Category Archives: Women’s Prize for Fiction

A God in Every Stone – Kamila Shamsie

I mentioned a while ago that I had a small backlog of book reviews, which is fortunate as I can’t really talk to you about what I am reading at the moment. One book is Kamila Shamsie’s sixth novel A God in Every Stone which has just been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which I read last year. Why have I held of reviewing it until the shortlisted nudge? Well, A God in Every Stone is one of those books that is epic for its size in both its stories scope and indeed the themes that are held within. This is a readers dream, it is also blooming hard work for a reviewer, here goes…

Bloomsbury Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

There are three strands within A God in Every Stone. The book opens with us in the Persian empire in the company of Scylax, an explorer in the fifth-century BCE, this is a very brief snippet before we are thrown into 1914 and the first of the two major strands, but don’t forget old Scylax, as we join Vivian Rose Spencer as she joins a Turkish archaeologist, Tahsin Bey, at a dig in Labraunda. Tahsin has been in her life for many years as a friend of her father and used to often tell her stories of Scylax when she was a young girl, inspiring her love of adventure, archaeology, history and the stories of the past and its people. As they work together an additional bond is built yet soon the First World War begins and are separated when Vivian is sent back to London to serve as a VAD.

The second main strand is that of two brothers living in Peshwar, Najeeb (who is an utter joy to read and instantly became my favourite character) and Qayyum. Qayyum has been a soldier for the British forces, and is returning after having been kept in Brighton to recover from some injuries. He returns to find his home city a changed place, having left the battle fields he returns to a city that seems to be on the very edge of unrest and potential catastrophe. How do these all interweave, well that would be telling I don’t want to spoil it for anyone so I am not going to tell you, you need to read the book.

If this all makes it sound like A God in Every Stone is rather confusing and disorientating, it honestly isn’t. This is a novel where characters, and most importantly really history, interweave and intertwine creating a wonderful tapestry of interconnecting lives. Now I worry I have made it sound twee and this book is anything but that; there is one huge twist in the novel that I didn’t see coming and hit me with an emotional wallop that actually made me gasp, as the book leads to its conclusion on The Street of Storytellers it depicts one of the biggest atrocities in Peshwar’s history, yet one that is little known or spoken of outside of the country.

The book is also teeming with themes one being history. Regular visitors will know that my mother is a classics teacher who would love to do archaeology and dragged me round Pompeii for a day when I was younger, so when I started reading about archaeological digs a bit of me went back to that day and winced. However the story of a woman in that setting in the male dominated pre-war era is a really interesting one and Vivian is quite the forward thinking woman who fights against stereotypes often through some very awkward situations with men who want to tame her, women who hate her – oh and the secret service wanting to hire her. It is little gems like that, based on fact, that give the book added dimensions and Shamsie is very good at giving every character some kind of additional story without it feeling forced or that she wants to bash you over the head with all the research she has done.

How can I explain how it feels to hold an ancient object and feel yourself linked to everyone through whose hand it passed. All these stories which happened where we live, on our piece of earth – how can you stay immune to them? Every day here in Taxila I dig up a new story. And, yes, I am grateful to the English for putting this spade in my hands and allowing me to know my own history. But to you history is something to be made, not studied, so how can you understand?

Shamsie takes a very interesting look at history in the novel. She looks at how we see events before something life changing occurs, how we see it during and how we think of it afterwards both instantly and in hindsight. All of the characters do this be it on a small or large scale. Shamsie also looks at how history is not actually something solely from the past, it is also something from the future because we are building it every second, every minute and indeed as we think our future actions through.

I know the stories of men from twenty-five hundred years ago, but I’ll never know what happens to you.

Another large theme in A God in Every Stone is the importance of story; how stories become history, how history becomes a story. She also looks at the power of stories and storytelling, be they the ones we tell others, the ones we tell ourselves and the ones that we will never know. In fact really you could say that this novel is the embodiment of how we can learn through stories, be they fictional or factual, and how we use those stories of the past to build the stories of the future.

I still don’t feel like I have really done A God in Every Stone justice, thought I felt the same after reading Burnt Shadows (you can see the review but bear in mind it was written long ago and made me wince a little as I read it) which is also a deceptive epic for its 300 pages too. It is just one of those tricky yet marvellous books that are very hard to write about if you haven’t read them and experienced them. Experienced is the right word actually because having come away from this novel I really felt I had lived, lost and loved alongside all the characters and what they went through. Suffice to say I think you should stop reading this and go and read Shamsie instead.

