It’s a good month to be a woman, with International Women’s Day being celebrated around the world on 8th March. And this year, in fitting recognition of the day, the longlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced.
It seems like a good month to be Irish as well, as two of the authors on the list are from Ireland. Lisa McInerney and Anne Enright are among the twenty authors nominated for the annual prize. The winner of the award gets £30,000 and a limited edition bronze statue known as ‘The Bessie’, created by Grizel Niven and cast from a different colour bronze every year so as to keep each one unique.
The Bailey’s Prize, now in its twenty-first year, is a literary award that celebrates the best fictional novels written by women throughout the world. The award was originally set up by a group of book lovers and writers, both male and female, who agreed that the lack of female writers in the Booker Prize shortlist in 1991 was something worth noticing. The Bailey’s Prize (originally the Orange Prize for Fiction) soon became a coveted prize in the literary world, with not only the winner, but those shortlisted and even longlisted having their books reaching a wider audience.
A few Irish authors have been shortlisted for the prize before, so there are high hopes for McInerney and Enright to make it to the next stage this year, especially since the standard met by the two books is high. The Glorious Heresies is McInerney’s debut novel and shows her talent at writing raw characters who manage to make you laugh while breaking your heart at the same time. Set in Cork, it’s a darkly funny story of those left behind in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. It follows a group of people whose lives are linked by an accidental murder, and weaves them together in a bittersweet world that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Her writing style is rich and full of personality. She creates characters who aren’t particularly likeable as people, but who are so flawed and believable that you care about every step they take. She stays away from the clichés that would be easy to fall into in a story like this and instead presents you with real people and a real story.
Enright is no stranger to literary awards. Her novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize and the 2008 Irish Novel of the Year. She was appointed Laureate for Irish Fiction in 2015. She has been shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize once before, in 2012, for her novel The Forgotten Waltz, and her longlisted book this year, The Green Road, has already been awarded the Irish Novel of the Year 2015.
The Green Road is a story about family and the complications that come with it. Enright follows the Madigan family from Co. Clare, to Dublin, to New York and Mali, showing the connections they have to their family home no matter how long they spend or how far they go searching for other things. The novel starts in Ardeevin, the Madigan’s home in Clare, where Dan, the eldest son, is telling his mother that he is going to join the priesthood. Her anguished cries echo as she hides herself in her bedroom at the news. It’s the influence of the Irish matriarch that is the strongest impact on the children as they grow up and leave home. When she decides to sell the house years later, they all come home for one last Christmas to confront the grudges and misunderstandings held for too long. Enright has a lyrical style which is a joy to read, but also keeps her writing honest and powerful to show the disjointed family reunited at moments of crisis.
Other names on the longlist include, amongst others, Attica Locke’s Pleasantville, Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins, Julia Rochester’s The House At The Edge Of The World and Becky Chambers’ The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet. The judging panel is chaired by businesswoman Margaret Mountford along with writer and journalist Laurie Penny, TV presenter and journalist Naga Munchetty, songwriter and author Tracey Thorne and author and activist Elif Shafak.
The shortlist will be announced on 11th April and the winner on 8th June.
The full longlist for 2016 is as follows:
Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins
Shirley Barrett: Rush Oh!
Cynthia Bond: Ruby
Geraldine Brooks: The Secret Chord
Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Jackie Copleton: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
Rachel Elliott: Whispers Through a Megaphone
Anne Enright: The Green Road
Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory
Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky
Clio Gray: The Anatomist’s Dream
Melissa Harrison: At Hawthorn Time
Attica Locke: Pleasantville
Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies
Elizabeth McKenzie: The Portable Veblen
Sara Nović: Girl at War
Julia Rochester: The House at the Edge of the World
Hannah Rothschild: The Improbability of Love
Elizabeth Strout: My Name is Lucy Barton
Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life