Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2019: What you need to know about the 6 books

It’s one of the biggest fiction awards of the year, with the likes of Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ali Smith and last year’s winner, Kamila Shamsie having all previously claimed the gong.

Now the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2019 has been shared, ahead of the winner being announced on June 5.

This is what you need to know about each…

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman has already won the Booker Prize, so Northern Irish writer Anna Burns is a strong contender. On paper, the novel should be impenetrable – it’s a stream of consciousness from the female protagonist (known as ‘middle sister’), with no names for people or places given. And yet it’s a clear representation of Ireland during the Troubles. Middle sister is trying to stay under the radar and out of trouble, until the Milkman – a notorious paramilitary – takes a shine to her and begins to infiltrate her life. This is a story of how gossip can spread, and how no one really believes (or hears) the truth.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)

This is one funny book, but not in a ha-ha, laugh-out-loud manner. It’s more in its ability to trigger the feeling (particularly if you are blessed with sisters) that, yes, you can totally imagine getting a call like the one Korede gets from her sibling, Ayoola. And yes, you’d probably have to help if called upon. Ayoola, the beauty, has stabbed her boyfriend – that’ll be the third she’s killed now – but conscientious, loyal Korede is well prepared for the clean-up job. What she’s not prepared for is the newly ‘bereaved’ Ayoola then taking an interest in her rather attractive doctor colleague, Tade. The Lagos-set drama is deftly written, as pointy and sleek as Ayoola’s blade, with Braithwaite incrementally winding up the uneasiness, all the while making you question, along with Korede, the motives of the people you love.

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Evans’ novel focuses on two couples living in South London in 2008, as Barack Obama becomes the president of the United States. Melissa and Michael have a new baby – Melissa is trying not to lose herself, and Michael is struggling to get close to her. There’s also Stephanie and Damian – Damian is the son of a black activist in a mixed race relationship, and the death of his father makes him reconsider his suburban Surrey life. It’s a moving look at the private lives of two couples, and reflects on what it’s like to be black and middle class in London at that time.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Roy and Celeste are an upwardly mobile middle class African-American couple who live in Atlanta. It’s all seemingly going well for them, until Roy is wrongfully convicted of rape and sent to prison. The novel switches between different perspectives and we see how incarceration can impact relationships and ruin lives – and not just the life of person locked up. This is Atlanta native Jones’ fourth novel; she writes incredibly human characters full of love and flaws. It’s the kind of novel you can’t put down, even though it’s heartbreaking.

Circe by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury)

Miller, author of The Song Of Achilles, is a Latin and Greek teacher who excels at reworking myths and legends for a modern audience. Circe is Titan royalty, the daughter of the Sun god Helios and the nymph Perse, and we see her through her lonely childhood in her father’s palace, overshadowed by her more successful siblings, to her eternity of exile on a remote island. Circe is banished for using magic and mixing with mortals, but grows stronger, developing her gift for sorcery. This is a gorgeous retelling of Homer’s Odyssey blended with other legends, and peppered with strong relatable characters, cold-hearted gods, flawed heroes, deadly monsters, and best of all, a strong female protagonist.

The Silence Of The Girls by Pat Barker (Penguin)

This is another retelling, this time a feminist imagining of Homer’s The Iliad. It explores the brutal experiences of women, captured and interned in a Greek camp as the decade-long Trojan War winds down. Former Queen Briseis is now Achilles’ concubine, but becomes entangled in a battle of wills between Achilles and Agamemnon. Stark, bold and a powerful spotlight on women ruined and forgotten in war, Yorkshire-born Pat Barker gives voice to stories that must be heard.

- Press Association

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