If you would like to find out more about A God in Every Stone, you can hear Kamila talking about it (far more eloquently than I can write about it) in conversation with me on You Wrote The Book here. Who else has read it and what were your thoughts?

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2016…

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of the prizes that I get excited about every year, indeed trying to guess the longlist of (failing delightfully) every year as I tend to read more female authors than male authors – which I should look into more I think. Anyway, here they are the six novels that have made the shortlist from the twenty strong longlist (of which a group of lovely bloggers have been shadow judging)…

  • Outline by Rachel Cusk
  • The Bees by Laline Paull
  • A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
  • How To Be Both by Ali Smith
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

As you might guess I am ECSTATIC about Laline Paull’s The Bees being on the list. It was one of my first reads of this year and I just adored it. I have also read the Kamila Shamsie and should really pull my finger out with a review of that one soon. I shall get it live for you all on Thursday, promise. I have read and enjoyed both Waters and Tyler before, Rachel Cusk though is an author I have yet to encounter.

Even more thrilling I am also excited because tomorrow I find out which of the shortlisted books the lovely folk at the Bailey’s Prize will be sending me (one I haven’t read yet, I believe) and also to five of you to read along with me before the winner is announced on the 3rd of June 2016. And yes you read that right, along with five of you… How you can win a copy of the book I will let you know in the next day or so, as soon as I know what it is.

In the meantime what do you think of the list? Any you would have switched, or are you happy as it is? Which have you read?

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

So here are the six books that have made the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2013…

Womens-Prize-Shortlist-News-Item-2

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes (Granta)
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
NW – Zadie Smith (Hamilton)

Alas this year I couldn’t play ‘guess the shortlist’ as I knew it in advance so that I could do a feature for We Love This Book from ‘the man’s perspective’, along with my initial thoughts on the short listed books which you can see here on the website (not a Mantel bashing in site). You will also learn there that, yes indeed, I am going to read the whole of the shortlist, including re-reading A.M. Holmes and trying again with Zadie Smith, this year.

Obviously not having read them all I am in no real position to say which one I think will win, however I did randomly decide that it would be Kate Atkinson that would win this year, and so far the signs are good. I have decided that will be the last of the shortlist I read. I am going to start with Kingsolver, partly because it is the one I am the most daunted by and also because I am at Gran’s and she has a copy and I don’t, ha.

Who else is thinking of reading the short list? I am not going to suggest an official read-a-long but if anyone is reading them might be nice to have some support and people to swap notes with. Even if you aren’t planning on reading all of them what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which do you fancy reading?

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist

So they have been announced, the twenty titles that make the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist, and after my guesses yesterday I can reveal that I guessed a whopping… four! More on that shortly, first though here is the list of the twenty titles…

Kitty Aldridge – A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson – Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber – The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu – The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti – How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes – May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen – The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam – Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins – The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts – Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal – The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple – Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak – Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith – NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

I have made the ones I have read in bold and linked to them if I have reviewed them, I have also put all the ones I have in mount TBR in italics. What you possibly might want to know is what I think of the list overall though maybe? Well, I have to say that I rather like it.

The talking points are of course going to be, firstly, Hilary Mantel. I can only imagine that there will be lots of people groaning about how she is up for yet another award and isn’t it unfair she is winning all these awards because she wrote such a brilliant book – honestly this whole attitude of slating someone for writing something that apparently, I haven’t read it yet though now I am more tempted, many people think is one of the very best books of the year is just mean. She has written a great book, the best books are meant to win prizes, let her enjoy it and please shut the **** up moaning about it and say something positive. Alas in the same vein I think the second point will be the ‘oh my god a crime book is on the list’ with Gillian Flynn and ‘Gone Girl’, a book I loved and am delighted is on the list – indeed I guessed it might be.

Speaking of guesses, yes I am sad that Kerry Hudson, Nell Leyshon, Maggie O’Farrell etc have missed out, especially as the Emily Perkins novel that I really didn’t get on with is on the list, but yippee Kate Atkinson is on it, and I predicted she would win it back on January the 1st in an episode of the Readers podcast. Let us continue on that positive note and look at the thing that really excites me about the list… The books I have never bloody heard of! These are, for me, what a longlist is all about – well, apart from the fact longlists make us look at books and talk about them, a lot.

