I’m still working my way through a pile of books that interested me from the Orange Prize longlist that called me, but I was still on alert for the shortlist for the new writers award. It’s thrown up some interesting books over the years.
This years list is diverse and potentially very interesting.
First there’s the book that was considered a contender for the Orange Prize. I haven’t read it, but I felt the shockwaves when it wasn’t even longlisted:
After The Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld
“After the breakdown of a turbulent relationship, Frank moves from Canberra to a shack on the east coast once owned by his grandparents. He wants to put his violent past and bad memories of his father behind him. In this small coastal community, he tries to reinvent himself as someone capable of regular conversation and cordial relations. He even starts to make friends, including a precocious eight year old named Sal. But it is not that easy for him to let go of the past. Leon is the child of European immigrants to Australia, living in Sydney. His father loves Australia for becoming their home when their own country turned hostile during the Second World War. His mother is not so comforted by suburban life in a cake shop. As Leon grows up in the 50s and 60s, his watches as his parents’ lives are broken after his father volunteers to fight in the Korean War. Leon himself goes from working in the shop, sculpting sugar dolls for the tops of wedding cakes, to killing young men as a conscripted machine-gunner in Vietnam. In the fall out from the war, Leon thinks he might be able to make a new life with his woman, make a baby, live by the sea in a small shack. But something watches from the cold shade of the teeming bush. Set in eastern Australia with its dark trees and blinding light, this is a story of fathers and sons, their wars and the things they will never know about each other. It is about the things men cannot say out loud and the taut silence that fills up the empty space.
I have heard so much praise for this book and it’s author. It’s been on my library pile for a while now, and to be honest the opening isn’t grabbing me, but I suspect it may be one of those books where a little perseverance really pays dividends. So I will give it some serious attention very soon.
Then, there’s the book that I’d heard of but really hadn’t considered a possibility.
The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale
“Brought up in rural Sussex, seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel is carrying an unwanted child. Taking advantage of the death of her elderly neighbour, Agnes steals her savings and runs away to London. On her way she encounters the intriguing Lettice Talbot who promises that she will help Agnes upon their arrival. But Agnes soon becomes lost in the dark, labyrinthine city. She ends up at the household of John Blacklock, laconic firework-maker, becoming his first female assistant. The months pass and it becomes increasingly difficult for Agnes to conceal her secret. Soon she meets Cornelius Soul, seller of gunpowder, and hatches a plan which could save her from ruin. Yet why does John Blacklock so vehemently disapprove of Mr Soul? And what exactly is he keeping from her? Could the housekeeper, Mrs Blight, with her thirst for accounts of hangings, suspect her crime or condition?”
I have read about this book, and I wasn’t disinterested but nor did I feel compelled to track down a copy. Possibly because I’ve already done historical fireworks with Christie Dickerson’s The Firemaster’s Mistress. But it’s been shortlisted from a strong field, so maybe I should give it a try.
And finally there’s the book I hadn’t heard of until I saw it on the list:
The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
“As Zimbabwe breaks free of British colonial rule, young Lindiwe Bishop encounters violence at close hand when her white neighbour is murdered. But this is a domestic crime, apparently committed by the woman’s stepson, Ian, although he is released from prison surprisingly quickly. Intrigued, Lindiwe strikes up a covert friendship with the mysterious boy next door, until he abruptly departs for South Africa. Years later, Ian returns to find Lindiwe has been hiding her own secret. It is to bring them closer together, but also test a relationship already contending with racial prejudice and the hostility of Lindiwe’s mother. And as their country slides towards chaos, the couple’s grip on happiness becomes ever more precarious.”
This and “A Still Small Voice…” have brought an international flavour to this list that was sadly absent from the longlist for the main prize. I know nothing, but I’m curious.
I can’t really evaluate the list, because I haven’t read any of the books and a couple of the others I thought were contenders I have yet to read.
But I’m thinking that after the prizes are done and dusted maybe I’ll put together my own list of great recent novels by women that weren’t mentioned …
But tell me, what do you think of the list?
Can you recommend – or not – any of the books?
The award will be made on 9th June.