It’s the biggest prize recognising the very best in women’s writing today – and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist has finally been announced. So what do you need to know about this year’s big six?
This impressive chunk of a novel is no stranger to awards ceremonies. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life – a story set around four friends in New York – went head-to-head last year at the Man Booker Prize with eventual winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It achieves something quite impressive, cleaving those who have read it into two camps: half who clutch their hearts in fondness, half who claim the melodrama is maddening. When Margaret Mountford, chair of judges, said the final six were chosen after “a long and often passionate debate” here’s betting that A Little Life will have caused the most heated discussion of all. Published in paperback by Picador, £8,99.
Before the Baileys judges gave this their seal of approval, Oprah Winfrey was way ahead of the game, encouraging her fans to pick up Cynthia Bond’s tale of an abused African American woman called Ruby. Having taught writing for the homeless and at-risk youth in Los Angeles for 15 years, there’s no disguising where Bond found her voice. Let’s be clear: Ruby is not one for the faint-hearted. Comparisons to Toni Morrison’s Beloved have been made, and not without merit. Published in paperback by Two Roads, £7.99
The veteran on the shortlist, a former Man Booker winner and the bookies’ favourite to nab the title (and £30,000 prize money) The Green Road is the sixth novel from Anne Enright, a writer who has made domestic Irish dramas her niche. Enright’s saga spans three decades and three continents, but between the vastness it’s her ability to nail the ‘smallness’, getting under the skin of each of the four siblings and their domineering mammy that really helps us to appreciate this story of a family out of sync. Published in paperback by Vintage, £8.99.
Another debut – and another Irish candidate – this time from Lisa McInterney, aka Sweary Lady: the prolific blogger behind the Arse End of Ireland. The Glorious Heresies is about the consequences of a murder on the lives of five misfits living on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society – but it’s her punchy prose (full of wicked ripostes you’ll commit to memory), that grab you by the scruff of the neck and keep you enthralled. Published in paperback by John Murray, £8.99.
Anyone who’s picked up American author Elizabeth McKenzie’s second novel doesn’t forget it in a hurry. From the ambitious and hilarious writing style to the loveable “cheerer upper” titular character Veblen, who follows in the footsteps of her name-sake, 19th-century philosopher Thorstein Veblen, it’ll charm the pants off you. The Portable Veblen has got evil pharmaceutical companies, dysfunctional families and, best of all, a charismatic squirrel. Published in hardback by Fourth Estate, £12.99.
There’s a lot to admire about Hannah Rothschild: the first female Chair of the National Gallery, script writer for Ridley Scott and Working Title, not to forget writer for Vanity Fair and the New York Times. Rothschild’s first foray into long form literature is The Improbability of Love, a wild romp that kicks off when a fictional valuable painting is re-discovered, throwing you into the inner workings of the art world and lives of a crew of characters from rappers to heads of state. Published in paperback by Bloomsbury, £8.99.
The judges for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction are: Margaret Mountford, (Chair), Lawyer and Businesswoman; Naga Munchetty, Broadcast Journalist; Laurie Penny, Writer and Journalist; Elif Shafak, Author and Tracey Thorn, Writer and Singer. The winner of the award will be named on 8 June 2016.