“You’ve heard of fantasy football? Well, shortlisting for the 2015 Baileys Prize was the fantasy book club of a lifetime.” So says Shami Chakrabarti, chair of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Started in 1996, the Women’s Prize “celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.” The 2005 longlist included 20 books, which had to be whittled down to just six for the shortlist, announced last night.
The 2015 list includes five previously shortlisted authors (talk about talented!) and one debut, who, I imagine, has exploded due to sheer honor and shock. As women, we like to support other women, which means reading their books. So what’s so special about the six chosen this year? Well, let me tell you.
1. Outline by Rachel Cusk
About the author: She was ballsy enough to document the true story of her marriage and divorce in her memoir, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation. Talk about a gutsy gal!
About the book: It’s about writing and talking. Dull. Or not so much. Outline follows a woman as she travels to a foreign country. The woman’s past is indistinct, yet she is soon surrounded by the stories of others as people seek her as a sounding board. The stories of strangers fill the pages until a tapestry is woven of human emotion, fear and love, reminding us all that life is just one big book, and we write the pages.
2. The Bees by Laline Paull
About the author: The Bees is her debut. Her husband and his friend built her a special writing shed in their backyard. She began writing her first novel the day the shed was finished. She also believes honey should be priced like gold.
About the book: The lead characters are bees. Really. In Flora’s hive, only the queen may breed, and any deformities at birth means immediate execution. Unlike other worker bees, Flora is curious, which could get her in a lot of trouble. Her strength, though, is an asset, which moves her into close contact with the fearful queen. Soon, Flora’s feelings of maternal love threaten the whole hive. How far will a mother go for the love of a child?
3. A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
About the author: Writing is literally in her blood. Her mom is a literary journalist and editor. Her aunt is and her grandfather was a writer. Her award nomination résumé is longer than most people’s grocery lists.
About the book: It’s a romance… sort of. In the early 1900s, two young people meet on a train, unaware their newfound connection will have life-altering implications that will take 15 years to clear up. The story travels the globe, but in the end, reminds each of us that no matter how small the contribution, our lives exist eternal in the chaos of history.
4. How to be Both by Ali Smith
About the author: Chronic fatigue syndrome “forced her” to become a writer. She’s been with her partner, Sarah Wood, for 17 years and dedicates all her books to her.
About the book: Don’t read the book synopsis, because you’ll never figure it out. To say “experimental” would be a deviance, since this book is more than that. There’s Georgia, who lives in the 1960s, and Francesco, who lives in the 1460s, and they’re connected by a fresco. Depending on which copy you order, one book starts with Georgia’s story, the other with Francesco’s. See how lives intertwine across the bridge of time.
5. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
About the author: She graduated from Duke at age 19 before heading to Columbia to study Russian. She’s not smart or anything…
About the book: Abby Whitshank and Red are in love, but nothing’s simple. They’re both getting older, and they need to figure out what to do with the Whitshank family home. So begins a reunion that traverses time and unwinds the truth of a whole band of long-lost relatives. We all think our families are special, and this book proves it.
6. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
About the author: Every novel she’s written has been up for several very prestigious awards. They’ve also all been turned into movies, TV shows or plays.
About the book: In 1922 London, everyone’s tense. People are starving, and many still mourn the loss of loved ones due to war. At their genteel South London villa, Mrs. Wray and her daughter Frances are forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet. Little do they know the modern young couple they welcome will shake up their lives forever, awaken passion and destroy everything.
Now, time to get reading. The official Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced June 3.