Six novels were nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize List; some authors were complete unknowns to me. I delighted in discovering their books. I cannot wait for their next. Prize winner Eimear McBride was a complete revelation to me, I cannot say I loved reading her book: its contents and style were far too disturbing. It was a rewarding read however.
In order of preference my view on the five novels that did not win the prize.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
A complex novel that combines a number of topics so skillfully that it was an absolute delight to read. Although the topics are not easy and Adichie could easily have turned militant, she avoids all pitfalls. Her main protagonist, Ifemelu, is responsible. She is an opiniated woman but never feels the urge to fight for just causes in person. In her blogs she challenges afro-americans, non-american blacks and her fellow Nigerians to think about racial discrimation, corruption and personal choices. One of those choices shows Adichie’s talent: how to wear your hair becomes a symbol for all those just causes. Corn crows? Straight? Natural? Just remember that whatever choice has an effect on your (professional) life.
Hannah Kent – Burial Rites
An austere novel that impresses because of its description of life in Iceland in the 19th century. You can practically feel the cold and the darkness seeping through the pages. Main protagonist Agnes is one of the have nots. Her fate is determined when she kills a man, she has too die. While waiting for the executioner and the official procedures to be completed, Agnes is brought to the home of farmer Jon Jonsson. In the months she spends at his home the reader gets to know Agnes and starts to understand why she killed. Burial Rites clearly shows that life in a farming society in cold and dark Iceland was no picnic, Burial Rites also shows that in those farming societies unexpected friendships could grow.
Audrey Magee – The Undertaking
Another austere novel, dealing with loyalty to country and ‘Führer’ and loyalty to family and friends. Unfortunately family and friends are most frequently losers in The Undertaking. The war is all consuming, it takes first place always. Main protagonist Katharina has to learn the hard way that loyalty given to country and war is not necessarily the right priority. She loses her brother, son and husband to the war. Initially accepting the advantages that come with living close to Nazi officials, she starts to doubt towards the end of the war. Her husband Peter goes through the same process in Russia: he is to spend many bitterly cold day and night as a soldier and as a prisoner. Magee makes it very clear that it is not the high ranking officers or the Nazi officials who suffer the hardships, it is the loyal soldier who is used for their purposes and has to suffer for it. There are no heroes in The Undertaking, just plain civilians who do as they are told.
Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch
To be quite honest, I do not understand why this novel won a Pullitzer Prize. I can only imagine that is for the fact that at the very end the main character regrets his mistakes and sets out to correct them. A very American thing. I absolutely loved the pages in which Tartt describes the loss her main character Theo has to suffer when his mother dies, I have to admit that I disliked Theo that much that it influenced my appreciation of the novel. There were a few moments in the novel that I hoped Theo would get to his senses and start acting normal. Unfortunately I had to wait for the very end for him to admit that he was just not a nice guy.
Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland
The main reason Lahiri ends up last in my list is that the main character in her novel, Subhash, is just too placid. He goes with the flow, accepts difficulties and just continues going with the flow. As such the title is very fitting. Subhash resembles a lowland: water flows, encounters an object from time to time and finds it way around it. Lahiri covers 70 years in the life of her protagonist and never goes into the deep. We never get to know Subhash, we remain on the surface of the water. The Lowland is perfect if you want some tranquility, because that’s what Lahiri’s beatiful prose gives you.