On the Baileys Prize and women who rock

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist was announced on Tuesday this week, International Women’s Day. You can see the full list here.

Like the Stella Prize, the Baileys Prize celebrates outstanding female fiction writers. However the Stella focuses on Australian writers, whereas the Baileys Prize is an international award. This year, over half the list are debut authors and the judges were “delighted with the quality, the imaginative scope and the ambition of our chosen books…”

I am definitely adding some of these to my TBR pile, but I wanted to write a little about four books on the list that had an enormous impact on me last year.

Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins

Like so many people, I read Life After Life when it was released in 2013 and thought, like so many people, it was spectacular. When A God in Ruins was released last year I was waiting impatiently for it to hit the shelves at my local bookstore.

It’s a different book to Life After Life, so don’t go into it expecting it to be anything like that book. But you can go into it expecting the same well-researched, well-crafted story and that lovely, descriptive writing style. The book made me think so deeply about that period in history and I while I have read many books about World War II, seeing it from the perspective of a RAF Bomber pilot was a new experience for me.

A God of Ruins is one of the very few books I have ever read the acknowledgements of (I know, slack really, but that’s how much I didn’t want it to end), and I am so glad I did because it added an extra layer of depth to the story. But seriously, how does she manage to write even her acknowledgements so beautifully?

Sara Novic: Girl at War

I was only a small child when civil war broke out across Yugoslavia, so this book was an eye-opener for me. We didn’t study this war at school, in fact, I had hardly heard anything about it at all until I started working with an ex-Yugoslavian who came out to Australia after the war. It seems strange to me now that so little mention of it was made when it was a war that was still being fought when I was in primary school.

Girl at War looks at the influence of the conflict on one girl, Ana, who is ten years old when war breaks out. Through her lens we are given insight into what it was like for children, at a time when air-raid drills and sniper fire were a part of daily life. When Ana suddenly finds herself alone, she must fight or die and of course, she choses to fight.

Novic writes this book simply, without lengthy descriptions or drawn-out dialogue. It’s a page-turner, certainly, and like all books that I love, it taught me something, and gave me insight into a time I knew so little about. I am grateful for that.

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

What can I say about this book? I think Marieke Hardy put it best when it was chosen as one of the ABC Book Club’s top 5 reads for the year. She said that A Little Life was more than just a book for her, it was a profound life experience. It was the same for me. When I was reading this book, I could think of nothing else. It was on the desk next to me at work, just so I could glance at it through the day. After I finished it I was left with a deep feeling of loss, and it was many days before I could pick up another book – which is absolutely unheard of for me.

It is a divisive book. I have friends who just couldn’t read it, some because the subject matter is so intense, others because it is a story about four men and any female characters are largely on the periphery. But for me it was an absolute standout for 2015. Read it, if you dare.

Geraldine Brooks: A Secret Chord

I always love Geraldine Brooks books, and I often recommend them to friends who just want a great, engrossing read. Her journalistic background gives her this amazing ability to fill in the gaps between historical facts and weave a story that is so detailed and so well-imagined, you want it to be real.

The Secret Chord isn’t my favourite Brooks book, but that’s more to do with the subject matter than anything else. I found it harder to be drawn into the story of King David, and harder to follow than her other books. Despite this, her writing is engaging enough to keep you on track, and I enjoyed the unusual narrative (through his biographer) because it allowed for some questioning of King David’s character, rather than just a chronology of his life.

So, I really just wanted to take a moment to appreciate the incredible talent of these four women, and the others on the list whose writing has made an impact on many lives (not just mine), and who deserve every accolade that comes their way. They open a window for us to lives and times we will never experience, and for that we can only be thankful.

Look out for the shortlist announcement on Monday 11 April, I just can’t fathom how they will choose!

Amanda x 

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