Women's Prize for Fiction longlist announced: how many have you read?

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A grand total of 165 books competing for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction have been whittled down to just 20 works, with a longlist celebrating both debut writers and veteran novelists.

While A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, 73, is the writer's 20th book, and what she says will be her last, there are plenty of debut novels that made the cut. After Before is Jemma Wayne's first novel and tells the story of three women coming to terms with their own demons and how their paths interweave. Emma Healey's debut offering Elizabeth is Missing, which sparked a bidding war between publishers and was shortlisted at the Costa Book Awards, is also in the running - a fast-paced mystery involving a forgetful woman determined to find out what happened to her friend.

Now in its 20th year, the award celebrates women's contribution to literature and came into being to compensate for the lack of recognition female writers appeared to get from other big literary prizes, including the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist which comprised of solely male authors.

The 2015 judging panel includes journalist Grace Dent, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, Laura Bates, from the Everyday Sexism project, author Helen Dunmore, who won the first ever Women's Prize, and Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman.

The contenders will be narrowed further to a shortlist in April, before the winner is announced at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall on 3rd June 2015, and will receive £30,000. 

Speaking to the Guardian, Shami Chakrabarti said there was still a need for a literary award dedicated solely to women, calling it "just one more way to redress gender injustice.”

“I think we do need to keep celebrating women’s fiction. We need to celebrate women generally and there’s nothing more powerful than stories,” she explained.

“We are still nowhere near where we should be... I also don’t think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s time to end a women’s prize.”

And with the weather finally turning toward something rather more Spring-like, who can resist the idea of sitting in the park with one of these on your lunch break?

Outline, by Rachel Cusk

A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.

Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans

When 10-year-old Noel Bostock is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - 36 and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it. The pair team up to make money from the opportunities war brings.

Aren’t We Sisters?, by Patricia Ferguson

Following on from The Midwife's Daughter, Aren't We Sisters? is a gripping novel about buried secrets and unlikely friendship. Norah Thornby can no longer afford to live in her grand family home in the centre of Silkhampton. Unless, perhaps, she can find a respectable lodger. But Nurse Lettie Quick is not nearly as respectable as she seems.

I Am China, by Xiaolu Guo

Translator Iona Kirkpatrick unravels the story of two Chinese lovers from their first flirtations at Beijing University to the Jasmine Revolution. Intoxicated by their romance, Iona sets out to bring them back together, but time seems to be running out.

Dear Thief, by Samantha Harvey

In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman starts writing to an estranged friend and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women preferred to forget. Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is alive or dead, she writes night after night. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before.

Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

A fast-paced mystery. 'Elizabeth is missing', reads the note in Maud's pocket in her own handwriting. Lately, Maud's been getting forgetful. She keeps buying peach slices when she has a cupboard full, forgets to drink the cups of tea she's made and writes notes to remind herself of things. But Maud is determined to discover what has happened to her friend, Elizabeth, and what it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of her sister Sukey, years ago. 

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. 

The Offering, by Grace McCleen

Something happened on Madeline's 14th birthday, something so traumatic that it triggered her mental breakdown. Many years later, she still can't - or won't - recall. Dr Lucas believes he can unlock Madeline's memory by taking her step by step through the preceding year, when her father moved the family to an island he was certain God had guided them to. But as he unearths the past, he is treading on very dangerous ground.

The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman

In the aftermath of a devastating plague, a fearless young heroine embarks on a dangerous and surprising journey to save her world. 15-year-old Ice Cream Star and her nomadic tribe live off the detritus of a crumbled civilization. Theirs is a world of children; before reaching 20, they all die of a strange disease they call Posies. Ice Cream Star sets off on a bold journey to find a cure.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neil

A coming-of-age novel set on the seedy side of Montreal’s St. Laurent Boulevard. Twins Noushcka and Nicolas Tremblay are hopelessly promiscuous, wildly funny and infectiously charming. They are also the only children of legendary folksinger Étienne Tremblay. Known by the public since they were children, the inseparable siblings have never been allowed to be ordinary. On the eve of their 20th birthday, the twins’ self-destructive shenanigans catch up with them.

The Bees, by Laline Paull

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ meets ‘Watership Down’. Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive, prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden.

The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Phillips

Sir Humphrey du Val of the Table of Less Valued Knights - Camelot's least prestigious table, boringly rectangular in shape and with one leg shorter than the other - has been banned by King Arthur from going on quests, and hasn't left the castle in 15 years. He's tempted out of his imposed retirement by Elaine, who is looking for her kidnapped fiancé. But is she really the damsel in distress that she appears to be?

The Walk Home, by Rachel Seiffert

Stevie's been to London, taught himself to get by, and now he's working as a labourer not so far from his childhood home in Glasgow. But he's not told his family - what's left of them - that he's back. A powerful novel about the risk of love, and the madness and betrayals that can split a family. If you cut your ties, will you cut yourself adrift?

A God in Every Stone, by Kamila Shamsie

A powerful story of friendship, injustice, love and betrayal, A God in Every Stone carries you across the globe, into the heart of empires fallen and conquered, reminding us that we all have our place in the chaos of history and that so much of what is lost will not be forgotten.

How to be Both, by Ali Smith

A novel about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance.

The Shore, by Sara Taylor

A collection of small islands sticking out from the coast of Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean that has been home to generations of fierce and resilient women. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it’s a place they’ve inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. Their interconnecting stories form a deeply affecting legacy of two island families. 

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Four generations of Baltimore family the Whitshanks. They are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

In South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be. 

After Before, by Jemma Wayne

During a cold, British winter, three women reach crisis point. Emily, an immigrant survivor of the Rwandan genocide is existing but not living. Vera, a newly Christian Londoner is striving to live a moral life, her happiness constantly undermined by secrets from her past. Lynn, battling with an untimely disease, is consumed by bitterness and resentment of what she hasn't achieved and what has been snatched from her.

The Life of a Banana, by PP Wong

Xing Li is what some Chinese people call a banana - yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Although born and raised in London, she never feels like she fits in. When her mother dies, she moves with her older brother to live with venomous Grandma, strange Uncle Ho and Hollywood actress Auntie Mei. Consumed by secrets, violence and confusing family relations, Xing Li tries to find hope wherever she can. In order to find her own identity, she must first discover what it means to be both Chinese and British.

Images: Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, Rex Features

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