Baileys women’s prize for fiction longlist and my early projections

I’m trying to get out from under the exciting Book Prize Season bookwhore read-a-thon and am doing an abysmal job of it. I cannot read them all, even from one major prize, yet I convince myself I should try. Why? Don’t try rationalizing with me. This has never worked, ever. For anyone.

Then comes this year’s Baileys Prize Longlist and I find myself madly typing book titles into Amazon’s search box (wicked, nasty, HOT Amazon – the Daniel Craig of websites) and my library consortium’s list of holdings, ordering books via One-Click and putting other books on hold. Before I know it, I have an armload of books I’ve bought (a/k/a one less paid college course for my children) on one side and, on the other, the rest of the titles I was able to snarf from the libraries. The libraries who know the secret I dare not reveal out loud, yet have a compulsion to declare in writing: I AM WEAK.



Before you judge me, here is the Longlist for this year:

Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (Doubleday) – US release July 28, 2015

Aren’t We Sisters? by Patricia Ferguson (Penguin)

I Am China by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus)

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (Viking)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Picador)

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman (Chatto & Windus)

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill (Quercus)

The Bees by Laline Paull (Fourth Estate)

The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips (Jonathan Cape)

The Walk Home by Rachel Sieffert (Virago) – ????

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)

How to Be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

The Shore by Sara Taylor (William Heinemann) – US release May 26, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus)

The Offering by Grace McCleen (Sceptre) – ????

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Virago)

After Before by Jemma Wayne (Legend Press)

The Life of a Banana by PP Wong (Legend Press) – US release May 1, 2015


From this list, books I’ve read:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (EXCELLENT!)

From this list, books I own:

Outline by Rachel Cusk

From this list, books I’ve purchased via sexy, hot Amazon Daniel Craig:

The Bees by Laline Paull

How to Be Both by Ali Smith


From this list, books I’ve snarfed from my home library:

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

From this list, books I’ve put on hold from libraries:

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

I Am China by Xiaolu Guo

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

From this list, books I may or may not buy:

Aren’t We Sisters? by Patricia Ferguson

The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips

After Before by Jemma Wayne

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

From this list, the book I’d rather not read:

The Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I’ve never been a fan of Anne Tyler’s writing and, frankly, I don’t feel she measures up amongst this company.


Honestly, I don’t know how many of these I’ll get through. I plan to attempt all I can but the minute one annoys me I’ll toss it aside and go onto the next. There is no time for messing around. Anne Tyler is not to my taste, so there’s one off the list straightaway. I’ve read one, so there’s another.



From where I sit right now, I see three standouts: 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The Bees by Laline Paull

How to Be Both by Ali Smith

I base this list on my personal knowledge of the authors and their work, and what I’ve heard via critical acclaim. I would hand the prize straight to Emily St. John Mandel, if I could, because WOW. But these other two may give her a run for her money.


I was going to whittle the list down to my projected Shortlist, using my trademarked formula from past Bookers (I would tell you but I’d have to yadda yadda), but my head is going to explode if I try that. Because I can’t be certain those around me have been trained for Blood-Borne Pathogen handling, I’ll hold off.

But… if you threatened to withhold chocolate from me for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least take a shot in the dark as to the winner, the award would go to…


Because I’ve read it and because WOW.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride





Eimear McBride’s novel is the first winner in the new incarnation of what was formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction (1996–2006 and 2009–12) and the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007–08). I think of it as the Man Booker specifically for women, though of course women can win the Man Booker. Lest I leave you gender-confused, It’s a distinguished award and let’s leave it at that. An award that comes with a big cash money wad to the tune of nearly $ 60,000 in Colonial Dollars. That’s £ 30,000.



Winning author Eimear McBride receives her award for her novel "A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing" at the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction in London

a glowing Eimear McBride


Curiosity about how the new prize would judge the “best” of women’s fiction compelled me to read this year’s winner. I was also swayed by the other honors McBride has gotten: Goldsmiths Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, shortlisted for the Folio Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award.

All for a first-time novelist?

I’m mixed on my feelings about the book. On the one hand, I can see its theme of the ruination of sexual abuse is portrayed in all its horrific reality. On the other, I’m conflicted as to how I feel about the writing style. Trying to describe it is difficult. It compares to stream-of-consciousness, though I can’t put a finger on the reason I hesitate considering it the purest example of the form. Better I should quote a passage:

“And we go on travels. Great worlds to our minds, like interrail from here to there. Slum it downtown Bucharest eat cheese in Paris fall in love. Take boats in Venice to Constantinople by the train. Where speak good Russian Portuguese. Know people. Flit around the world to New York parties. Kandahar. We don’t know the world but want and on the very tip of tongue I’d fly away if I could. With her. It is our love affair. How we’d be. Who we think we are beneath royal blue jerseys and pleated skirts. Icon in the making me someone new tell every single one at school to go to fucking hell.”

