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The Shortlist: Women’s Prize For Fiction 2021

The Women’s Prize for Fiction celebrates women’s creativity, and honours outstanding, ambitious, original fiction written in English by women from anywhere in the world. This year’s shortlist has been selected by the Chair of judges Bernardine Evaristo and her judging panel: podcaster, author, and journalist, Elizabeth Day; TV and radio presenter, journalist and writer, Vick Hope; print columnist and writer, Nesrine Malik; and news presenter and broadcaster, Sarah-Jane Mee.

If you’re looking for an inspiring title to lose yourself in or a fresh story for book club discussions, we’d recommend the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction as the place to start.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides which thunder up staircases, the clouds which move in slow procession through the upper halls. Twice a week, Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food and water lilies to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone. Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they, and what do they want? Are they a friend, or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?

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Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their rented cottage is simultaneously their armour against the world and their sanctuary. Inside its walls, they make music, while in the garden, they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance. But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. At the risk of losing everything, Jeanie and her brother must fight to survive in an increasingly dangerous world as their mother’s secrets unfold, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake. This is a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power how the truths closest to us are often hardest to see.

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No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet – or what she terms ‘the portal’. Are we in hell? The people of the portal ask themselves. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die? Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: ‘Something has gone wrong’ and ‘How soon can you get here?’ As real-lif collides with the increasing absurdity of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy and justice in the universe and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

As a child, Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two–and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away. Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life, she turns to science for answers. But when her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach farther than she ever thought. Tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America.

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How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister, a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. For Wilma, a wilful adventurer who ignored the warnings of those around her and suffered as a result. When Lala grows up, she sees it offers hope – of life after losing a baby in the most terrible circumstances and marrying the wrong man. And Mira Whalen? It’s about keeping alive, trying to make sense of the fact that her husband has been murdered, and she didn’t get the chance to tell him that she loved him after all. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House is the story of three marriages and a beautiful island paradise where, beyond the white sand beaches and the wealthy tourists, lies poverty, menacing violence and the story of the sacrifices some women make to survive.

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“We are excited to present a gloriously varied and thematically rich exploration of women’s fiction at its finest. These novels will take the reader from a rural Britain left behind to the underbelly of a community in Barbados; from inside the hectic performance of social media to inside a family beset by addiction and oppression; from a tale of racial hierarchy in America to a mind-expanding tale of altered perceptions. Fiction by women defies easy categorisation or stereotyping, and all of these novels grapple with society’s big issues expressed through thrilling storytelling. We feel passionate about them, and we hope readers do too.” – Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 Chair of Judges and award-winning author Bernardine Evaristo.

The announcement of the winner will be on Wednesday 7 July 2021.

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