Thoughts on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 + the Winner Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hello readers!

The Women’s Prize for Fiction winner will be announced tonight! I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since the shortlist has been announced, it seems like a lifetime ago. Two seasons have gone by and I am already reading some books I think have a chance of making it to the longlist for next year.

This year was an incredibly disappointing one for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, remarkably by some brilliant titles that did not make it to the longlist, and the inclusion of others that failed to impress. It’s especially disappointing to me, personally, that the only Latinx book added to the mix had such a lower quality than others that it made me ask myself whether it was there just to be “diverse”, much like what happened with Number 1 Chinese Restaurant last year (which I really liked! It was just not WP material in my opinion). Truly a missed opportunity for diversity, especially on the shortlist.

For a short recap, here are the six shortlisted books, announced all the way back in April 21:

My preferred order for winning is:

  • Girl, Woman, Other
  • The Mirror and the Light
  • Weather
  • Hamnet
  • A Thousand Ships
  • Dominicana

This is not ordered by books I loved the most, but rather by what they would bring to the table as a winner of the prize which is, after all, to celebrate women’s writing, creativity, talent and unique experiences. I think GWO brings something new, fresh and relevant and deserves to win, even though I enjoyed The Mirror and the Light more. And although both Weather and Hamnet left me wanting something different out of them (I wanted more from Weather and less from Hamnet… way less), both of them do something interesting, whereas A Thousand Ships, which I loved, brings absolutely nothing new, especially to this prize, which has seen far too many Greek retellings. Finally, I was disappointed with Dominicana in a way that I just cannot hope for it to win, even if it’s a story that could have touched my heart and done so much by bringing to life the struggles of an immigrant woman and touch on identity, language, agency and so on.

I did not read the entire longlist, but here are the reviews on those I did read:

I also wrote a few posts related to this prize, including a conspiracy theories post and one about the alternative WP longlist a few brilliant bloggers and I put together!

Basically, this blog is 70% reading and reviewing Women’s Prize longlisted or potentially longlisted or should’ve-been-longlisted books and then raving/ranting/creating conspiracy theories about it. The other 30% is me yelling about Latin American literature and Sapphics. We have a grand old time here and my followers always get high-quality educational content (ha!).

[Edit] Thoughts on the Winner: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

The result is out!

Hamnet has won the prize, rather predictably! Okay I didn’t predict it, but most bloggers I follow did, and honestly I am quite disappointed. This is a gorgeous book, written masterfully (although overdone, in my opinion) and with a theme that resonates with a lot of readers right now. The reasons why I am disappointed at the result has nothing to do with Maggie O’Farrell’s talent, in fact I quite enjoyed some parts of the book, despite all my complaining about it, and it’s technically among the best ones of the list for sure.

My main issue with it winning is who I think should’ve won instead:

  • The Mirror and the Light would’ve brought to the forefront a powerful, unique and incredibly executed historical fiction that explores the final years of Cromwell’s life and is an interesting, complicated take on several characters that have been otherwise cartoonishly overrepresented in the genre.
  • Ducks, Newburyport (yes!! I’m bringing this up again) was mysteriously ignored by the prize, despite being a challenging book that had people laughing, crying and holding their breath in expectation. It remains one of the best books I’ll read all my life, with a perfect execution of a very difficult writing style.
  • My Dark Vanessa would’ve brought an insightful, sensitive, complicated look into what it’s like to be groomed by your teacher and struggle with who you are if what you lived for so, so long is not in fact the love story you’ve been telling yourself. A painful but so relevant and so well portrayed read, it’s truly unforgettable.
  • How We Disappeared is a historical fiction for people who don’t like historical fiction: a mystery and a fresh, necessary look into the victims of WWII that we don’t talk enough about, the women who were used as “comfort women” by Japanese troupes.
  • And finally, Girl, Woman, Other was my champion and continues to be, first because it would be an incredible statement to have it win the WP after it had to share the Booker win with Atwood and thus being “the other writer who won the Booker” in several articles, when she was not overlooked altogether. But also this book is such a vibrant look into the lives of twelve people, focused on Black women and so full of heartbreak but also joy.

I am surely missing on several other fantastic, groundbreaking reads, but those were on the top of my head. I am not upset that the win will make people read Hamnet – I think it is quite good and most people will like it. I am however upset at all the books people will NOT pick up instead, all the missed opportunities for showing what women’s writings can do, how unique they can be and to tell the stories of women who have been forgotten or silenced.

Still, I am happy for the author, and just rather freshly upset about GWO not winning, so please take my comments with a grain of salt, I am sure this post would have a milder tone if I’d written it in a couple days, but I wanted to have it done today! I am glad for some of the books I read for the longlist, and I am excited already for the one for next year. At least we have conversations about these books (some of which I’d not have heard about otherwise), and I feel that more and more people are following the WP from early on, and it’s exciting to see people get involved, discuss books and cheer for favorites. Here’s to a more interesting list next year, but also for celebrating women’s books!

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 + the Winner Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

  1. I love the way you ranked the shortlist – to me it also makes the most sense to rank them that way, despite disliking Hamnet, I do think it’s more original/acomplished than A Thousand Ships which I liked so much more. Here’s hoping that next year’s list is more exciting, so we won’t have to read about antifa lovers to feel better about the list!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so impressed you finished the shortlist in time! I really hope you are correct in predicting GWO as the winner. I would not be mad at either the Mantel or the O’Farrell either but still, Evaristo for the win!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m actually reading Hamnet right now and I haven’t read Girl, Woman, Other so I feel like this is a good choice (without being able to compare to Evaristo’s work). As a pick for the Women’s Prize, I think Hamnet is a worthy one since it shines a light on the women surrounding one of the most famous men of literature. But I can see where you’re coming from and I know I need to read GWO too!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I wanted less from Hamnet… way less” – LOL! Even though I enjoyed reading it I can 100% understand that stance. And I really like the way you talk about Hamnet not necessarily being a terrible winner, though other books arguably could use more recognition. I love your list of other great possibilities for the winner this year! Ducks missing the list is truly an injustice, as is MDV’s exclusion and How We Disappeared stopping at the longlist. I haven’t finished the Mantel trilogy yet but it seems safe to agree there as well… 🙂 Hamnet may not be the worst choice here, but it is rather anticlimactic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was very anticlimatic for me, for sure, although I’m happy so many people seem happy with this decision. I am surprised about the general consensus on that, but it’s sure better than everyone feeling as discouraged from it as I did. Here’s to a more exciting list next year!

      Liked by 1 person

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