Now in its 28th year, the Women’s Prize for Fiction honours original fiction written in English by women from anywhere in the world. This year, the settings of the 16 longlisted novels range from Renaissance Italy, rural India, the Siege of Sarajevo, Northern Ireland during The Troubles, and opioid-infested Virginia, to an imaginary kingdom ruled by animals, a hallucinatory old cinema hall, and an underwater world populated with extraordinary creatures.
The Chair of the jury, broadcaster and writer Louise Minchin said the 16-strong longlist is a “glorious celebration of the boundless imagination and creative ambition” of women writers over the past year. She is joined on the judging panel by novelist Rachel Joyce; journalist, podcaster, and writer Bella Mackie; novelist and short story writer Irenosen Okojie; and Tulip Siddiq, Member of Parliament of the UK.
The shortlist of six novels will be announced on April 26 and the winner, on June 14. The winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction will receive £30,000. The winner and other five shortlisted authors are also awarded a leather-bound edition of their nominated novel. Here are the 16 novels on this year’s longlist.
Black Butterflies, Priscilla Morris
Sarajevo, spring 1992. Every night, nationalist gangs erect barricades, splitting the diverse city into ethnic enclaves; every morning, the residents – whether Muslim, Croat or Serb – push the makeshift barriers aside.
Zora, an artist and teacher, is focused on her family, her students, her studio in the old town. But when violence finally spills over, she sees that she must send her husband and elderly mother to safety with her daughter in England. Reluctant to believe that hostilities will last more than a handful of weeks, she stays behind. As the city falls under siege and everything they loved is laid to waste, black ashes floating over the rooftops, Zora and her friends are forced to rebuild themselves, over and over.
Black Butterflies is inspired by real-life accounts of the longest siege in modern warfare.
Children of Paradise, Camilla Grudova
When Holly applies for a job at the Paradise – one of the city’s oldest cinemas, squashed into the ground floor of a block of flats – she thinks it will be like any other shift work. She cleans toilets, sweeps popcorn, avoids the belligerent old owner, Iris, and is ignored by her aloof but tight-knit colleagues who seem as much a part of the building as its fraying carpets and endless dirt.
Dreadful, lonely weeks pass while she longs for their approval, a silent voyeur. So when she finally gains the trust of this cryptic band of oddballs, Holly is transformed from silent drudge to rebellious insider and gradually she too becomes part of the Paradise – unearthing its secrets, learning its history and haunting its corridors after hours with the other ushers. It is no surprise when violence strikes, tempers change and the group, eyes still affixed to the screen, things starts to rapidly go awry.
Cursed Bread, Sophie Mackintosh
Elodie is the baker’s wife. Plain, unremarkable, ignored, she burns with a secret hunger to be extraordinary. One day a charismatic new couple appear in town and Elodie quickly falls under their spell. All summer long she stalks them through the shining streets: inviting herself into their home, listening to their coded conversations, longing to possess them.
Meanwhile, beneath the tranquil surface of daily life, strange things are happening. Six horses are found dead in a sun-drenched field. Widows see their husbands walking spectrally up the moonlit river. A teenage boy throws himself into the bonfire at the midsummer feast. A dark intoxication is spreading through the town, and when Elodie finally understands her role in it, it will be too late to stop.
Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver
Demon’s story begins with his traumatic birth to a single mother in a single-wide trailer, looking “like a little blue prizefighter”. For the life ahead of him he will need all of that fighting spirit, along with buckets of charm, a quick wit, and some unexpected talents, legal and otherwise.
In the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, poverty isn’t an idea, it’s as natural as the grass grows. For a generation growing up in this world, at the heart of the modern opioid crisis, addiction isn’t an abstraction, it’s neighbours, parents, and friends. “Family” could mean love, or reluctant foster care. For Demon, born on the wrong side of luck, the affection and safety he craves is as remote as the ocean he dreams of seeing one day. The wonder is in how far he’s willing to travel to try and get there.
Fire Rush, Jacqueline Crooks
Yamaye lives for the weekend, when she can go raving with her friends at The Crypt, an underground club in the industrial town on the outskirts of London where she was born and raised. A young woman unsure of her future, the sound is her guide – a chance to discover who she really is in the rhythms of those smoke-filled nights. In the dance-hall darkness, dub is the music of her soul, her friendships, her ancestry.
But everything changes when she meets Moose, the man she falls deeply in love with, and who offers her the chance of freedom and escape. When their relationship is brutally cut short, Yamaye goes on a dramatic journey of transformation that takes her first to Bristol – where she is caught up in a criminal gang and the police riots sweeping the country – and then to Jamaica, where past and present collide with explosive consequences.
Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo
A long time ago, in a bountiful land not so far away, the animal denizens lived quite happily…
And then the colonisers arrived, followed by a bloody War of Liberation. New hope came in the form of a charismatic horse who ruled and ruled and kept on ruling. For forty years he ruled, with the help of his elite band of Chosen Ones. Until one day, as he sat down to his Earl Grey tea and favourite radio programme, in came a new leader, a new regime. And once again the animals were full of hope.
Glory tells the story of a country seemingly trapped in a cycle as old as time. At the centre of the tumult is Destiny, a young goat who has returned to her homeland to bear witness to revolution. Her arrival sets off a chain of events that reminds the denizens, and us, that the glory of tyranny only lasts as long as its victims are willing to let it. And that history can be stopped in a moment.
