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5th March 2020

Women’s prize for fiction 2020

Books Editor Shaheena discusses her favourite reads from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist
Women’s prize for fiction 2020
Photo: Press shot from Women’s Prize for Fiction

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist has been announced!

2020 marks the 25th year of the award and I’ll discuss three of the books from the list that I particularly enjoyed.

Girl, Edna O’Brien

Edna Obrien’s novel follows a young girl whose childhood is stunted by the traumatic events following her capture by Boko Haram.

The novel tracks events that not only change the course of the life of a girl whose geography seems against her, but tracks the cognitive breakdown she faces in enduring the abuse of the militants. O’Brien’s formal experimentalism pays off in eliciting empathy from a reader, and cohering – in a fairly incoherent way – the psychological effects of stress.

O’Brien’s novel explores the realities of many young women, like the book’s narrator Maryam, who are subject to the militancy of terror groups globally, and the intense patriarchal constraints they are subject to live within.

Nightingale Point, Luan Goldie

Luan Goldie manages to render the experience of a group of people whose lives are shattered after the destruction of their home.

Goldie began working on her book before the tragedy of Grenfell, yet tells of experiences very close to those who found themselves having to rebuild their lives after the tragedy.

Goldie begins by familiarising the reader with the residents of the tower block, which makes the ‘after-incident’ section of the novel all the more devastating.

Her novel describes not just the traumatic reality of suffering through the actual event, but the journey that begins once the residents have escaped.

Her novel highlights the struggles of these realities, yet manages to uplift its own characters through a thread of hope that runs throughout its passages. Goldie’s story is humane, it is hopeful, and it paints in brilliant shades the strength of a community in the aftermath of tragedy.

How We Disappeared, Jing-Jing Lee

Jing-Jing Lee’s focal character is Wang Di, a woman whose past is unfurled throughout the novel.

Both her and her late husband lived through the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War Two, and carried their own burdens of history throughout their marriage. There are secrets that Wang Chi holds, in a culture of silence through which she attempts to distance herself from what she does not want to reminisce on.

Her experience of World War Two is told in the non-linear novel. We travel through the journey of young, seventeen year old Wang Di as well as the older Wang Di.

During the occupation, Wang Chi is subject to imprisonment as a ‘comfort woman’. A reality lived by many women during war, comfort women were sexually abused by occupying forces and eventually murdered or sent home to their families, with the burden of societal shame for having been subject to sexual violence.

The fragmentary form of Lee’s book is perfect for a story trying to piece together silenced histories. Lee’s novel details the brutal realities endured by comfort women quite vividly, making it difficult to read on an emotional level.

However, the presence of a secondary narrative from a child’s perspective helps to uplift and bring hope of the future to the novel’s heavy subject-matter.

Jing-Jing Lee’s novel  manages to interrogate the hushed histories of women who suffered during the occupation of 1942 to 1945, whilst acknowledging the sensitivity needed in approaching traumatic experiences that become untangled.

There are many more books on the longlist that are equally viable for the prize; they can be found on the Women’s Prize for Fiction website.

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