Tag Archives: Awards

Five Book Friday!

And a wealth of congratulations to Kamila Shamsie, who was awarded this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel, Home Fire!

Shamsie’s novelreworks Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone to tell the story of a British Muslim family’s connection to Islamic State was hailed by the judges of the prize as “the story of our times”.   According to the 2018 Chair of Judges Sarah Sands, said: “This was a dazzling shortlist, it had depth and richness and variety. We were forcibly struck by the quality of the prose. Each book had its champions. We loved the originality of mermaids and courtesans, we were awed by the lyrical truth of an American road trip which serves as a commentary of the history of race in America, we discussed into the night the fine and dignified treatment of a woman’s domestic abuse, we laughed over a student’s rite of passage and we experienced the truth of losing a parent and loving a child. In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.”

It’s a good day for books, beloved patrons, so let’s keep celebrating by taking a look at some of the other super-terrific stories that have swung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway: I don’t know about you, but Ruth Ware’s psychological thrillers are some of the highlights of my summer reading, so it’s with great pleasure that we introduce her newest novel, about a tarot card reader named Hal.  When Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but a tarot reader needs to be talented at reading people and adapting to their needs, so Hal decides to take matters into her own hands.  But at the funeral of the deceased, it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.  This book especially has earned Ware a number of comparisons to Agatha Christie, but there is also something delightfully modern about her unsettling plots and crafty, surprising heroines.  It’s also been earned starred reviews left, right, and center, including one from Booklist, who cheered, “The labyrinth Ware has devised here is much more winding than expected, with reveals even on the final pages… a clever heroine and an atmospheric setting, accented by wisps of meaning that drift from the tarot cards.”

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York: With the release of some 19th-century and early 20th-century medical records, it’s becoming possible to tell new, more compassionate, and insightful histories of madness, medicine, and the people who were caught up in medical and state institutions.  In this book, Stacy Holt uses narratives from the inhabitants of Roosevelt Island–once known as Blackwell’s Island, a stretch of land in New York’s East River that was the site of a lunatic asylum, two prisons, an almshouse, and a number of hospitals.  This was a site of terrible overcrowding; prisoners were enlisted to care for the insane; punishment was harsh and unfair; and treatment was nonexistent.  Yet despite the aching human tragedies and horror that Holt describes, there are also stories of hope, including the work of Reverend William Glenney French, who devoted his life to ministering to Blackwell’s residents, battling the bureaucratic mazes of the Department of Correction and a corrupt City Hall, and testifying at trials, all while wondering in his diary about man’s inhumanity to man.  This isn’t an easy read by any means, but it’s a significant one that asks a lot of pressing questions about today’s mental health treatments, as well as illuminating the past.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, describing this book as “a vivid and at times horrifying portrait of Blackwell’s Island…Horn has created a bleak but worthwhile depiction of institutional failure, with relevance for persistent debates over the treatment of the mentally ill and incarcerated.”

The Art of the Wasted DayAn ideal read for the summer, Patricia Hampl’s book is a delightfully different kind of travel story, describing her journeys to the homes of those who made repose a goal, even an art form.  She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of “retirement” in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne–the hero of this book–who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.  In the midst of this study, Hampl also recalls her own personal relationship with leisure, from her childhood days lazing under a neighbor’s beechnut tree to the joys discovered in quietly falling in love, which led to the greatest adventure of her life.  A thoughtful, emotional study about the joys found in thinking, in wandering, and in exploring, this is a book for all of you armchair explorers who are looking for a new kind of escape.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a glowing review of this book, calling it,  “A wise and beautiful ode to the imagination – from a child’s daydreams, to the unexpected revelations encountered in solitary travel, meditation, and reading, to the flights of creativity taken by writers, artists, and philosophers.”

The Order of Time: Carlo Rovelli’s study, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, made scary science into something accessible, beautiful, and downright enjoyable, and now he is back to study time.  We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears.  Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, Rovelli suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.  It’s a concept that makes sense when you consider that it was humans who made time and clocks and such things, but this journey ties those inventions into a much deeper, richer understanding of the world that will have you rethinking all the basic tenants of time that you thought you knew.  Scientific American loved this book, noting in its review how “Rovelli, a physicist and one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, uses literary, poetical and historical devices to unravel the properties of time, what it means to exist without time and, at the end, how time began.”

