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Feminist retellings of women in history top the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 shortlist

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Hollie Richardson
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Women's Prize for fiction

The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2019 has been announced – and it’s very exciting

Choosing this year’s shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction must have been a difficult task, but – somehow- the judging panel have managed to pick six books.

The standout female authors up for the £30,000 prize are as follows:

  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • Ordinary People by Diana Evans,
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • Circe by Madeline Miller

A noticeable and important theme in this year’s shortlist is the feminist retellings of stories about women in history. Booker Prize Winner Barker retells the Iliad in The Silence of the Girls, while previous WPF winner Miller puts a twist on the witch who seduced Homer’s Odysseus in Circe , and Burns (also a Booker Prize winner) explores the story of a teenage girl during the Troubles with Milkman

“The two tropes perpetually given to us in myths and stories are the beautiful, captive princess, and the evil witch who is too ugly for a man and therefore sits around trying to kill men,” said chair of the judges Kate Williams. Here, you get those completely turned on their heard and see they are living women, that the patriarchal system has written their stories for them, and what the truth could be.

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“Suddenly we’re asking, ‘Where are the women? What do the women think about this?’ which was ignored to a degree even 20 years ago. Anna Burns’s Milkman is doing it, too – the Troubles have been heavily covered but no one really talked about what the women were doing. We all know that history is written by the victors. These authors are pointing out these victors are men, even if women are on the winning side, because their stories have been written for them.”

Anna Burns won the Man Booker Prize in 2018
Anna Burns won the Man Booker Prize in 2018

Completing the shortlist, Nigerian novelist Braithwaite made it with her darkly funny debut My Sister, the Serial Killer, Diana Evans’s Ordinary People tells the story of two disaffected middle-aged couples, and Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage is about an African American couple who are ripped apart when the husband is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Williams continued: “It’s a fantastic shortlist; exciting, vibrant, adventurous. We fell totally in love with these books and the amazing worlds they created. These books are fiction at its best – brilliant, courageous and utterly captivating.”

Last year, Kamila Shamsie with her novel Home Fire. This year’s winner will be announced on 5 June. 

Images: Getty and Stylist

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