The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Readings

Southbank Bailey's Women's Prize for FictionYesterday, I went to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Readings event at the Southbank Centre in London where the authors gave short readings from their nominated novels and then answered a few questions from this year’s chair of the judges, Helen Fraser, and the audience.

The shortlisted books this year are:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie read from the opening lines of ‘Americanah’ and discussed how the book is based on her feelings of homesickness when she left Nigeria to study abroad and the different experiences of racism in the UK and the US. Hannah Kent also talked about the loneliness she felt as an exchange student in Iceland at the age of seventeen when she first heard about Agnes Magnussdottir’s life. She wanted to explore why she was considered to be evil and she likes to “muddy the waters” between fact and fiction. Jhumpa Lahiri spoke about her memories of her parents discussing the Naxalite movement when she was a child and Audrey Magee said her interest in the silence surrounding the Second World War and a visit to a concentration camp in Germany inspired her to write ‘The Undertaking’.

It has just been announced that ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’  by Eimear McBride has won this year’s Prize. However, I haven’t been in a rush to read it and I wondered if attending this event would change my mind about this. The novel is essentially a fragmented stream of consciousness which opens as follows: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. They lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.” I enjoyed listening to a passage being read aloud and I’m sure it would be an interesting novel to analyse in an academic context and enjoyable to read if you like poetry more than I do. However, I’m afraid I have a fairly low to medium tolerance of experimental writing when reading for pleasure and I suspect it may become one of those books that some people pretend they have enjoyed despite being “difficult”. If you have read it, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Last week, I received an email from the Southbank Centre which said that due to circumstances beyond their control, Donna Tartt was unable to attend the event. Instead, her literary agent would be answering questions and Charles Dance would be delivering the readings. Looking out from the stage to the predominantly female audience, Dance said “Never have I ever felt quite so conspicuous” before reading a passage from the end of ‘The Goldfinch’ about Fabritius’ painting itself. It was a great reading but I was a bit sad I didn’t get the chance to have my copy of the book signed. Maybe next decade, Donna Tartt?

Many congratulations to Eimear McBride for winning the Prize. ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ is certainly a bold and original piece of work. Personally, I would have liked to have seen either ‘Americanah’ or ‘The Goldfinch’ claim the Prize but my favourites never seem to win these things…

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9 responses to “The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Readings

  1. Jools

    A really interesting post, and it must have been a fascinating session. Thanks for putting your readers ‘in the room’.

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  2. Sounds like an interesting experience, to attend this event and be in the same room with these great ladies. Thanks for the post and the inside info!

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  3. Charles Dance? … You mean, you got to hear Tywin Lannister give a reading!?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve read two of these books and they are excellent. I am looking forward to reading the others.

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  5. kateatthekeyboard

    I have to say I didn’t find A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing particularly difficult. Everyone compares it to Joyce (maybe it’s also the Irishness that merits that comparison) but I cannot get along with Joyce. I think people are scared and put off by it but honestly I found after about a chapter you kind of forget that it’s written to strangely. It is such a consuming and immersive reading experience, I’ve never read anything like it. It is the closest I can ever imagine getting to being inside a character’s head and their thoughts and I was so deeply affected by the way it was written that I found it really hard to cope with at times, which has never happened to me before.

    I read all of the books on the list this year and it was my favourite without a doubt. I am thrilled that it won but I was vey surprised, I really thought it was a bit too experimental to win over all the judges.

    I truly think it’s one of the best books I’ve read, I just can’t recommend it enough. If you can’t get along with it by the time you’re a few chapters in then maybe don’t continue but you might be surprised how easy it is.

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  6. As I am reading Beckett’s Malone Dies at the moment, I am planning a ten-year break from experimental writing afterwards. I have started Americanah and have the Goldfinch sitting on my (towering) to read pile, so I am with you on your choices. Charles Dance too…

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  7. Brona

    Lucky, lucky you to be able to attend this event with all this amazing authors. I love hearing how authors describe their own work, their inspiration, their process etc. It so often adds flavour and substance to the reading experience.

    Great post – thanks (I’m also a little envious about the Tyrion Lanaster connection 🙂

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  8. Chris Sullivan

    I am very envious of you being able to attend the readings. I am hoping I will be able to attend next year’s event. I personally believe that A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a book that is style over substance. I was rooting for Hannah Kent’s ‘Burial Rites’ to win the prize.

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