Social CreatureHere’s another thriller to keep your summer sizzling–in fact, Tara Isabella Burton is already drawing comparisons to Gillian Flynn and Tara French, so fans of those compulsively-readable authors should be quick to add this to their summer reading list.  Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship.  They go through both bottles of champagne, and as they drink, Lavinia tells Louise about all the places they will go together, when they finish their stories, when they are both great writers-to Paris and to Rome and to Trieste…but Lavinia will never go. She is going to die soon.  A modern twist on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, this book takes a razor-sharp look at our social conventions, all while telling a story that is addictive, dark, and scintillating in the ways of all good summer thrillers.  Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, praising “Burton’s exceptional character work…every individual is both victim and villain, imbuing their interactions with oceans of emotional subtext and creating conflict that propels the book toward its shocking yet inevitable conclusion…At once a thrilling and provocative crime novel, a devastating exploration of female insecurity, and a scathing indictment of society’s obsession with social media.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Golden Man Booker Prize

Readers of the Free-For-All will remember that we here get all fluttery and heart-eyes over the Man Booker Prize.  We love the way it has highlighted some of the most intriguing, beguiling, emotionally-gripping books of the past fifty years.  We love that the award is willing to grow an evolve.  While it originally only recognized books written in English and published in the United Kingdom, the award now accepts submissions from English-speaking countries around the world.  It has also added a prize for novels in translation: the Man Booker International Prize, which we also adore.  The award has also been addressing its implicit classism and biases by celebrating working-class authors over the past few years.  Between that and all the pomp, circumstance, and book lover that it engenders, the Man Booker Prize is one we truly love to watch.

And since this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Man Booker Prize, the good people of the award have determined to take things up a notch by announcing the Golden Man Booker Prize (in my head, this award is always in bold font, and is accompanied by trumpet fanfares).  According to the award website, “The Golden Man Booker will put all 51 winners – which are all still in print – back under the spotlight, to discover which of them has stood the test of time, remaining relevant to readers today.”  Five judges have been appointed to read the winning novels from each decade of the prize, and each judge has chosen which book, in his or her opinion, is the best winner from that particular decade, and will champion that book against the other judges’ selections. The judges’ ‘Golden Five’ shortlist was announced at the Hay Festival on May 26. The five books will then be put to a month-long public vote lasting until June 26.   The overall winner will be announced at the Man Booker 50 Festival on July 8.

To be truthful, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this award.  More to the point, I don’t know if it’s valid to compare a novel from one decade to that of another.  Time’s change.  Standards change.  Readers change.  Things also get really weird in discussing the books from this most recent decade.  Have these books withstood the test of time?  How can we adequately judge…especially where the chosen book was released less than a year ago?

You know what the cool part is, though? YOU CAN VOTE ON THE WINNER OF THE GOLDEN MAN BOOKER PRIZE!  Seriously, I’m way too excited about this.  But in order to be a conscientious voter, you need to be an educated voter.  So be sure to check out these short-listed books, and vote for your favorite!

So get reading, beloved patrons–and don’t forget to vote!

The 2018 Nebula Award Winners!

We are in the thick of awards season, beloved patrons, and let me tell you, it’s a good season to be a reader.  Last week, the winners of the 52nd Annual Nebula Awards were announced at the annual convention of the  Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)

The Nebula Awards (a picture of one of the awards is on the left) were first awarded in 1966, and have grown in prestige to be recognized as one of the most significant awards for science fiction and fantasy in publishing.  Each year, a novel, novella, novelette, and short story are chosen…and just in case you, too, were wondering what a “novelette’ is, it is defined by SFWA as “a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words”, while a “novella” is between 17,500 and 40,00 words.  Any book written in English and published in the United States is eligible for nomination, and members of SFWA cast their ballots for the favorite books.  This means that, essentially, the awards are chosen by readers and genre devotees, which means that they are not only of high quality in terms of genre and style, but that they are also a darned good read.  As you will see, screenplays are also recognized with the Ray Bradbury Award, and middle grade and young adult fiction is nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Once again, the Nebulas are a bastion of diversity and good storytelling.  As we mention each year, science fiction is a genre that is beautifully suited to questioning our current realities, imagining new ones, and crafting relationships that challenge and confront stereotypes.  Fantasy does this, as well, and you’ll see from the titles listed below, the authors honored at the Nebula Awards are gifted at utilizing and transforming the genres to tell wildly inventive, insightful, haunting and compelling stories that linger long after the final page has turned.

