Bailey’s Women’s Prize For Fiction

All posts tagged Bailey’s Women’s Prize For Fiction

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Published July 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

What did I think?:

If you haven’t heard of The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, where on earth have you been?! This gorgeous, one of a kind novel (with equally stunning cover art) has been critically acclaimed and nominated or won a host of awards including being long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, nominated for best novel at the Costa Book Awards in 2016, winning the Waterstone’s Book Of The Year in 2016 and the British Book Award for Book Of The Year earlier this year. It was picked as one of the books for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club recently and although it’s been languishing on my shelves for months now, I’ve finally had an opportunity to pick it up. All I can say is I have no idea why it took me so long! The Essex Serpent deserves all the praise and glory that it has had so far and is truly one of the most beautiful and special books that I’ve had the honour to read.

The scene is set in the 1890’s where a young woman, Cora Seaborne has just become widowed from her controlling, manipulative husband and relatively loveless marriage. Feeling like the entire world has been lifted from her shoulders, she decides to travel to Colchester with her son and good friend, Martha to explore one of her biggest passions – the natural world and fossil hunting. While she is there she meets local vicar, Will Ransome and his wife Stella who she develops a strong friendship with as they discuss science and faith, myths and legends. The village of Aldwinter has become subject to a terrifying prospect in recent times. Unexplained deaths and strange occurrences for the inhabitants of the village are being blamed on the return of a mythical creature, The Essex Serpent who appears to be terrorising the land and the people.

Will and Cora form an intense bond as The Essex Serpent continues to roam the land, Will believing that it’s a lot of superstition and nonsense and as the parish vicar, has the thankless job of trying to reassure and calm his flock. Meanwhile, Cora sees things scientifically and believes it may be the potential return of an ancient creature only previously captured in fossils and is determined to make history by cataloguing its existence. This story is about the relationship between Will and Cora, the differences between hard science and true faith and about love in all the ways that it happens upon us.

I have to admit, this story is a bit of a slow burner to begin with. Please, please stick with it though because by about one hundred pages through I was completely hooked. It’s a study on nature, the environment, superstition and logic and has some of the most beautifully descriptive writing that I’ve ever experienced. It gives you that cosy feeling that’s a rare experience which only happens with a very unique type of book – like you’re warm and cosy under a thick blanket with a cup of hot tea and you’re experiencing the happiest moment of your life. That’s exactly how I felt when reading this book. There are so many secondary characters as well as the wonderful Cora and Will to relish and each one of them was so perfectly drawn that I felt I knew them intimately as friends.

I also loved that there were a number of sub plots and extra things going on that felt equally important and connected to the main narrative like Dr Luke Garrett’s fight to control his feelings for Cora, the excellent passage where he performs open heart surgery for the first time and the wonderful Martha’s determination to improve living conditions for the poor people in Victorian London, parts of which really rang true when we think about conditions for those living in poverty today, horrifically enough! I really can’t gush enough about this extraordinary novel. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time and I feel lucky just to have had the opportunity to read it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Talking About A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton with Chrissi Reads

Published August 25, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love
 
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Amaterasu spends most of the novel feeling that she is to blame for things that have happened. How has this affected her life and does the novel provide a resolution?

BETH: Poor Amaterasu! I found her such a fascinating character and alternated between feeling really cross with her and then really sorry for her after her actions lead to her living such a sad, lonely life when her husband dies. Her potential grandson turns up on her doorstep one day after he had been searching for her for quite a while and you begin to see the start of a relationship between the two as Amaterasu thinks back to the events that caused her to lose her daughter and believe her grandson was dead. She escapes to America with her husband as she doesn’t feel that she can stay in Nagasaki because of all the bad memories associated with it. Even though she promises her husband on his death bed that she will try and integrate herself with the community, she becomes a virtual recluse, even developing a bit of an alcohol problem and it is only with the appearance of a man that claims to be a grandson that she can put old ghosts to rest.