Homesick, Jennifer Croft
Sisters Amy and Zoe grow up in Oklahoma where they are homeschooled for an unexpected reason: Zoe suffers from debilitating and mysterious seizures, spending her childhood in hospitals as she undergoes surgeries. Meanwhile, Amy flourishes intellectually, showing an innate ability to glean a world beyond the troubles in her home life, exploring that world through languages first. Amy’s first love appears in the form of her Russian tutor Sasha, but when she enters university at the age of 15 her life changes drastically and with tragic results.
I’m a Fan, Sheena Patel
I’m a Fan tells the story of an unnamed narrator’s involvement in a seemingly unequal romantic relationship. With a clear and unforgiving eye, Sheena Patel makes startling connections between power struggles at the heart of human relationships to those in the wider world, offering a devastating critique of social media, access, and patriarchal systems.
Memphis, Tara M Stringfellow
Fleeing her husband’s explosive temper, Miriam has brought her two daughters, Joan and Mya, back to Memphis, to the home her father built in the 1940s.
Joan was only a child the last time she visited Memphis. She doesn’t remember the bustle of Beale Street on a summer’s night or the smell of honeysuckle as she climbs the porch steps to her aunt’s house. But when the front door opens, she does remember her cousin Derek.
As Joan learns more about her family’s past, she discovers she’s not the only North woman to have experienced great hurt. But she also sees their resilience and courage, how these extraordinary women fry green tomatoes and braid hair and sing all the while.
Memphis has changed since Joan’s grandparents lived there. Streets once filled with the beat of protest and blues, now echo with gunfire. But Joan still looks for the beauty in this city, in its people – and she realises that to make a future for herself, she must find her own song to sing.
Pod, Laline Paull
Ea has always felt like an outsider. She suffers from a type of deafness that means she cannot master the spinning rituals that unite her pod of spinner dolphins. When tragedy strikes her family and Ea feels she is partly to blame, she decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave.
As Ea ventures into the vast, she discovers dangers everywhere, from lurking predators to strange objects floating in the water. But just as she is coming to terms with her solitude, a chance encounter with a group of arrogant bottlenoses will irrevocably alter the course of her life.
Stone Blind, Natalie Haynes
Medusa is the sole mortal in a family of gods. Growing up with her Gorgon sisters, she begins to realise that she is the only one who experiences change, the only one who can be hurt. And her mortal lifespan gives her an urgency that her family will never know.
When the sea god Poseidon commits an unforgivable act in the temple of Athene, the goddess takes her revenge where she can – and Medusa is changed forever. Writhing snakes replace her hair, and her gaze now turns any living creature to stone. The power cannot be controlled: Medusa can look at nothing without destroying it. She is condemned to a life of shadows and darkness.
Until Perseus embarks upon a quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon…
The Bandit Queens, Parini Shroff
For Geeta, life as a widow is more peaceful than life as a wife…
Until the other women in her village decide they want to be widows, too.
Geeta is believed to have killed her vanished husband – a rumour she hasn’t bothered trying to correct, because a reputation like that can keep a single woman safe in rural India. But when she’s approached for help in ridding another wife of her abusive drunk of a husband, her reluctant agreement sets in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of all the women in the village.
The Dog of the North, Elizabeth McKenzie
Penny Rush has problems. Freshly divorced from her mobile knife-sharpener husband, she has returned home to Santa Barbara to deal with her grandfather, who is being moved into a retirement home by his cruel second wife. Her grandmother, meanwhile, has been found in possession of a sinister sounding weapon called “the scintilltor” and something even worse in her woodshed. Penny’s parents have been missing in the Australian outback for many years now, and so Penny must deal with this spiralling family crisis alone.
Enter The Dog of The North. The Dog of the North is a borrowed van, replete with yellow gingham curtains, wood panelling, a futon, a pinata, clunky brakes, and difficult steering. It is also Penny’s getaway car from a failed marriage, a family in crisis and an uncertain future.
The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell
Winter, 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her.
Lucrezia is 16 years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away inside Florence’s grandest palazzo. Here, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.
What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival?
Trespasses, Louise Kennedy
There is nothing special about the day Cushla meets Michael, a married man from Belfast, in the pub owned by her family. But here, love is never far from violence, and this encounter will change both of their lives forever.
As people get up each morning and go to work, school, church or the pub, the daily news rolls in of another car bomb exploded, another man beaten, killed or left for dead. In the class Cushla teaches, the vocabulary of seven-year-old children now includes phrases like “petrol bomb” and “rubber bullets”. And as she is forced to tread lines she never thought she would cross, tensions in the town are escalating, threatening to destroy all she is working to hold together.
Wandering Souls, Cecile Pin
One night, not long after the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Thanh, and Minh flee their village and embark on a perilous boat journey to Hong Kong. Their parents and four younger siblings make the crossing in another vessel but as weeks go by it becomes clear that only one party has survived the voyage.
Anh, Thanh, and Minh suddenly find themselves alone in the world, without family or home. They travel on, navigating refugee camps and resettlement centres until, by a twist of fate, they arrive in Thatcher’s Britain. Here they must somehow build new lives with only each other to turn to, but will that be enough in a place that doesn’t seem to want them?