We hope you find some new reading and viewing fodder among the nominees and winners listed below.  For more information and a full list of Nebula winners, visit the SFWA’s website!

BEST NOVEL

WinnerThe Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin 

Nominees:

THE RAY BRADBURY AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING DRAMATIC PRESENTATION

Winner: Get Out (Written by Jordan Peele)

Nominees:

THE ANDRE NORTON AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY BOOK

WinnerThe Art of Starving, Sam J. Miller

Nominees:

And the winner of Man Booker International Prize is…

The Free-For-All is delighted to announce that Olga Tokarczuk of Poland, and her translator, Jennifer Croft, have won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for the novel Flights!

 

Flights is a fascinating, genre-defying set of linked fragments that travel from the 17th century to the present day, connected by themes of travel and human anatomy: A seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist discovers the Achilles tendon by dissecting his own amputated leg. Chopin’s heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally-ill high-school sweetheart, and a young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. Through these brilliantly imagined characters and stories, interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations, Flights explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time.

Tokarczuk and Croft, via http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-44219438

In a statement by the Man Booker Prize committee, Lisa Appignanesi, who led the judging panel, said: ‘Our deliberations were hardly easy, since our shortlist was such a strong one. But I’m very pleased to say that we decided on the great Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk as our winner: Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache. In Flights, brilliantly translated by Jennifer Croft, by a series of startling juxtapositions she flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament – where only plastic escapes mortality.’

Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft will share the £50,000 prize.  If you would like to experience the wonder of Flightsand Croft’s incredible translation–come by and talk to our friendly reference staff soon!

The 2017 (and eternal) RT Book Reviews Awards!

Several weeks ago, the editors of RT Book Reviews announced their selection for the best books of 2017.  The awards themselves will be handed out at RT’s annual convention, which is taking place this week in Reno, Nevada.  

RT Book Reviews (the RT stands for Romantic Times) was founded as a newsletter in 1981.  By the 2004, the magazine, now a glossy magazine, reported a subscription of 150,000 people, and billed itself as “Romance’s premiere genre magazine.”  The reviews, which covered most romance genres, as well as mystery, fiction, science fiction, thriller, and urban fantasy, were featured on book covers and websites.  The conventions brought readers face-to-face with some of the most influential and beloved writers across genres.

But today, it was announced that RT Book Reviews would be closing at the end of the month, when the founder and editor of the magazine, Kathryn Falk, will be retiring.  The full details of the closing have yet to be fully revealed, but you can be sure we will bring them to you when more is known.

Until then, however, we have the last round of RT Book Reviews Awards.  And, since there won’t be any more, we can only assume that these books will remain the best books in their category for all eternity!  We offer our heartiest congratulations to all the winners, and hope that you find some new books to savor from the list of winning titles below!  For a full list of all nominated titles, see RT Book Reviews website.

CONTEMPORARY LOVE & LAUGHTER:

Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Jenn McKinlay

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

BEST SUSPENSE

Shattered by Allison Brennan

Thanks for all the reviews and all the love, RT Books Reviews!  You’ll be missed!

#MeToo in the Literary World, Part 1

Last week was a difficult and complicated one in the book world, dear readers, as two news stories disrupted some long-established status quo’s, and unsettled many assumptions about spaces and people we might have held dear.  Conversations about these topics are by no means easy, and under no circumstances are pleasant.  But they are necessary, and, to many, vitally important ones to have.  So let’s make some space to have them.

Via The Financial Express

The first story is regarding the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature–or the lack thereof.  On Friday, the Nobel committed announced that there would be no prize awarded this year, after a series of resignations left the eighteen-person panel eight members short.  “The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence in the academy,” the body, founded by King Gustav III in 1786 and still under royal patronage, said in a statement.

As reported by The Guardian:

At the root of the institution’s unprecedented crisis are a raft of wide-ranging allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, a photographer and leading cultural figure in Sweden, who is married to Katarina Frostenson, an academy member and author.

Last November, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published detailed allegations by 18 women accusing Arnault of sexual harassment and physical abuse over a period of more than 20 years, in France and Sweden and including at properties owned by the academy.

