but this is truly an excellent book. The more I think about it the more layers it yields about the meaning of personality and romance. An unusual love story between a man with short term memory loss and scientist Margot that explores the elusive mechanics of the mind.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I can't ignore the significance of this novel coming out in an American election year when a campaign fuelled by racism and anti-immigration helped a politically-inexperienced misogynist enter The White House. This story about an escaped slave named Cora who travels a physical underground railroad to arrive in different states of racism America says something so significant about the times we live in.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

The state of loneliness is a curious psychological phenomenon which seems natural to the human condition, but one which is only increasing in an age of so-called online connectedness. Laing's incredibly personal and well-researched non-fiction book looks at the lives and work of many great queer artists to see how loneliness manifests in different ways. This is an incredibly touching and moving book.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Although it may seem daunting to read a novel that is one continuous sentence it comes to seem quite a natural thing as you enter the consciousness of its Irish protagonist. It's a significant reflection of the times we live in as much as it is as a moving story of family and the working life. Reading it is an electrifying experience.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Great survival stories are both thrilling and heartening. This is a tale of a girl who survives a brutal civil war only to discover that her natural desire to love women goes against the religious beliefs of her family and community. She faces a very different kind of challenge to survive as she's pressured to settle down into marriage with a man and gradually assert what she really wants in life. It's a brutally honest and inspiring story which suggests strategies for unifying disparate communities which are bitterly embattled.

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

Creating finely constructed short stories that give the impact of a full-length novel is a difficult challenge. But this is something McLaughlin accomplishes consistently and beautifully in this memorable and significant debut collection. Even though I read it at the very beginning of the year many of these stories about people across all levels of Irish society have remained clear in my mind. You can watch me discussing this and other great books of short stories from 2016 here.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Tremain's tremendous artistry for plucking an uncommon story from history and making it come alive is unparalleled. Here she writes about two boys in Switzerland in the time immediately following WWII, but moves backwards and then forwards in time to show the repercussions of political neutrality and hidden love. This is a beautifully accomplished novel.

Autumn by Ali Smith

There's no writer more daring and inventive than Ali Smith. Not only has she bravely planned a quartet of novels based around the seasons, but she's reflecting in them what's happening in society now. This novel focuses on the country's mood in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote and an uncommon friendship between young Elisabeth and a mysterious old man Daniel. In doing so she addresses the meaning of nationality, the state of the modern world and the nature of language. She does this with great flair, humour and passion.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Music has played a large part in many great novels this year – from Rose Tremain's novel to Julian Barnes' most recent novel “The Noise of Time” - but Thien skilfully shows how the art of composition and the compositions themselves fare under fifty years of living under the Maoist government. A girl follows her family's history in this complex, absorbing story which culminates in a depiction of the infamous student protests in Tiananmen Square. It's an epic novel.

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

It's always an immense pleasure to discover an incredibly talented author I've not read before and one of this year's great finds for me is Sarah Moss. This novel takes a potential family tragedy and expands the story to explore the messiness of ordinary life in such a tender and poignant way. It also reflects back to the past to consider the meaning of loss using such a disarming style of narration which totally gripped me.

 

Have you read any of my choices? Which are you most interested to read? Let me know some of your favourite books of the year. I'm always eager to hear about books I might have missed reading.

This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist is a really interesting and challenging group of novels. I’ve been particularly busy in the last few weeks but I have managed to read five out of the six books listed. I was totally engrossed by the twisted psychology and suspenseful plot of Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen” and fascinated by the compelling portrait of manhood David Szalay created in his nine distinct stories about men’s lives in “All That Man Is”. Paul Beatty's "The Sellout" is an extraordinary satire that fearlessly, hilariously and cleverly gives a new perspective on racism in America. But I have to say, two of my favourite books I’ve read so far this year are Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk” and Madeleine Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”. Levy’s novel takes a brilliantly unique look at identity, family and sexuality. Thien’s novel is a complex, sophisticated story showing generations that struggle for personal freedom and creative expression. It’s difficult to choose, but I’m going to guess that “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” will win. I’ve even placed a bet at the bookies for it to win! I successfully predicted that “A Brief History of Seven Killings” would win the Booker last year so I’m hoping to collect this time as well when the winner is announced on the evening of Tuesday, October 25th! More excitingly, it will be great to follow all the bookish discussion around these compelling books that have been shortlisted.

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It’s been a busy month for me since the longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize was announced so I’ve only managed to read five of the novels on the list. However, since I did so badly at predicting the longlist, I hope to redeem myself by making a guess at the six books which will make the shortlist. The novel that has really stood out for me is Madeleline Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” - a majestic sprawling saga about a family’s experiences in Mao’s China and a girl’s quest to understand her lost father’s past. I really hope this makes the list!

I also loved reading both Ian McGuire and Wyl Menmuir’s novels, but I don’t think they’ll make the cut. “The North Water” was such a fantastic adventure story filled with rich descriptions. And “The Many” is an intense, eerie read which eventually turns quite emotional.

I had previously read Deborah Levy’s novel “Hot Milk” and love the oddball perspective it gives on personal drive in life and relationships/sexuality. Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton” is a brilliantly pared down description of a life and how a woman has grown to create her own identity far from her upbringing.

