Bailey’s Prize Chat 2017

So, I’m a smidge behind on this one. The hype surrounding the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 has come and gone and the winner has been announced (The Power by Naomi Alderman, in case you didn’t know). But I still fancied having a chat about the books, who I thought would win and my feelings on the winner.

I managed to read four out of the six shortlisted books before the winner was announced. A part of me would like to read the other two before the end of the year and be able to say that I have read the entire shortlist (that same part is trying to talk me into reading the entire shortlist every year). There is another part of me, though, that knows that my TBR is already a ridiculous length and I am just not that excited about those two books. So, they are on the back-burner for now but, who knows, I may pick them up before 2017 is through. Here are the books I read:

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

And the two I didn’t get to:

First Love by Gwendolyn Riley
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

I thought that I would include a brief review of each of the books that I read here, instead of splitting them up in separate posts. This may mean that this ends up being a really long post but I’ll do my best not to waffle too much.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo 

4/5 stars.

I am in absolute shock that this is a debut novel. Adebayo is definitely one to watch. Stay With Me follows a couple in Nigeria called Yejide and Akin. They have been married for four years but Yejide has been unable to fall pregnant. Thus, Akin’s family have put huge pressure on him to take a second wife in order to have a child. The story deals with the clash between cultural expectations and real life, as well as the inevitable trials and complexities of a marriage even where there is deep love. There are so many plot twists and secrets to be uncovered but I never found them to be overly dramatic or unbelievable. This was such a masterful portrait of a relationship, set against the backdrop of a fascinating culture.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

4/5 stars.

With The Power, Alderman manages to do something quite clever. The basic premise is that women around the world wake up one day with the power to electrically charge their hands, making them physically stronger than men. As time wears on, the power balance of the world slowly starts to shift. By holding up a world where gender-based violence is reversed, Alderman is able to deeply shock the reader and then make them pause as they realize that the same things happen to women all the time. It was quite a clever device that, I felt, was executed very well. I also liked the fact that Alderman does not present a world run by women as a utopia of peace and harmony but demonstrates the heady corruption of power.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant 

3/5 stars.

The first two hundred pages of The Dark Circle are excellent. They are brimming with interesting characters living in a period of history that I don’t often see represented in fiction. Essentially, this is a historical fiction novel about the creation of the NHS post World War Two. There is a lot to explore there such as how making healthcare accessible to everyone affected class relations, as well as the conversation around what should be available on the NHS and what wasn’t economically viable (an issue that is still pertinent). And Grant spends the first two hundred pages of the novel exploring this period of change. We follow twins, Lenny and Miriam as they are sent to a sanatorium in the countryside to recover from tuberculosis. At the time, the prescribed cure for TB is to literally be patient and do as little as possible. For two such vibrant characters as Lenny and Miriam, this amounts to something like a prison sentence. Grant does such a good job of exploring their time in the sanatorium but she loses it in the last hundred pages and takes the story in a completely different direction (which I really disliked).

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien 

5/5 stars.

Another historical fiction on the list, this time set in China. Do Not Say We Have Nothing spans quite an expansive period in China’s history, following three generations of a family throughout Chairman Mao’s rise to power, his rule, China’s Cultural Revolution and, finally, culminating in the student protests at Tienanmen Square. That in itself was right up my ally as I learnt so much about Chinese history. However, Thien’s prose is also incredibly beautiful. This is the sort of book that I could only marvel at. In particular, Thien explores how art (she utilizes the examples of stories and music in particular) keeps people going and what happens when those things are taken away, not only to individuals but to future generations. It was brilliant.

So, my favorite was definitely Do Not Say We Have Nothing, with Stay With Me as a close second. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Power. The Dark Circle, sadly, I started off liking but I found the last hundred pages to be hugely disappointing.

I have to admit that I was pretty convinced that either Do Not Say We Have Nothing or Stay With Me would win. They were both so incredibly accomplished, albeit for different reasons, and they really stood out for me as the forerunners of the pack. That being said, I am still quite pleased that The Power won. Not only does it make an incredibly powerful statement about gender roles but it does it in a very clever way (therefore, it’s not just a token win because the subject matter is topical. It’s actually a good book). I suppose the difference for me between the winner and my two favorites is that I am dying to read more by Thien and Adebayo but not so fussed about picking up another book by Alderman.

Have you read any books from the shortlist? Did you have a favorite? Were you happy with the winner? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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