On the hunt for something new to read? The Women’s Prize For Fiction 2021 longlist has just been announced, and it’s seriously good.
Although concentrating on a book hasn’t always been easy, reading has become an escape for many of us over the last 12 months. Whether you’ve found yourself hooked by a new fantasy world or been consumed by the words of a brilliant female poet, reading has allowed us to step outside the realm of the pandemic and enjoy a well-deserved break from the chaos of 2021.
With restrictions set to last for another couple of months, we’re always on the lookout for new books to add to our lockdown reading lists. So, when we heard that the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 longlist had been announced, it’s safe to say we were intrigued.
Judged by a team of authors, broadcasters and journalists including Bernardine Evaristo, Elizabeth Day, Vick Hope, Nesrine Malik and Sarah-Jane Mee, this year’s longlist recognises the work of both new and established writers alike, including Torrey Peters, the first trans woman to be nominated for the prize for her book Detransition, Baby.
Last year, the prize went to Maggie O’Farrell for her novel Hamnet, which tells the story of William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son as he searches for someone to look after his sick twin sister, Judith. And in 2019, the prize went to Tayari Jones for An American Marriage, an exploration of a Black couple in modern-day America.
Although the judges have to cut down this longlist to a shortlist of six novels before the prize is awarded, the longlist is still a brilliant opportunity to explore the work of women writers from all over the globe. Keep reading to find out more about the 16 brilliant books that made the list.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 Longlist
Because Of You by Dawn French
Because Of You follows the stories of two mothers who give birth in the same hospital at the same time. But while one of the women leaves with a beautiful baby girl, the other leaves with empty arms.
The official synopsis reads: “Seventeen years later, the gods who keep watch over broken-hearted mothers wreak mighty revenge, and the truth starts rolling, terrible and deep, toward them all. The power of mother-love will be tested to its limits. Perhaps beyond…”
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Avni Doshi’s debut novel was also shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, so it’s no surprise to see it make the longlist. Described as a “poisoned love story,” the novel explores the relationship between a mother and daughter with a fraught relationship.
The official synopsis reads: “In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her marriage to join an ashram, took a hapless artist for a lover, rebelled against every social expectation of a good Indian woman – all with her young child in tow. Years on, she is an old woman with a fading memory, mixing up her maid’s wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a mother who never seemed to care for her.”
Consent by Annabel Lyon
This “razor-sharp, provocative and precise” novel by Annabel Lyon explores the relationship between two pairs of sisters whose lives are altered by a series of similar devastating events.
The official synopsis reads: “Saskia and Jenny are twins, alike in appearance only: Saskia has a single-minded focus on her studies, while Jenny is glamorous, thrill-seeking and capricious. Still, when Jenny is severely injured in an accident, Saskia puts her life on hold for her sister.
“Sara and Mattie are sisters with another difficult dynamic: Mattie needs almost full-time care, while Sara loves nothing more than fine wines, perfumes and expensive clothing, and leaves home at the first opportunity. But when their mother dies, Sara must move Mattie in with her. Gradually, Sara and Saskia learn that both their sisters’ lives, and indeed their own, have been altered by the devastating actions of one man…”
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Torrey Peters’ novel follows the story of a trans woman whose life is transformed when her ex Amy – now Ames – calls her to ask whether she wants to be a mother.
The official synopsis reads: “When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?”
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Naoise Dolan’s debut novel has already been optioned for a TV adaptation, and for good reason. Based on the story of Ava, Exciting Times follows the 22-year-old as she leaves Ireland for Hong Kong and meets a series of surprising characters.
The official synopsis reads: “When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves: a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children; Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room; Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks; money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections. Exciting times ensue.”
How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Described as a “bold new writer” by the Women’s Prize judge Bernardine Evaristo, Cherie Jones’ How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House tells the story of Lala, a young woman living in Baxter’s Beach, Barbados whose grandmother Wilma tells the story of the “one-armed sister” as a cautionary tale.
The official synopsis adds: “For Wilma, it’s the story of a wilful adventurer, who ignores the warnings of those around her, and suffers as a result. When Lala grows up, she sees it offers hope – of life after losing a baby in the most terrible of circumstances and marrying the wrong man.
“And Mira Whalen? It’s about keeping alive, trying to make sense of the fact that her husband has been murdered, and she didn’t get the chance to tell him that she loved him after all.”
Luster by Raven Leilani
This debut novel by Raven Leilani is deserving of the buzz it first received when it arrived in the UK earlier this year. It follows the story of Edie, a 23-year-old Black woman living in New York, who starts dating a married white man called Eric.
The official synopsis reads: “Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up.
“And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.”
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel follows the story of a woman known for her viral social media posts and internet presence (or as she calls it ‘the portal’) whose bubble is burst by two worrying texts from her mother.
The official synopsis continues: “As real life and its stakes collide with the increasing absurdity of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.”
Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
Described as a “precise and tender story of love in marriage,” Nothing But Blue Sky tells the story of David, whose world is torn apart when his wife Mary Rose dies suddenly.
The official synopsis reads: “In reliving their twenty years together David sees that the ground beneath them had shifted and he simply hadn’t noticed. Or had chosen not to.
“Figuring out who Mary Rose really was and the secrets that she kept - some of these hidden in plain sight – makes David wonder if he really knew her. Did he even know himself?”
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
This novel from the bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell tells the story of Piranesi, a man who lives in the wonder-filled ‘House’ and is forced to reconsider his lifestyle when he discovers some peculiar messages.
The official synopsis reads: “There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?
“Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous. The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
Based in the suburbs of 1950s South East London, Small Pleasures follows the story of Jean Swinney, a journalist on a local paper who, feeling trapped by the quiet life she is living, sets out to follow an unexpected story.
The official synopsis reads: “When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.
“As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and – possibly – happiness.”
Summer by Ali Smith
Described at the “first great coronavirus novel” by one review, Summer is the conclusion to Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet and tells the story of two families, past and present.
The official synopsis reads: “In the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile the world’s in meltdown - and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time.
“This is a story about people on the brink of change. They’re family, but they think they’re strangers. So: where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common? Summer.”
The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig
This twisted novel by Amanda Craig follows the story of two women called Hannah and Jinni who, after meeting by chance on a train from London to Penzance, set out to kill each other’s husbands. However, things don’t quite go as planned.
The official synopsis continues: “When Hannah goes to Jinni’s husband’s home the next night, she finds Stan, a huge, hairy, ugly drunk who has his own problems - not least the care of a half-ruined house and garden. He claims Jinni is a very different person to the one who has persuaded Hannah to commit a terrible crime. Who is telling the truth – and who is the real victim?”
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half only came out in 2020 but it’s already being adapted into a HBO series, so it’s no surprise to see it make this list. The book follows the story of the Vignes sisters – a pair of twins who, after growing up in a small, southern Black community, go on to live separate lives.
The official synopsis reads: “Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?”
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Transcendent Kingdom tells the story of Gifty, a first-generation American immigrant who, after losing her brother and father during childhood, turns to science for answers.
The official synopsis reads: “When her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach farther than she ever thought. Tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America. Transcendent Kingdom is a searing story story of love, loss and redemption, and the myriad ways we try to rebuild our lives from the rubble of our collective pasts.”
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
Described as a “heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival,” Clare Fuller’s Unsettled Ground follows the story of twins Jeanie and Julius who, at 51, still live with their mother Dot, in “rural isolation and poverty”.
The official synopsis reads: “Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.
“But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.”
Images: Courtesy Of Publishers