Who is your Bailey of Baileys winner?

A jury of former judges is currently deciding which novel deserves to take the laurels as the last decade’s finest novel by a woman. Who gets your vote?

Every now and then prizes feel compelled to celebrate themselves. We’ve had the Best of Booker (Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children), the Booker of Bookers (also Salman Rushdie), the lost Booker (JG Farrell’s Troubles). Now it’s the turn of the Baileys Women’s prize for fiction to wheel 10 years of winners into the ring. In its previous livery, as the Orange prize, Andrea Levy’s Small Island was crowned best of the first 10 years.

Who will join Levy at Monday evening’s anointing of the best Baileys winner of its second decade, as decided by an assembly of judges from each year? The public vote, announced on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on Monday morning, was for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s half of a Yellow Sun, set in the Nigerian civil war. A quick tour round the books desk produced one vote vote for Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, one for Marilynne Robinson’s Home and one for Ali Smith’s How to Be Both. I’m rooting for Adichie for entirely personal reasons, which I explained in a recent blog.

Here’s what our reviewers said about them at the time: not exactly compliments all round. Cast your vote in the comments below, and we’ll let you know the result later.

2006 - On Beauty by Zadie Smith
James Lasdun wrote: “With so much done so extremely well, it seems ungrateful to dwell on imperfections. Numerous virtues more than make up for them: characters such as Claire Malcolm, an east-coast poet/intellectual portrayed with a stunningly accurate feeling for the type. Or Carl, a sharp, touching study of a ghetto teenager making good, done with all the volatile political and sexual currents set in motion by such a progress. Or Howard Belsey himself, who starts out like an escapee from a Malcolm Bradbury novel but whose limitless capacity for folly keeps deepening and strangely sweetening his character. Above all, just the sheer novelistic intelligence – expansive, witty and magnanimous – that irradiates the whole enterprise.”

2007 – Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Maya Jaggi wrote: “Adichie’s powerful focus on war’s impact on civilian life, and the trauma beyond the trenches, earns this novel a place alongside such works as Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy and Helen Dunmore’s depiction of the Leningrad blockade, The Siege.”

2008 – The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Sylvia Brownrigg wrote: “Tremain is at her luminous best in ... odd moments of companionability; she has the art of finding the improbable graces in human connection. That these relations lead Lev gradually to the road home gives the story a gentle, pleasing form, if not any real dramatic denouement.”

2009 – Home by Marilynne Robinson
Sarah Churchwell wrote: “Near the end of Gilead, Ames observes: ‘Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. He will wipe the tears from all faces.” It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.” This sentiment, that all will be weeping, and in need of divine comfort, is the foundation of Home, one of the saddest books I have ever loved.”

2010 – The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Alice O’Keeffe wrote: “The Lacuna, [Kingsolver’s] first novel for 10 years, takes in the Mexican revolution, the exile of Trotsky in Mexico City, the first world war and the communist witchhunts in 1950s America. It is an admirably ambitious work spanning a fascinating period of history, but it lacks the strong characterisation that made The Poisonwood Bible such a success.”

2011 – The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Kapka Kassabova wrote: “The Tiger’s Wife is a frisky tiger cub chasing its tail – it covers a lot of ground, growls a lot, and never quite gets there, but we have fun along the way. What the novel lacks in emotional depth, it makes up for in personality and sheer wackiness.”

2012 – The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Natalie Haynes wrote: “Miller spent 10 years writing this book, yet her smooth prose conceals the painstaking research she has clearly put into it. This is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story: a fully three-dimensional man – a son, a father, husband and lover – now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought.”

2013 – May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes
Theo Tait wrote: “May We Be Forgiven is a very uneven novel, rickety, meandering and repetitive. There are far too many forgettable subplots and similar comic routines. Its recipe for redemption, as in This Book Will Save Your Life, involves an uneasy mixture of truism (be nice to children, animals, strangers) and kitsch (form friendships with immigrants who work at fast food outlets, listen to the wise medicine man). It is, however, often very funny, in a bad-taste way.”

2014 – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Anne Enright wrote: “An instant classic – an account of Irish girlhood to be set alongside O’Brien’s The Country Girls for emotional accuracy and verve, and the sense of its overwhelming necessity. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is completely modern in its sensibility and completely old-fashioned in the way it triumphantly ignores the needs of the book market.”

2015 – How to Be Both by Ali Smith
Laura Miller wrote: “It may sound dauntingly experimental, but the hallmark of Smith’s fiction is that she approaches her formal adventures with a buoyant, infectious warmth and her feet planted firmly on the ground. How to Be Both feels like a frolic (or it does if you read the Del Cossa portion first), until its depth, heart and intelligence are revealed.”


Claire Armitstead

The GuardianTramp

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