According to reports, the first accusations against Arnault  were made in 1996, but remained silenced until mere months ago.  Moreover, Arnault and Frostenson ran a club in Stockholm that showcased exhibitions, readings and performances by prominent cultural personalities (including Nobel laureates) for many years, a position that gave Arnault access to the people he victimized.  Because the club was funded in part by the Academy, many have cited a conflict of interest.  Additionally, it has also been alleged that Arnault may have leaked the names of seven Nobel literature laureates in advance, which is problematic because the name of the winner is the subject of heavy betting.

In and of itself, this story was difficult enough.  It was compounded, however, by the Academy’s refusal to take any kind of corrective action when the news became public.  Public approbation fell on Frostenson, who is a member of the Nobel Prize panel, and three members of the 18-strong academy resigned last month in protest when she was not expelled.  That was followed by several large-scale protests in Sweden, specifically outside the Academy, by people who objected to punishing a woman for the actions of a man.  On Friday, April 13, permanent secretary, Sara Danius, the first woman to hold the post since its foundation in 1786, stepped aside after an emergency meeting was called by the Nobel Committee.  Although Danius had worked aggressively to clarify the institution’s relationship with Forum and have , she stated that she felt she had lost the confidence of that committee:

“All traditions are not worth preserving,” she told the Swedish press agency TT on Friday, calling on the academy to make ethics a priority, report and prosecute allegations of misconduct and fight male abuse of power and degrading treatment of women. “Caring for a legacy must not mean an arrogance and distance to society at large,” she said.

Danius’ resignation has been met with anger and protest as well, with many arguing, once again, that a woman is being punished as a result of the actions of a man.  Following Danius’ departure, three male committee members resigned in protest.  Ms. Frostenson has also since resigned.

Sara Danius, via the Sri Lanka Guardian

Technically, committee members are appointed for life, so they can’t actually resign.  However, they can refuse to take their chairs, leaving the committee itself too weak–and too affected by recent news stories and subsequent anger–to make any competent decisions regarding awards.

As a result, according to the announcement made on Friday, is that the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes for Literature will be awarded in 2019.    This is not the first time there has been no award.  Since its establishment in 1901, there have been seven years without a prize: 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943.  The majority of those years, obviously, were during World Wars.  The reason for skipping the prize in 1935 has not been disclosed. It has also been “reserved”, meaning that there were no suitable winners, in 1915, 1919, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1936 and 1949.  This is the first year, however, that the prize will not be awarded as the result of a scandal.

So, what do we make of this?

There are any number of opinion pieces coming out this week stating that the world is better off, overall, without the Nobel Prize.  According to an opinion piece in The New York Times, the idea that people from one country are in any way qualified to judge the cultural products of another is fundamentally ludicrous:

Literature is not tennis or football, where international competition makes sense. It is intimately tied to the language and culture from which it emerges. Literary style distinguishes itself by its distance from the other styles that surround it…What sense does it make for a group from one culture — be it Swedish, American, Nigerian or Japanese — to seek to compare a Bolivian poet with a Korean novelist, an American singer-songwriter with a Russian playwright, and so on? Why would we even want them to do that?

Meanwhile, The Atlantic believes that the free market should decide whose books are best:

Good criticism helps people to find the books that will speak to them, but it doesn’t attempt to simply name “the most outstanding work,” in the way the Nobel Prize does. It is impossible to name the single best writer for the same reason that you can’t speak of the single best human being: There are too many different criteria for judgment….A book earns the status of a classic, not because it is approved by a committee or put on a syllabus, but simply because a lot of people like it for a long time. Literary reputation can only emerge on the free market, not through central planning…*

*For the record, the idea that a book “earns the status of a classic…simply because a lot of people like it” is really just not true.  People’s opinions are weighted based on their power and influence in society.  And writers’ ability to reach wide audiences is also based on their power and privilege.  To pretend that there is a fundamental egalitarianism in the production and dissemination of any art form, especially in a capitalist society, is absurd.

The New York Times
People gathered in Stockholm on Thursday in a show of support for Sara Danius,

Which leads me to another point that can be drawn from this whole situation: nothing is sacred.  If anything, the scandal of the 2018 Nobel Prize has forced us to reckon with the fact that the #MeToo movement, that sexual misconduct and abuse of power and taking people’s humanity for granted, is not something that is relegated to a specific industry, or a specific group of people, or that it is a product of a specific place, culture, class, or time.   It is a problem inherent across the social and cultural spectrum.  And this year without an award provides us sometime to think about that.  To realize that awards like the Nobel (and like so many others) largely only recognize the achievements of those who have come before them.  Women, People of Color, people who represent non-binary sexual and gender identities, people from working-class backgrounds, people with immigrant and refugee status, all of these people, and many more, have gone unrecognized by awards, and are not considered “classics”–not because of their literary merit, but because of how these awards are structured, and how we come to think about who is qualified to tell stories.