BETH: Could you understand why Amaterasu made the decisions she did?

CHRISSI: Somewhat, I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for others! Amaterasu has to look back at her life and begin to come to terms with what happened in the time period before, during and after the bombing. It takes Amaterasu some courage to look back at her past and look for forgiveness for her actions so she can live the rest of her life in peace. It is a particularly painful look back for Amaterasu as she feels pain and immense guilt after her actions.

CHRISSI: What did you feel that you learnt about Japanese culture and the differences between East and West?

BETH: I felt I learned so much! This book is really special for the little paragraphs above each chapter that describe a Japanese word or phrase and what it means for the Japanese people. Even though the author is British, the novel is inspired by her years living in Nagasaki in the 90’s and it’s obvious she’s done her research and really integrated herself into the Japanese mindset. The East and West cultures can be quite different but it’s always fascinating to learn about a different culture and way of life.

BETH: Did your opinion of Sato change at any point in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: Not really. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like Sato as a character at all. I get the feeling that I was supposed to find some sympathy for him, but I just found him infuriating. I guess he did try and find redemption within his letters and his adopting an orphan, but for me, my opinion didn’t change. I didn’t find him likeable at all.

CHRISSI: You love Japanese fiction.  Did this book live up to your expectations?

BETH: I certainly do and it certainly did. It reminded me of Memoirs Of A Geisha and was beautifully written with a fascinating plot and intriguing characters, especially our main character Amaterasu. I also felt like I learned a lot about the horrors of the Nagasaki bombing and the effect it had on so many people’s lives and it’s encouraged me to read a bit more into it.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think it would depend on what the subject matter was. I do think the writer has a beautiful writing style, but I wouldn’t race to read another.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’S star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

 

Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction Longlist Revealed!

Published March 18, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk

The Baileys Prize for fiction (previously known as the Orange prize) was first established in 1996 and celebrates work from female authors all over the world. The long-list for 2016 was announced on Tuesday 8th March and it looks so amazing that I just had to set myself a little challenge. Yes, to read the long-list! I’ve got a little head start as I finished A Little Life recently and plan to read The Glorious Heresies as part of my Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC review copy month in April as I was lucky enough to receive a copy a while back from Book Bridgr. Here are the titles long-listed this year with a mini description of each as I take the best bits from the GoodReads synopsis:

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Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins

A companion novel to Life After Life focusing on Ursula’s younger brother Teddy as he faces living in a future he never expected to have.

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Shirley Barrett: Rush Oh!

A debut novel about a young woman coming of age in one of the harshest whaling seasons in the history of New South Wales. Family struggles, sibling rivalries, first love and a bit of a “dark side” this novel blends both fact and fiction to celebrate an extraordinary episode in history.

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Cynthia Bond: Ruby

Beautiful Ruby Bell has suffered beyond imagining and flees her small town for New York in the 1950’s. When a telegram requests her return she is forced to confront the devastating violence in her childhood.

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Geraldine Brooks: The Secret Chord

The Old Testament’s King David is brought to life in Second Iron Age Israel through the eyes of those who love and fear him. A beautifully written saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal and power.

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Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this novel tells the tale of nine different characters somewhere in our crowded sky. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

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Jackie Copleton: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

Amaterasu Takahashi opens her door to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing.

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Rachel Elliott: Whispers Through a Megaphone

Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper while Ralph has opened a closet door to discover his wife doesn’t love him and never has. A chance meeting of the two explores their attempts to meaningfully connect with themselves and others, in an often deafening world – when sometimes all they need is a bit of silence.

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Anne Enright: The Green Road

Spanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children. When Christmas Day reunites the children under one roof, each confronts the terrible weight of family ties and the journey that brought them home. The Green Road is a major work of fiction about the battles we wage for family, faith, and love.

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Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory

Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life.

