Reading has provided a form of escapism for many over the past 12 months. Whether you’ve been engrossed by the best historical fiction books after falling in love with Bridgeton or discovered Amanda Gorman’s poetry, reading has offered the unique opportunity to transport far beyond the here and now when times have been hard.
If your summer reading list has reached a fallow point after so much lockdown devouring, you’ll be glad to hear that The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist has just been announced – providing a fresh bout of content.
The six books on the shortlist are novels written by women and published in the UK between 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, and the line-up is a collection of both new and well-established writers covering an extensive range of genres and themes.
Between these titles, a lot of ground is covered, including themes of race, mental health and solitude, as well as grappling with a diverse range of settings from across the globe.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction was founded in 1996 and is considered one of the UK’s most prestigious literary awards, highlighting the remarkable originality, accessibility and excellent of novels written by women from around the world.
The judges this year include Bernadine Evaristo (chair), Elizabeth Day, Vick Hope, Nesrine Malik and Sarah-Jane Mee. The panel had the near-impossible task of whittling down the list, which includes two debut novelists.
None of the authors in the line-up have been shortlisted before and are all from a diverse range of areas from across the globe, including two British (Fuller and Clarke), two American (Bennett and Lockwood), one Barbadian (Jones) and one Ghanaian-American author (Gyasi).
This year’s announcement comes after last year’s winner, Maggie O’Farrell, took the title for her novel Hamnet, which tells the heartbreaking story behind one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and provides a fictional account of the short life of the Bard’s son, Hamnet who died aged 11.
While society has progressed and publishing has become increasingly inclusive, there’s a continued need for greater access to a diversity of voices within fiction, which is why the prize remains as important today as it did in 1996. It acts as an integral reminder that we must continue to explore the work of women writers from across the globe.
In honour of the announcement, we’ve taken a look at the shortlisted novels. Join us in championing and supporting women writers by reading these inspiring and remarkable novels.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
'The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett, published by Dialogue Books
Spanning from the Fifties to the Nineties, from the Deep South to California, this was an eagerly anticipated novel. It’s a deftly woven plot that follows two twin sisters who take very different paths. Compelling and utterly original, Bennett covers serious questions of racism, social experiences and expectations, lies, love and compassion. Owing to its nature, it’ll likely stay with you long after you’ve put it down.
Already devoured this? Read Bennett’s debut novel, The Mothers (£6.65, Amazon.co.uk). It’s a lyrical book that charters a young woman’s path from sorrow to love to doubt.
'Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke, published by Bloomsbury Publishing
This book offers a unique study into a world filled with loneliness and solitude. Blending mystery and magic, this fantasy novel explores the life of narrator Piranesi, who lives in “The House”. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he sees his friend, the Other, while sometimes he takes tributes to the Dead, but often he is alone. Piranesi is a tale of his surroundings and the mystery inhabitants within it, and it’s said to be a rich read with a gothic atmosphere.
When talking about the book, judge Nesrine Malik said: “Piranesi by Susanna Clark is a book that is utterly transporting. It spirits you away into a fascinating universe that stays with you long after you’ve put the book down”.
'Unsettled Ground’ by Claire Fuller, published by Fig Tree
This title follows 51-year-old twins, Jeanie and Julius, who still live with their mum, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their cottage is at once armour against the world and their sanctuary. But following Dot’s death Jeanie and Julius’s carefully cultivated existence on the fringes of society begins to unravel as they discover more secrets, turning everything that they thought they knew about their lives on its head. Touching on themes of love, friendship and neighbours, it’s a powerful exploration of loneliness and isolation and a truly stunning novel.
‘Transcendent Kingdom’ by Yaa Gyasi, published by Viking
This offers a painstakingly moving portrait of a Ghanaian immigrant family that is ravaged by depression, addiction and loss. It’s told from the perspective of Gifty, a young woman on a quest to find her way back to herself and her mother. Transcendent Kingdom questions faith, religion, mental health and fundamentally, belief systems, all while exploring the different ways people handle issues within society, such as racism and grief.
Judge Vick Hope said that it had her in “tears, wailing,” before noting it’s “the most emotional I felt after reading a book for a long, long time”. This serves as a testament to Gyasi’s exquisite storytelling abilities.
'How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House’ by Cherie Jones, published by Tinder Press
This is a tale of murder, abuse, voice, love and loss in Barbados seen through four very dominant female voices, each of whom is eager to escape the so-called “paradise”. Tackling themes of poverty, domestic abuse, drug trafficking and mother-daughter relationships with eloquence, Jones is a new voice to pay attention to. A must-read from an exciting debut novelist.
‘No One Is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood, published by Bloomsbury Circus
This exciting debut from American poet Lockwood and tells the story of how one woman’s life is turned upside down when something she posts on social media goes viral. Equal parts witty and unexpected, it covers internet culture and human connection in a wry and intelligent way. Lockwood takes risks while making sure she maintains warmth and provides insight into human nature.
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Unsure what to read next? Take inspiration from the International Booker Prize 2021 shortlist
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