– A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Lacking a more accurate term, I suppose I’d use stream-of-consciousness, though still I find it more an adaptation all McBride’s own. So there would be another reason to consider honoring the novel. And it never breaks form, never veers from one exacting and purposely fractured style. Whether I personally find it enjoyable or not is not the issue: is it effective, is it pure and is it unique. That’s what matters.

The story is rip your beating heart out of your chest, throw it dripping onto the pavement and stomp on it awful. A father deserts his family after their young son is diagnosed with a tumor that has grown roots in his brain. An operation slows the progression, giving him a much longer life than I imagined he’d have, but leaves him partially brain damaged. At school they’d refer to him as slow, which is so politically incorrect but true. He falls behind his grade level and struggles academically and with his motor skills, becoming frustrated with his own clumsiness and inability to function academically, acting out both at school and home. Some of his anger is possibly due to what the surgeons had to remove from his brain, perhaps also the tumor itself growing by increments.

His older sister is viciously raped by their uncle at a young age, her self-destructive reaction to turn to drinking, drugs and a prodigious amount of humiliating, often brutal sex with strange men. And, which is perhaps even harder to bear as the reader, she continues having sex with her uncle when the opportunity arises.

What I fear most is reader judgment on her character due to her warped attraction to the perpetrator who took her virginity. There is no logical nor rational reaction to having been sexually abused; despising her for anything she does or becomes is blaming the victim. Nothing is natural about a grown man forcing himself on a child and there is no way for her to process this that makes sense on any level.

Hatred of herself, blaming herself for something not her fault turns off the logical thought process. Its extremity is shown in a manner very ‘in your face, look what happens when a child is abused’ and I understand it’s horrifying to read. The character herself becomes unlikable, which is precisely the point: she hates herself. Eimear McBride’s writing shines when describing something so depraved and just horrendous to contemplate. Readers who use this as a reason not to “like” the book are missing the point entirely and judging the author unfairly. It’s precisely this she does best, peeling back the lid of the horror we’re so afraid to look at, revealing the hell of it in great detail.

I’m left with great admiration for the author’s skill, grudgingly granting the style – which wore a bit thin with me sometimes – fits the turmoil of this narrator. She’s broken from abuse and her little brother is dying slowly. Her father, who should have been there to protect her, has left them. Her mother calls her a whore, losing patience with both her children, smacking them around and verbally abusing them when she breaks down – another aspect which could be analyzed as to its realistic reaction to what her character is suffering – not to mention her echoing of what many readers will think of the girl, that she’s a worthless whore.

It’s all tremendously ugly as a story but realistic. It’s just difficult reading, setting off all sorts of triggers inside us. But that’s the point and after writing it out I believe I understand why Baileys chose A Girl is a Half-formed Thing as the recipient of its first award. It’s unlikely to be popular on a mass level and readers will say awards like this are only given to obscure books, when the fact is they’re given to writers operating at the height of their very impressive powers, only seen when broken apart and looked at for style and form.

Ultimately, I am very impressed by Eimear McBride and look forward to what she produces in the future.




book whore’s haul: blame it on the orange prize, etc.

Short pause time from my travel rumblings so I can chat about books. Haven’t had much time for them, sad to say. Buying books, yes, that continues apace. It’s the reading bit that’s tricky. Scares me to think the more I query, get assignments and write the less time will be had for my lovely, lovely books. Suppose that’s the price you pay when you make the choice to pursue writing more aggressively, though I shouldn’t complain. “Oh, poor you, scoring a piece in the Chicago Tribune.”

I see your point but raise you my chronic case of bibliomania, a condition with no known cure. Yeah, I thought so. Tables turned.



My current Kindling is Colm Tóibín’s Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush, a short work of nonfiction about Lady Augusta Gregory, WB Yeats and the resurgence in Irish culture around the turn of the 20th century. Fascinating stuff and of course apropos following my travels. Didn’t make it to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (founded by Lady August and Yeats), unfortunately. If anything appealing had been on offer I would have tried to get tickets but I never made it near the place. Or I did – truth compels – but didn’t realize it until I’d gone flittering off in another direction to find some monument to someone or other I needed to photograph and check off my list.

So far, yet so close.


“And while they were in the same place, there came a great mist about them and a darkness, so that they could not know what way they were going, and they heard the noise of a rider coming towards them. ‘It would be a great grief to us,’ said Conn, ‘to be brought away into a strange country.”

– Lady Augusta Gregory


I could spend the rest of my life listening to Colm Tóibín talk, not just for his accent (but, come on) but his brain, and ability to access fact and opinion on literature – specifically Irish but he’s a Henry James expert as well. It would be my ultimate dream to take a course taught by the good professor, though it would kick my arse.

SEE: B.A. in English literature; vague knowledge of much, expert on nothing



Today I went over to Amazon UK to buy Eimear McBride’s Bailey’s Award (formerly Orange Prize) for a first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and two more titles jumped into my cart:



Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014

 Home is a foreign country: they do things differently there . . .

