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Looking for a new book? Check out the Womens Prize for Fiction 2021 shortlist

The Women’s Prize for Fiction announced their shortlist last night and it’s full of the top reads of the year!

The competition is the UK’s most prestigious annual book award celebrating & honouring fiction written by women. The charity’s main goal is to champion women and the art they produce, by selecting ambitious and outstanding fiction to share on a global stage. Writers can be selected form anywhere in the world and the competition has several different programmes aimed at discovering new talent and nurturing women’s ambitions in literature.

Previous winners include Maggie O’Farrell with ‘Hamnet’ (One of my favourite books of the last few years), Tayari Jone’s ‘An American Marriage’, and ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver.

This year’s judges are Bernardine Evaristo (Chair), Elizabeth Day, Vick Hope, Nesrine Malik and Sarah-Jane Mee, making it a vibrant mix of presenters, podcasters, writers and journalists. The longlist was announced in March and last night those sixteen long listed books were whittled down to just six! Check them out below and get reading before they announce the winner this summer on the 7th of July!

‘Unsettled Ground’ by Claire Fuller (Fig Tree)

What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant?

What would you do to get it back?

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. 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.

‘Unsettled Ground’ is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.

‘Transcendent Kingdom’ by Yaa Gyasi (Viking Press)

As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two – and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away.

Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life, she turns to science for answers. But 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.

‘How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House’ by Cherie Jones (Tinder Press)

In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister, a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. 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.

‘How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House’ is the story of three marriages, and of a beautiful island paradise where, beyond the white sand beaches and the wealthy tourists, lies poverty, menacing violence and the story of the sacrifices some women make to survive.

‘No One is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus)

A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet – or what she terms ‘the portal’. Are we in hell? the people of the portal ask themselves. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die? Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: ‘Something has gone wrong’ and ‘How soon can you get here?’

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.

‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Piranesi lives in the House.

Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides which thunder up staircases, the clouds which move in slow procession through the upper halls.

On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food and waterlilies to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone. Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. 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.

‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett (Dialogue Books)

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. 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?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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