The Women’s Prize for Fiction, arguably the second-most important British literary award after the Booker Prize, has announced the six finalists for the 2021 prize. Bernardine Evaristo, a finalist last year (and winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, along with Margaret Atwood), is chief judge.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books)
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller (Tin House Books)
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf)
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (Little Brown)
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead Books)
Three of the authors are American (Bennett, Gyasi, and Lockwood), Clarke and Fuller are British, and Jones is from Barbados.
In announcing the shortlist, Evaristo noted that, “Fiction by women defies easy categorization or stereotypes, and all of these books grapple with society’s big issues expressed through thrilling storytelling. We feel passionate about them and we hope readers will too.”
“We did want to champion books that introduced the reader to little-told stories,” Evaristo told The Guardian. Three [of the] books are about marginalized communities, and they are very fresh because of that,” said Evaristo. “Unsettled Ground really digs deep into rural England and people who are left behind by the system. Jones’ novel looks at what happens behind the scenes of the tourist industry, in a community of people who aren’t written about in the Caribbean. And Gyasi tells of a Ghanaian family in the Deep South and how they struggle to cope when their lives are torn asunder – it’s another forgotten community.”
She described Piranesi as “a trip. It’s probably the closest you can come to taking a hallucinogenic drug if you’ve not taken one before. She totally seduces you into this fantasy world – it’s so beautiful and mind-expanding, and completely original.”
The judges lauded Bennett’s followup to her acclaimed debut The Mothers as a “beautifully written novel, and psychologically very complex.”
They also praised Lockwood’s fiction debut (after her 2017 memoir, Priestdaddy). “It takes risks while maintaining warmth, being very moving and profoundly insightful into human nature,” said judges.
Longlisted books that didn’t make the cut included Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, Because of You by Dawn French, Luster by Raven Leilani, Consent by Annabel Lyon, Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon, Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, and Summer by Ali Smith.
Last year’s winner was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.
The winner will be announced on July 7 and will receive £30,000 in prize money ($41,755 in US dollars).