From historical aviation and sentient trees, to mental health and domestic violence, the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist covers it all—but who will win?
Wondering which of the shortlist should be top of your reading pile before the winner is announced on June 15? Here’s a rundown of the shortlist, and a nod to which book we think might take home the £30,000 prize and send their novel whooshing up the bestseller list.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
The Book of Form and Emptiness follows Benny as he starts to hear the voices of household objects following his father's death
What a remarkable talent Ruth Ozeki is. After the death of his father, young boy Benny hears the voices of various objects and, coupled with his mother’s hoarding, the voices become completely overwhelming. This noise crowds the book in such an astonishing way (scissors are described as “snapping and snickering”) and Ozeki has created a world of wonder, but it’s packed with a lot of ideas so it’s not the easiest to read. This one will divide audiences.
The Bread The Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini
Written in Trinidadian Creole, The Bread The Devil Knead is a sensitive portrayal of domestic abuse
The voice in Lisa Allen-Agostini’s novel is astonishing. The Bread The Devil Knead is written in Trinidadian Creole and tells the story of 40-year-old Aleathea, who is a victim of domestic violence. It’s a harrowing novel, and a real gut-punching portrayal of the impact of a damaging and abusive relationship.
"Her voice is one to celebrate"
Alongside this, however, is a sense of place that is incredible—you really feel like you’re walking the same streets as Alethea. However, it’s not as tightly plotted as some of the others on the list, and while I suspect it’ll miss out on the prize, don’t let that put you off reading Allen-Agostini’s work. Her voice is one to celebrate.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Great Circle charts the adventures of a daring Prohibition-era female aviator
Only two novels - Ali Smith’s How to be Both and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty - have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize shortlist and then gone on to win the subsequent Women’s Prize. So the odds feel a little stacked against Maggie Shipstead, which is a great shame because Great Circle is an incredible novel.
It manages to be two things at once—a rich and layered American history, and a rollicking good beach read. It’s long—over 600 pages—and the modern side of the dual timeline doesn’t add that much to the plot, but thankfully the book is split 70:30 in favour of groundbreaking aviator Marian Graves, and she’s a character you’ll want to spend another 600 pages with. It would be brilliant to see this book take the prize.
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
Elif Shafak's newest book, The Island of Missing Trees, is told in the voice of a sentient tree
It takes a little while to get on board with a sentient tree narrator, but when you do (about 60 pages in), you’re in for such a beautiful ride with this novel. A love story between Turkish-Cypriot Defne and Greek-Cypriot Kostas, it really shines a light on the political struggles across the country. The magic is in Shafak’s beautiful prose, and she writes so abundantly and poetically about Cyprus, especially when she’s drawing upon nature.
"She writes so abundantly and poetically about Cyprus, especially when she’s drawing upon nature"
The Island Of Missing Trees is so unexpected—romantic in places, hilarious in others—and it’s all the more devastating for the moments of lightness. I would absolutely love to see Elif Shafak take home the prize.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich blends fact and fiction in The Sentence
Unexpected discoveries are why I love the Women’s Prize so much. Every year, there’s a book on the shortlist that surprises even the most eager of bookworms, something you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. In many cases this is a joy, but it also means that out of six books, one will probably miss the mark for you.
Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence is the book on the list that didn’t resonate with me. The opening chapter is one of the best and most surprising I’ve read, but the plot soon takes a turn into something else entirely. Many of you will enjoy the ghost story in a bookshop, and find the modern history particularly interesting, but I found myself wishing I was still reading the story that had been set up so brilliantly in chapter one.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
Sorrow and Bliss, a striking portrayal of mental illness, is a favourite to win
Sorrow and Bliss is undoubtedly the popular choice for the Women’s Prize gong this year. But when it comes to what’s popular, rarely do the judges follow suit—books that have missed out in previous years include Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel has been shortlisted three times but never won), Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This and Booker Prize Winner Girl, Women, Other. That said, Meg Mason’s novel about mental illness is one that has been thrust into the hands of all 30-something women. If you’ve yet not had the pleasure, this is certainly a book that lives up to its hype.
So who’s going to win this year? The 2021 shortlist had a clear winner in Susanna Clarke's Piranesi, but this year it feels much more open. I’m going to narrow it down to just two: Sorrow and Bliss - the people’s favourite - is in with a really good chance, but I’m still rooting very hard for Elif Shafak’s The Island Of Missing Trees.
The winner of the 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction will be announced on June 15.
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