Women's prize for fiction lines up 'heavy hitters' on 2020 longlist

Three Booker winners lead a 16-strong field contending for £30,000 prize in what judges described as ‘an extraordinary year’

The Mirror and the Light isn’t published until Thursday, but the conclusion to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy has already made the longlist for the Women’s prize for fiction.

Some of the biggest names in fiction are in direct competition this year for the £30,000 award, which celebrates “excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from across the world”. Mantel, who won the Booker price twice for the previous novels in her historical trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, is up against two other Booker winners: Anne Enright’s Actress, in which a daughter explores her famous mother’s breakdown, and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, a polyphonic exploration of black womanhood. A prominent omission from the longlist is Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, which jointly won the Booker with Evaristo’s novel last year.

“We had the most extraordinary list of submissions,” said judge Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train. “I think it is unusual to have a year with quite so many heavy hitters publishing.”

She praised Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light as an extraordinary piece of work: “I don’t know how she does it. She takes a story happening hundreds of years ago and makes you feel it could be happening this week. Her use of language is so wonderful that it feels current and yet not anachronistic, that it’s actually how people spoke. Everyone’s in for a treat.”

The longlist also features former Women’s prize winner Ann Patchett, whose novel The Dutch House follows two siblings thrown out of their childhood home by their stepmother; the award-winning US author Jacqueline Woodson for Red at the Bone, an exploration of the impact of teenage pregnancy on a family; and Irish literary royalty Edna O’Brien’s Girl, which imagines life for a girl abducted by Boko Haram. The critically acclaimed Weather, in which Jenny Offill explores climate anxiety, also makes the cut, as does Maggie O’Farrell’s much-anticipated Hamnet, in which O’Farrell imagines life in Shakespeare’s family and the death of his son at the age of 11. Hawkins called the novel, which is not published until later this month, “extremely moving … O’Farrell imagines their lives so beautifully.”

Newer faces up for the award include Candice Carty-Williams, who makes the longlist for her bestselling debut Queenie, about a young black woman struggling with relationships and work in London; Deepa Anappara for her debut Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, in which a nine-year-old investigates why children have been disappearing in an unnamed Indian city; Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had, about four adult sisters competing in a dysfunctional family; and Taffy Brodesser-Akner for her first novel Fleishman Is in Trouble, which follows a man whose estranged wife disappears.

The longlist is completed with Natalie Haynes’s A Thousand Ships, which tells the story of the Trojan war from the perspective of the women involved; Angie Cruz’s Dominicana, about a Dominican girl who moves to New York; Luan Goldie’s debut Nightingale Point, about the residents of a London tower block that goes up in flames; and Jing-Jing Lee’s first novel How We Disappeared, in which a grandmother looks back on her time in a Japanese military rape camp in 1942.

Judges chaired by Martha Lane Fox read 152 novels to come up with their final 16. Hawkins said that many novels submitted featured identity and migration as themes, as well “a certain level of anxiety in a lot of the books, which is probably to do with where the world is now – climate anxiety and political anxiety”.

Set up to celebrate women’s writing going unrecognised by awards such as the Booker, the Women’s prize celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The shortlist will be announced on 22 April, and the winner, who will receive an anonymously endowed cheque for £30,000, on 3 June.

2020 Women’s prize longlist

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Actress by Anne Enright
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Girl by Edna O’Brien
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Weather by Jenny Offill
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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