Reading the 2019 Women’s Prize Longlist

Every year I read as much of the Women’s Prize longlist as I can.  Not for any challenge, but just because it’s a great source of reading material and one that continues to get more diverse.  It doesn’t matter much to me who makes the shortlist or wins the prize, although I really liked this year’s winner, Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage.  I also loved the last three winners: Home Fire, The Power, and The Glorious Heresies.

This year I’ve read 6 of the 16 books on the longlist:

  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

I also started Milkman but didn’t finish it.  It’s a bit difficult to read, what with having no named characters, so I found it hard to get into — even though it’s garnered great critical acclaim and I’m sure is well worth the read.

Of these, my favorites are Ghost Wall and An American Marriage, because both were insightful but also carried a real emotional punch.  Both tell a unique story in an interesting way.  Ghost Wall didn’t even make the shortlist, which I can’t understand.  It’s a devastating story about a teenage girl with an abusive father, but it’s so much more layered than that, looking at class, anthropology, primitive culture, academia, sexuality, and feminism (all that in a very short novel).  I listened to the audiobook and the narrator really brought a lot of emotion to this story.

Circe and Normal People were both very good. I love Greek and Roman mythology and Miller takes the mythology and gives you a nuanced story from a woman’s perspective, about a character you may not have thought much about before. I found it difficult to review as so much has already been said about it.  My review of Normal People is here – I didn’t find it a perfect read but I really liked the way Rooney developed the two main characters and their not-so-smooth relationship.

Number One Chinese Restaurant was an interesting saga about a Chinese-American family running a restaurant in the Maryland/DC area (which is where I live).  It’s a good, well-written story though I didn’t find it as impactful as some other family sagas I’ve read, like A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.  Still, it’s a thoughtful story about challenges faced by a family, both cultural and economic, and also the challenges faced by the less privileged workers in these restaurants.  It’s an interesting reminder of the issues that lie behind every culture’s cuisine.

My Sister, the Serial Killer was not quite what I was expecting.  I found the narrator really compelling,  though I’m not sure how believable I found the story, and I’m not sure the characters of the mother and sister were ever well developed.  Still, it’s a dramatic story about toxic family relationships and when loyalty outweighs conscience.

I’m still planning to read a few of the books on the longlist, like Ordinary People by Diana Evans, Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn, and Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. You can find the full longlist here, as well as more information about the Prize and its judges.

Have you read any of the Women’s Prize books?  What did you think?

  7 comments for “Reading the 2019 Women’s Prize Longlist

  1. June 27, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Agreed about Ghost Wall. I was convinced it was going to win and then it wasn’t even shortlisted. Can’t understand it!

  2. June 27, 2019 at 8:59 am

    I own Ghost Wall, and I’m on a waitlist for An American Marriage and My Sister, The Serial Killer. The Woman’s Prize longlist always introduces me to interesting new books.

  3. June 27, 2019 at 9:02 am

    I’ve never heard of the Women’s Prize Longlist! Now I’m compelled to read Ghostwall hahaha

  4. June 27, 2019 at 11:17 am

    I’ve read American Marriage and honestly couldn’t see how it was considered the best of this group. Am reading Circe now and am pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying it. Shame you didn’t get into Milkman though I completely understand why it was challenging – I had the same issue initially too and it took a while to tune in. But once I did I found it superbly engaging. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year

    • June 28, 2019 at 4:39 pm

      I’ve decided I’ll give Milkman another try, it’s good to hear you thoughts on it. I’m glad you’re enjoying Circe!

  5. June 28, 2019 at 3:01 am

    Do give yourself the time to get into Milkman. I really think it is a work of genius.

    • June 28, 2019 at 4:41 pm

      I’m going to give it another try, thanks for the suggestion!

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