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Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky

London dances to the tune of Gorsky’s billions. The most enigmatic of oligarchs, Gorsky has been led to the city by his love for Natalia, whom he first knew in Russia. That she is now married to an Englishman is an inconvenient detail. When Gorsky’s armour-plated car halts in front of a down-at-heel bookshop, the startled young man behind the till receives the commission of a lifetime. The bookseller suddenly gains privileged access to the wealthy and the beautiful; a world filled with delectable books but fraught with danger…

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Clio Gray: The Anatomist’s Dream

Philbert is born with a ‘taupe’, a disfiguring inflammation of the skull. Abandoned by both parents and with only a pet pig for company, he eventually finds refuge and companionship in a travelling carnival, Maulwerf’s Fair of Wonders. But then Philbert meets Kwert, ‘Tospirologist and Teller of Signs’, and when he persuades the boy to undergo examination by the renowned physician and craniometrist, Dr Ullendorf, both Kwert and Philbert embark on an altogether darker and more perilous journey that will have far-reaching consequences for a whole nation.

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Melissa Harrison: At Hawthorn Time

An exquisite and intimate novel about four people’s lives and our changing relationship with nature. As the lives of these four people overlap, we realize that mysterious layers of history are not only buried within them, but also locked into the landscape. A captivating novel, At Hawthorn Time is about what it means to belong—to family, to community, and to place—and about what it is to take our own, long road into the unknown.

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Attica Locke: Pleasantville

In this sophisticated thriller, lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put an electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.

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Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies

One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Biting, moving and darkly funny, The Glorious Heresies explores salvation, shame and the legacy of Ireland’s twentieth-century attitudes to sex and family.

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Elizabeth McKenzie: The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that’s as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (anti-establishment) values, and with the spectre of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now. Throughout, Elizabeth McKenzie asks: Where do our families end and we begin? How do we stay true to our ideals? And what is that squirrel really thinking? Replete with deadpan photos and sly appendices, The Portable Veblen is at once an honest inquiry into what we look for in love and an electrifying reading experience.

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Sara Nović: Girl at War

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later Ana is haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

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Julia Rochester: The House at the Edge of the World

Shortly after their eighteenth birthday, twins Morwenna and Corwin’s father dies accidentally (and ignominiously) when he falls off a cliff, drunk. Over the past fifty years, Matthew has meticulously painted every important event in the family’s life on top of an ordnance survey chart. Part record and part legend, the map has been a subject of fascination to Morwenna and Corwin for as long as they can remember. But is there a deeper meaning hidden among the tiny pictures of shipwrecks, asps and farting devils, and could it lead them closer to what really happened to their father all those years ago?

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Hannah Rothschild: The Improbability of Love

Annie McDee, alone after the disintegration of her long-term relationship and trapped in a dead-end job, is searching for a present for her unsuitable lover in a neglected second-hand shop. Annie stumbles across ‘The Improbability of Love’, a lost masterpiece by Antoine Watteau, one of the most influential French painters of the eighteenth century. Soon Annie is drawn unwillingly into the art world, and finds herself pursued by a host of interested parties that would do anything to possess her picture. In her search for the painting’s true identity, Annie will uncover the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so, she will learn more about herself, opening up to the possibility of falling in love again.

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Elizabeth Strout: My Name is Lucy Barton

In My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter. Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

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Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

I’m loving this list and can’t wait to get stuck in! I’m particularly intrigued and looking forward to A God In Ruins which I got as a Christmas present from my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads, A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding (love anything remotely Japanese based), Girl at War and The House At The Edge Of The World which I have copies of from NetGalley, The Book Of Memory which I have as a Goldsboro Book Of The Month customer, The Improbability of Love which has been on my radar for a while now and The Anatomist’s Dream which looks fascinating. But hey – don’t they all look great? I’m championing A Little Life at the moment (review to come at some point) which was so amazing I don’t have enough words to describe my love for it. That could all change however once I’ve read the complete long-list!

Have you read any of these titles or which ones are you excited about? Let’s have a chat about it in the comments below!