And in thinking about whose stories matter, this year should also force us to realize that everyone’s stories matter–not only those in print, but the ones that we tell each other.  The stories about violent, invasive, or abusive actions.  The cries for help.  Those stories count, and we–as individuals, as members of communities, and as institutions devoted to storytelling–need to do better about listening to them.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist!

What we once knew as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has undergone some changes in the past year, dear readers.  However, though the sponsorship for the prize has changed (it is now shared between Baileys, the financial services firm Deloitte and the bank NatWest), the award is still very much dedicated to celebrating the diversity, skill, and power of fiction written by women.

As we’ve discussed here before, book awards have, traditionally, overlooked the contributions of women, people of color, and people who are not connected with elite schools or institutions.  And that simply isn’t reflective of the world of publishing, or the world of readers.  Books, and their authors, are as diverse as the world around us.  It’s critical that all types of voices are heard, and that people around the world can find the stories they need; stories that represent them, that challenge them, and that help them see more of the world than they otherwise could.

And that’s one of the reasons that the Women’s Prize for Fiction is so critical.  It recognizes those women that challenge the status quo with their work, it recognizes those works that ask difficult questions, probe troubling issues in our world, and which offer us a worldview to which we might not otherwise have access.  They also tend to be sensationally good books, which is always an enormous plus!

Via https://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk

This year’s shortlist features one previously shortlisted author and three debut novels.  As Sarah Sands, 2018 chair of judges noted, “The shortlist was chosen without fear or favour. We lost some big names, with regret, but narrowed down the list to the books which spoke most directly and truthfully to the judges…The themes of the shortlist have both contemporary and lasting resonance encompassing the birth of the internet, race, sexual violence, grief, oh and mermaids.”  And so, with an introduction like that, let’s get to the books!  The titles and descriptions are provided below:

The Idiot by Elif Batuman: A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself. The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

Home Fire by Kamila ShamsieFrom an internationally acclaimed novelist, the suspenseful and heartbreaking story of a family ripped apart by secrets and driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences. Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, an invitation from a mentor in America has allowed her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half the globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to–or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward:  Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise. This is a novel that grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar: One September evening in 1785, Jonah Hancock hears an urgent knocking on his front door near the docks of London. The captain of one of Jonah’s trading vessels is waiting eagerly on the front step, bearing shocking news. On a voyage to the Far East, he sold the Jonah’s ship for something rare and far more precious: a mermaid. Jonah is stunned—the object the captain presents him is brown and wizened, as small as an infant, with vicious teeth and claws, and a torso that ends in the tail of a fish. It is also dead.  As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlors and brothels, all of London is curious to see this marvel in Jonah Hancock’s possession. Thrust from his ordinary existence, somber Jonah finds himself moving from the city’s seedy underbelly to the finest drawing rooms of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of the coquettish Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on—and a shrewd courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting sparks a perilous liaison that steers both their lives onto a dangerous new course as they come to realize that priceless things often come at the greatest cost.  Available in the US in September 2018

Sight by Jessie Greengrass: In this dazzling debut novel, our unnamed narrator recounts her progress to motherhood, while remembering the death of her own mother ten years before, and the childhood summers she spent with her psychoanalyst grandmother.  Woven among these personal recollections are significant events in medical history: Wilhelm Rontgen’s discovery of the X-ray; Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis and the work that he did with his daughter, Anna; and the origins of modern surgery and the anatomy of pregnant bodies.  Ultimately, this is a novel about being a parent and a child: what it is like to bring a person in to the world, and what it is to let one go. Available in the US in August 2018

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy: Seduced by politics, poetry and an enduring dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor. Moving with him to a rain-washed coastal town, she swiftly learns that what for her is a bond of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealized version of an obedient wife, bullying her and devouring her ambition of being a writer in the process, she attempts to push back – a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape. At once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the invincible power of art, When I Hit You is a smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India. Available in the US in June 2018

Congratulations to all the nominees–we’ll be marking our calendars for the release of these terrific books later this year in the US, and eagerly awaiting the announcement of the winner on June 6!