In a tiny flat in West London, sixteen-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family’s crushing expectations and their fierce unEnglish pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.

At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, she realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she? In the meantime, her mother Laura, an alien in this strange universe, has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she’d expect back in her life. She isn’t noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.






Literary Giant seeks young man to push bathchair. Own room in Hampstead, all found, exciting cultural milieu. Modest wage. Ideal ‘gap year’ opportunity. Apply Prys Box 4224XXC.

‘It’s only England,’ said Mr Fox, ‘just a few hours on the train. You can always come home.’

‘Ah’ve never been though,’ said Struan, ‘never been South.’

‘Then you should,’ said Mr Fox, ‘you really should.’


So it is that Struan Robertson, orphan, genius, and just seventeen, leaves his dour native town of Cuik, and arrives in London in the freakish fine summer of 1989. His job, he finds, is to care for Phillip, dumbfounded and paralysed by a massive stroke, because, though two teenage children, two wives, and a literary agent all rattle round Phillip’s large house, they are each too busy with their peculiar obsessions to do it themselves. As the city bakes, Struan finds himself tangled in a midsummer’s dream of mistaken identity, giddying property prices, wild swimming, and overwhelming passions. For everyone, it is to be a life-changing summer.

This is a bright book about dark subjects: a tale about kindness and its limits, told with love. Spiked with witty dialogue, and jostling with gleeful, zesty characters, it is a glorious debut novel from an acclaimed writer of poetry, non-fiction, and short stories.





The Winding Stair Bookshop – Dublin



(TWS takes its name from the title of a WB Yeats volume of poetry)


“Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams, Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round.”

– WB Yeats


What’s that? What did you say? Which books did I buy in Ireland?  I should have told you earlier, please forgive.

First, I found some lovely old banged up Penguins:




This was my very first classic Penguin shopping spree in a real bookshop. The Winding Stair in Dublin had multiple shelves full, just so happens I chose some of the most battered of the lot. I buy them because they’re vintage Penguins, sure, but it’s more about what’s inside than completing the collection, which runs to hundreds and hundreds of books. This is not going to happen. Not unless I come into a fortune, one large enough to pay someone to scout the books and line them up in the formal library of my stately manor. And read them to me, whilst I sip tea.

Why not? Don’t judge. This is my fantasy.

Then there are these beauties I also found at TWS:




















Kevin Barry’s an Irishman I’ve heard loads about, all of it good.

There are Little Kingdoms

From the author of City of Bohane, a debut collection that “could easily have been titled ‘These Are Little Masterpieces’” (The Irish Times)

This award-winning story collection by Kevin Barry summons all the laughter, darkness, and intensity of contemporary Irish life. A pair of fast girls court trouble as they cool their heels on a slow night in a small town. Lonesome hill walkers take to the high reaches in pursuit of a saving embrace. A bewildered man steps off a country bus in search of his identity—and a stiff drink. These stories, filled with a grand sense of life’s absurdity, form a remarkably sure-footed collection that reads like a modern-day Dubliners. The winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and a 2007 book of the year in The Irish Times, the Sunday Tribune, and MetroThere Are Little Kingdoms marks the stunning entrance of a writer who burst onto the literary scene fully formed.

Related: Jumping Off a Cliff: An Interview with Kevin BarryThe Paris Review


Flann O’Brien. He shouldn’t need an introduction but literary history hasn’t done its job well. His real name was Brian O’Nolan and he was a playwright, novelist, journalist compared to Borges and other writers of stellar reputation, the lucky sod. He wrote his novels under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien and I don’t actually know why. Could find out, couldn’t I. Maybe when I’m not busy. HAR.

I needed a good starting point for O’Brien’s work and this book seems to fit the bill.

Related: The Flann O’Brien Centenary – from The New Yorker



Ulysses and Us

I’m not the only person I know who’s read more about Joyce than by him.

Related: James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’: Why You Should Read This BookThe Economist



The Woman Novelist and Other Stories by Diana Gardner: a Persephone Editiondianagardner

Oh, Persephone… Heard of them? They publish lots of mostly WW II era, lesser-known or unjustifiably out of print titles in gorgeous editions. They have french flaps, plus each has custom-designed front free endpapers and bookmark.

A quality press, though shipping costs from the UK are exorbitant. If you come across them in a bookshop, BUY THEM.

Diana Gardner, by the way, was a neighbor of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.




On the last leg, now. Bear with me.


Killarney Bookshop

Killarney, Ireland




Allison and I had no time at all in this shop or only time enough for me to run in, grab two books, and run out to rejoin our tour.

I wanted a book by Hugo Hamilton, having just attended his talk at the Dublin Writers Festival. As will happen, another book decided to come along.

All solo books are lonely. Did you know that?




And, that’s a wrap. Thanks for your patience, loves.

And Bless.