Bailey’s Prize 2014

And So It Begins – The Longlist is Announced

So the speculation is over. Not only have the longlisted books been named, but the debate about whether the nature of the prize would change with its sponsors has been answered with a resounding No. The longlist is unashamedly, unapologetically literary. There shall be No Dumbing Down. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Suzanne Berne have both won the prize before (for Half of a Yellow Sun in 2007 and A Crime in the Neighbourhood in 1999 respectively), which is a clear indication of the new sponsor’s desire to plough no new furrow, as is the inclusion of literary giants Margaret Atwood (Maddaddam) and Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch).

So be it, although I think it’s a shame that we now have three major prizes inhabiting the same territory. The Bailey’s is women only, but it and the revised Man Booker and the new Folio are all drawing from the same pool. It is a wonderful pool, with plenty of material for three prizes, but it makes for a great deal of crossover. Eimear McBride (A Girl is a Half Formed Thing) and Rachel Kushner (The Flamethrowers) both feature on the Folio longlist. Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland) and Charlotte Mendelson (Almost English) were respectively triumphant, short listed and long listed in the Man Booker.

In addition to the crossover, we can also expect the debate about whether British writers are inferior to American ones to be reprised regularly. The Bailey’s longlist includes just four British writers – MJ Carter (The Strangler Vine), Deborah Kay Davies (The Reasons She Goes to the Woods), Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing) and Charlotte Mendelson. Of the remaining sixteen, seven are American. Of the eight contenders for the Folio prize, only one (Jane Gardam) is British. Is contemporary American fiction ‘much more exciting and diverse than British fiction, particularly English fiction,’ as David Brauner stated in today’s Guardian? Well, we’ve got three major prizes now, all fertilizing that debate. It will be particularly lively when the next Man Booker longlist is announced, as it will be the first since the change of criteria. Let’s hope the debate is broadened and deepened, rather than just repeated. It’s worth noting that the Pulitzer shows no signs of imminent inclusion of British novelists.

So. Back to the longlist. Three I’ve already reviewed; two I’ve read and not reviewed; two I’d decided not to worry about and six I’d never heard of before four o’clock this morning.  It’s those six I’m most excited about, and those six that fuel the interest and excitement about literary prizes. I’m glad they’re there.

But before I get on to reading (and I need to get on with it, as the shortlist is announced on April 7th), just a moment’s speculation about the 25 novels that were contending for the 11 places that remained on the shortlist after the 9 definites were decided upon.I’ve read some wonderful British writers recently, but they’re not here.  There’s no Anna Hope (Wake). No Naomi Wood (Mrs Hemingway). No Rachel Joyce (Perfect). No Jill Dawson (The Tell Tale Heart). No Dea Brovig (The Last Boat Home). No Rebecca Mascull (The Visitors). No Louise Walters (Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase) No Anna Whitwam (Boxer Handsome). Not to mention Kate Atkinson (Life after Life) or Helen Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird). I’ll be in a better position to comment when I’ve read the longlist, but it seems to me there was no shortage of British talent. I hope these novels were in that 25, that the fight was fierce and furious, and that it remains so.

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