An annual award, each year a new panel of five female judges is appointed to choose their winner. This year the judges are Laura Bates, Grace Dent, Helen Dunmore – the first ever winner of the prize back in 1996 – Cathy Newman and chairman Shami Chakrabarti. Between them they have read over 150 full-length novels in order to single out 20 titles for the long list, and now they have whittled these down to just six for the shortlist. The winner will be announced on the 3rd June 2015 at the Royal Festival Hall in London and will receive £30k as well as the well-known bronze figurine ‘Bessie’.
Scroll down to find out more about the remarkable six authors who have made the final six this year, and let us know who you think deserves to win in the comments box below.
The eighth novel by British writer Rachel Cusk, Outline is an unconventional novel that explores unsettling human themes of loss, family and false intimacy with intelligence and humour. The foundation of the narrative is a series of conversations that the narrator has with various characters that she meets, and while they expose details about their lives, loves and thoughts, we learn very little about the narrator herself. Rachel Cusk has been well praised throughout her writing career for her ability to find meaning in mundane life and to comment on modern womanhood through her experiences, including that of motherhood and divorce. Also shortlisted for the Folio Prize 2015, Outline has wowed readers and reviewers alike with her intelligence and insight.
Laline Paull’s debut novel The Bees is a wonderfully imaginative exploration of human nature conveyed through the fantasised social structure of a beehive. In many ways a dystopian novel, we follow main character Flora 717 who is disadvantaged by her low status and deformed appearance but has unprecedented strength and ability that makes her stand out from others in her caste. Saved from being executed by the deformity police at the last minute, our heroine begins to move up to higher statuses, learning secrets as she goes, and soon it becomes clear that Flora could be both a threat and a saviour for her hive. Having already received great critical acclaim, Laline has turned many heads with her debut novel.
A God in Every Stone is a complex and ambitious novel, contrasting three empires as Kamila subtly comments on the ability of history to repeat itself. Covering the decline of British colonial rule in India, the dissolution of the Ottoman state and the Persians between 515 and 485 BCE, Kamila has crafted a complex and multi-layered story while still creating a richly atmospheric portrayal of each event from the 20th century. Not a stranger to the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Pakistani-born Kamila was shortlisted for the prize in 2009 with her fifth novel Burnt Shadows.
Ali Smith’s How to be Both had a spectacular year in 2014, nominated for and winning several important literary awards. Known for her unpredictability and her love of breaking the rules, Ali has created a philosophical and experimental novel which is formed of two parts. In one section we meet 16 year old George soon after the sudden death of her mother, as she gets to grip with life by observing it through different forums. In the other section we reminisce on the life of Renaissance painter Francesco Del Cossa through a disembodied narrator. The two sections have been printed in various orders so that you may read one story before the other depending on which copy you pick up. The novel is both warm and deep, with an intelligent concept and themes of identity and perception explored.
American writer Anne Tyler is well celebrated in the literary world, having received the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence to recognise a lifetime’s achievement in books, and named ‘The Greatest Novelist Writing in English’ in 1994 by Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby. Her 20th novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is a snapshot of several generations of the Whitshank family, conveying an image of domestic life that we as readers can all relate our own families to in some way. Anne Tyler manages to find realism and imperfection in a single family that we can all identify with, and her believable characters and acceptance that we can’t know everything adds to her ability to capture the essence of family life.
The sixth novel by British author Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests sees Sarah return to crime as a key theme for her story, as she spins a narrative set in the early 1920’s. Exploring the social implications for class and for gender following The Great War, Sarah introduces us to the remains of a middleclass family that has been left in debt and struggling after the deaths of all the male relatives in the war. Frances Wray and her mother are forced to take in a pair of lodgers from a lower class, which sets in motion a number of changes for the characters and also sees the story transition firstly into a love story and then to crime. Sarah has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction twice before, once for Fingersmith in 2002 and again for The Night Watch in 2006.
Who do you think deserves to win this year? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.