I am really keen to find out more about the ones I don’t have here at home, especially the authors that I haven’t heard of, I tried the Smith and the Kingsolver and they didn’t grab me when I got them. I have heard of all the books or the authors bar three and those are the ones which really strike me as books I might need to get my mitts on. They are Deborah Copaken Kogen’s ‘The Red Book’, Carrie Tiffany’s ‘Mateship With Birds’ and ‘The People of Forever are Not Afraid’ by Shani Boianjiu. The latter two in particular as the Tiffany sounds right up my street as I love books set in the middle of the countryside/nowhere and how that effects people, the Boianjiu also sounds like it would be outside my normal reading remit which is something I am desperately looking for at the moment. In fact I will be discussing reading diets, and the fact I think I need to change my reading tastes a bit later today.

In the meantime though, what do you make of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist above? Which of the books have you read and what did you make of them? Are there any books you are shocked to see on there or missing from there? Do you think Flynn vs. Mantel will be the big story? Is anyone planning on reading them all (I am going to read some if the whim takes, probably the two I mentioned I know nothing about, maybe) at all?

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist?

So tomorrow is the announcement of the first, yet technically eighteenth, Women’s Prize for Literature. As has become the routine in the last few years, I do love to have a go at guessing what books might be on it. This isn’t based on what people ‘in the trade’ might be thinking or any of that gubbins, though I love all the speculation, it is simply based on books I have loved, am desperate to read or simply think might be on the list, though I am sure I will be proven delightfully wrong once again this year and a million miles off in my guesses.

The first four of my guesses are some of my favourite books of 2012, well, those that fall into the submission guidelines, they are…

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Next up some books that I have read, or in the case of the Atkinson am reading, and am yet to review but have thoroughly enjoyed…

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
Past the Shallows – Favel Parrett
May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Holmes

Next up another four more books that are on the bedside table at the moment…

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Tell The Wolves I Am Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Origins of Love – Kishwar Desai

Three more books that I am keen to read very soon and also one which I have been mulling over reading or not because of the Jesus factor, if it gets long listed will definitely read it…

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland
Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussmann
Above All Things – Tanis Rideout
The Liar’s Gospel – Naomi Alderman

Finally a mix of four books that would cause some talking points if they were listed (well one would for me particularly)…

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I am pretty much sure that Hilary Mantel is going to be on the list and, unlike the general consensus I have heard of late, I have no grumbles about that at all. It has been really annoying me that people are now laying into her, everyone was really celebratory of her Booker double, after winning the Costa Prize too. Surely great books of the year should be able to win as many book prizes as they are eligible for, no? I can’t be doing with all the gripers, yes I know too much talk can put you off a book but don’t be mean about it. Rant over.

As for the other three, well I don’t think many people are predicting that J.K. Rowling will be on the list yet I would be quite chuffed if she was – it would get people talking, the book deals with current themes and it might get me to finally read it which I have been saying I will for ages. If ‘Bitter Greens’ gets on the longlist I will be talking about it to everyone because it is the retelling of Rapunzel and we all know that is my favourite fairytale and I named my duck after her when I was four. I have just had this in the post and have been sooooooooo excited, I am saving it for some long journeys I have coming up. Finally, the Flynn, why not? It has been a huge seller, everyone has been talking about it and the twists and turns and characters, even if you love to loathe them, are great. Though of course it is a crime novel and so may be written off for that, it could be a dark horse though.

I know I have missed out some of the big hitters like Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Aminatta Forna, Nicola Barker and Rose Tremain (who I now desperately want to read the works of as though Gran and my mother love her I haven’t but The Beard’s mother yesterday was raving about her and we seem to be on an authorish wavelength) but I wanted to have a different and varied list overall. I wouldn’t be upset if any of them were on it. I also debated ‘The Friday Gospels’ by Jenn Ashworth, yet didn’t think there would be two books with ‘gospel’ in the title, why I don’t know and ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney. I mulled over some other debuts like  ‘The Innocents’ by Francesca Segal and I couldn’t work out if Katherine Boo was eligible, though I really want to read it but then decided I just couldn’t second guess it could I?

Yet that is part of the fun isn’t it, the fact that no one could guess the longlist because there are so many eligible books that have come out in the last twelve months and we have no idea how many books have been put forward. Plus how dull would it be if we could guess? One of the things that is great about the longlist is finding a whole new selection of books and authors you have never heard of before and want to go and find out more about. I am getting even more excited about the prize now.

I will report back when the list is announced at some point tomorrow, I am hoping really early. In the meantime which books do you think might just make the longlist, which ones would you be particularly thrilled to see?

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