I still haven’t read “The Sellout”, “The Schooldays of Jesus” or “Hystopia” but I’ve heard such high praise for all of them that I think they’ll be on the list. I figure that the judges will always want to have a famous, known name on the list so J.M. Coetzee is assured a place. Although I’ve heard some strong criticism of it, I’m also really eager to still read A.L. Kennedy’s “Serious Sweet” as I’ve loved her writing so much in the past.

Here are my six guesses for the shortlist. Click on the titles for my full reviews.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleline Thien
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
Hystopia by David Means

The official Man Booker Prize 2016 shortlist will be announced next Tuesday, September 13th at 10:30AM followed by a fabulous prize event being held at the Serpentine Pavilion in London which I’ve been invited to. So I’ll be very excited to see which books make the list and which authors/judges are in attendance. The winner will be announced on October 25th so I hope to read all of whatever books make the actual list by that time.

Have you read many/any on the longlist? Who do you hope will make the shortlist?

At the beginning of Madeleine Thien's majestically epic novel “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” we meet Li-ling, a girl of Chinese descent whose family live in Canada. Her father Jiang Kai left in 1989 when she was ten years old to travel to Hong Kong where he eventually committed suicide. Li-ling can't begin to understand the full complexity of why her father chose to end his life until meeting Ai-ming, a young woman who leaves China after the historic student protests in Tiananmen Square which resulted in hundreds (if not thousands) of civilian deaths after martial law was declared. From Ai-ming's stories about her family and particularly her father Sparrow who was a musical student taught by Kai in Mao's communist China, Li-Ling embarks on a lifelong search for the truth about her father and the country her family came from. This ambitious novel spans fifty years of China's history recounting the heartrending impact the political system has upon a fascinating artistic family.

Li-Ling's journey of discovery is spread out over the novel. She notes how “It’s taken me years to begin searching, to realize that the days are not linear, that time does not simply move forward but spirals closer and closer to a shifting centre.” Reflecting this structure of time, the majority of the story refers back to earlier periods in the family's development. Although this felt somewhat confusing at first given the large cast of characters the story eventually became much easier to follow. It's engrossing reading how strong characters like Ai-ming's grandmother Big Mother Knife, a translator named The Lady Dostoevsky and Comrade Glass Eye survive through or manipulate a repressive system to come through and get what they want.

Because information is actively suppressed or destroyed by the Red Guards, documents accumulate significant value ensuring the people's stories and culture are preserved. A character called Old Cat states “All we have on this earth, all we are, is a record. Maybe the only things that persist are not the evildoers and demons (though, admittedly, they do have a certain longevity) but copies of things. The original has long since passed away from the universe, but on and on we copy.” The significant Book of Records is a document which is painstakingly hand copied to be passed along through generations, across continents and periods of strife. It's an epic tale told in parts which has been broken up and scattered during the social and political upheaval of Chairman Mao’s revolutionized China. But it also represents the embodiment of our culture, the stories which cannot be forgotten though many people prefer to forget them or would actively try to silence them. Encoded within the handwritten variations of this book are the stories of the people who proceed it. Thien's story recounts the dramatic lengths to which the characters seek ‘To escape and continue this story, to make infinite copies, to let these stories permeate the soil, invisible and undeniable.’

The book also shows how there is a special freedom in music to express emotion and personal history in a way words can't. Thien writes how “Sound had a freedom that no thought could equal because a sound made no absolute claim on meaning. Any word, on the other hand, could be forced to signify its opposite.” The Chinese censors can't strictly interpret the music that the characters produce as anti-revolutionary, but they can stop it by branding it as a bourgeois luxury. Sparrow is a talented composer who is forced to work for many years in a factory. It's tragic reading about how his and many other people's natural talents are suppressed and squandered for the sake of a strict system focused on organized industrial production.

Thien has a particularly beautiful way of writing about the way music affects her characters. When Sparrow hears Bach he feels that “the notes collided into him. They ran up and down his spine, and seemed to dismantle him into a thousand pieces of the whole, where each part was more complete and more alive than his entire self had ever been.” It's moving how music reaches the characters on an emotional level freeing them from their particular circumstances. Sparrow's niece Zhuli feels “Inside her head, the music built columns and arches, it cleared a space within and without, a new consciousness. So there were worlds buried inside other worlds but first you had to find the opening and the entryway.” It's inspiring how the characters need for this music supersedes the dictates of the political system that tries to suppress it so sheets of music are hidden beneath floorboards waiting to be resurrected and played again at some later point.

Bach on a Chinese stamp

Bach on a Chinese stamp

Frequent references are made to Russian composers and the stories of the musicians involved in this novel in some ways parallel the difficulty these Russian artists experienced under their own communist system. Earlier this year I read Julian Barnes' “The Noise of Time” where he brought Shostakovich to life and showed how music is an art form capable of triumphing over time. Zhuli plays the music of Prokfiev, a “disgraced Russian” and this makes a beautiful touchstone between two characters living under repressive political systems separated by space and time who find freedom and expression in music.

“Do Not Say We Have Nothing” builds to the agonizingly brutal instance of the student protests in Tiananmen Square. Having experienced the lives of this family through all the social and political developments of the country proceeding this tragedy, it's context and meaning is brought much more vividly to life. It shows the complexity and enormous scale of the protest. Big Mother observes how “In this country, rage had no place to exist except deep inside, turned against oneself.” After years of suppression, feelings which had been turned inward are brought violently out into the open. This novel is a tremendously enlightening and immersive story told with great skill and poetic beauty.