2012 Orange Prize: A Lackluster Shortlist

The Orange Prize judges released their shortlist last night:

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.

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7 Comments to 2012 Orange Prize: A Lackluster Shortlist

  1. Fay's Gravatar Fay
    April 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Well, fiddlestick. I just broke down and ordered The Song of Achilles and Foreign Bodies. Those two were looking good before the shortlist announcement. State of Wonder did not do much for me; I did not finish it.

  2. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    April 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Ouch. I loved “Lord of Misrule.”

  3. Kate Burn's Gravatar Kate Burn
    April 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I finished Gillespie and I last night and thought as I closed it how easy it would be to underrate the skillfulness of this book. The ambiguity is so carefully structured throughout and yet I wan’t constantly aware of skeleton supporting the story. Except occasionally when I would smile at how very clever it was. While I haven’t read much of the competition, I was very sorry to see it excluded from the short list.

  4. April 18, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    I almost share your opinion of the Oranges (I’m slightly more positive about the shortlist as a whole) but agree that Gillespie and I should have made the cut. I think the most startling absence is for Ali Smith’s book. I didn’t enjoy it, but it is very skillfully written and far cleverer than anything else published this year. The Forgotten Waltz is my personal favourite, but I think I agree with you about Half Blood Blues taking the title. I also think I underated it on reading, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it.

  5. April 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I agree about Lord of Misrule (which I forced myself to read when I was a finalist for the National Book Award) and The Submission (which I gleefully returned to the library this morning, unfinished). I thought “There But For The” might be short listed, and I wasn’t surprised about Half Blood Blues being there, but I haven’t read any of the others to fully weigh in.

  1. By on April 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

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