The Orange Prize judges released their shortlist last night:
- Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
- The Forgotten Waltz, Anne Enright
- Painter of Silence, Georgina Harding
- The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
- State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
- Foreign Bodies, Cynthia Ozick
As is usually the case when a shortlist is announced, I am wincing. First, the good news: The Submission didn’t make the cut, nor did On the Floor. Those were the two weakest books on the longlist, in my opinion, and seemed to have been included as much for the timeliness of their subject matter as for any literary merit. The astonishingly overrated Lord of Misrule was also left off the list.
Still, I think this is a pretty weak list for the Orange Prize. I’m happy with the inclusion of Half Blood Blues and and The Song of Achilles. And I haven’t read The Forgotten Waltz yet, so perhaps I’ll fall in love with it. But State of Wonder? It’s interesting, but it’s also a mess with an ending that is both contrived and predictable. Painter of Silence? Boring and reminiscent of The English Patient in all the wrong ways. Foreign Bodies? Clever but slight. (Still, I am happy for Cynthia Ozick, whom I adore.)
Meanwhile, my favorites from the longlist—Roopa Farooki’s The Flying Man, Jane Harris’s Gillespie & I, and A. L. Kennedy’s The Blue Book—were all snubbed. The Flying Man is the second book I’ve read by Farooki, and now I want to read all of them. Farooki is one of those writers who don’t seem to be as well-known or frequently read as they should be. She has a very deft hand with characterization and in this book made me sympathize with a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. Gillespie & I is cleverly written, with a deceptively simple structure, and is deliciously creepy in the end. I am still in the middle of The Blue Book, which requires slow and thoughtful reading, but I love the way it is written and constructed.
Were I queen of the Orange Prize, my own shortlist would include those three books, Half Blood Blues–which I think I underrated when I first read it–The Song of Achilles, and The Night Circus. Gillespie & I would win. Of the current shortlist, I am rooting for The Song of Achilles, but I think Half Blood Blues will take home the prize.
P.S. Speaking of literary prizes and snubs, of course yesterday’s big publishing news was the the Pulitzer Prize board declined to award a fiction prize this year. My initial reaction was that I couldn’t blame them, as I don’t think 2011 was a very strong year for U. S. fiction. (Lots of people disagree with me, including Laura Miller and David Abrams.) My second reaction was that if I were queen of the Pulitzer Prize, I would give it to Russell Banks’s Lost Memory of Skin, which is (in my opinion) brilliant and provocative and complicated and unforgettable and possibly too edgy for the Pulitzer, since its effect is to make the reader empathize with the plight of convicted sex offenders. Still, I award it the 2011 Bassham Prize, which I have just made up. You should read it.
P.P.S. It’s not on the topic of this blog post, at all, but Toni Morrison gave an interview to the Guardian, and….wow. You must read it.