The annual Women’s Prize for Fiction was formed as a response to the lack of women authors winning literary prizes despite there being a 60:40 ratio of books written by women available. The Prize, which had its first winning run in 1996 with A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore, changed its name over the years from the Orange Prize for Fiction to Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction it has now settled with Women’s Prize for Fiction and continues to put eclectic literature written by women at the forefront of their cause.
This year’s shortlist is filled with formidable and poignant pieces. Themes surrounding silence, carving out a piece of your own story, and crumbling marriages are at the surface of this list. The stories are wildly imaginative and daring in a way that just from the outlook one can be inspired to push our own narratives away from the comfort zone.
- Circe by Madeline Miller
A joyous breathing of life into the age-old myth of Circe, the Greek goddess of magic and daughter of Helios the god of sun. Circe’s story is one of many that have powerful women as witches – a welcome concept for women who want to connect with a history of a women-only culture and as a way to thrive independently as an empowered woman. With Miller’s rendition we have Circe as a woman who works fiercely to protect her independence and has to choose between loyalty to the gods whom she came from (and who had cast her aside) and the humans she has come to love.
- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Another book which claims history for women focuses not on a historically famous myth but instead on a completely overlooked woman – a forgotten queen who had been captured and enslaved during the Trojan war. Barker seizes her silent voice and gives it a platform as we are told of the famous Greek myth through her eyes.
- Milkman by Anna Burns
It is easy to accept the forgotten voices of women in history. Silence is safe, after all, while speaking out is dangerous. This is exactly what Burns explores in Milkman. Already this book has won the Man Booker Prize 2018 for its literary magnificence. In the story we follow Middle sister as she tries her best to keep herself from becoming ‘interesting’ in the eyes of others. Silence and its consequences are what drives this story.
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
It’s not just the silence of the voice that can have disastrous consequences. The silence in absence cannot be taken for granted in Jones’ novel. Roy and Celestial are happily married but when Roy is sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial believes he did not commit Celestial is left alone. Roy’s absence leaves her to turn to their mutual best friend Andre. When Roy’s sentence is dismissed, he goes home – but their lives are no longer the same.
- Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Motherhood changes Melissa, even though she did not want it to. She grows absent, receding into herself. Her partner Michael seeks closeness in another. The death of Damian’s father changes him and leaves Stephanie to ask why – was he being unfaithful? Both couples are in crumbling marriages, in stasis. How do they become unstuck? How do they move forward?
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
If you think that the only way to end a relationship is through a break-up, you’re wrong. At least in Ayoola’s eyes that is. Ayoola, Korede’s sister, is a serial killer who indulges in breaking up with her boyfriends through vicious murder. Korede remains an accomplice out of a sense of love and familial obligation – Nigeria’s men are nothing against the power of sisterhood. But when Ayoola starts dating the doctor Korede has fallen in love with at her workplace Korede is faced with an impossible decision: save the man she loves and condemn her sister, or let her sister kill him and lose him forever?
It is difficult to predict which book will win the prize; however, I have my eyes on My Sister, the Serial Killer. The concept is hilarious and embodies the very ambitions of the prize: to highlight great books written by women, with this book filled with women taking ownership of themselves in the best, possibly most bloodthirsty, way.