A deep dive into the Women’s Prize longlist

The first week of March marks the start of one my favourite times of the year – it’s Women’s Prize for Fiction season. Founded in 1996, the prize came into being as a response to the notable absence of female writers nominated for major literary prizes, in particular the Booker Prize (formerly called the Man Booker Prize, which tells you all you need to know). The increasingly diverse longlist of 16 books represents a hugely important and joyous recognition of the incredible fiction produced by women of all nationalities. With broadcaster and writer Louise Minchin chairing this year’s panel, the 2023 list is perhaps one of the most eclectic to date.

I can’t quite pinpoint when I began taking the Women’s Prize so seriously, but it has ultimately become for me an annual spring reading project to make my way through this handpicked selection of some of the finest work by female authors out there. Reading the longlist in its entirety is unfortunately too ambitious a task for me this year, as once again my degree rudely insists on leaving me with nowhere near enough time nor brain capacity to read for pleasure as much as I would like. The crevices of time I do manage to inhabit for reading will, however, be massively shaped by this intriguing list of novels, so I can still entertain myself by trying to predict what will make the shortlist or even take home the prize money. That being said, literary prizes (or indeed any kinds of arts award) are of course not really about winners or losers at all; fundamentally, it is a celebration of great literature, empowering the creativity and imagination of women writers across the globe. The best thing about the prize for me is the discussion and debate it sparks, as well as discovering books that may never have come to my attention otherwise.

The 2023 longlist spotlights an impressively diverse range of themes, settings, and perspectives, and it looks like there will be something for everyone on this list. As well as featuring some very well-accomplished authors, nine out of the sixteen are debut novels, bringing an exciting host of new voices to the fore of the literary world. Two previous winners, Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver, have made it to the list with their respective, very chunky novels, The Marriage Portrait and Demon Copperhead, and would become the first author to win twice should either of them take home the prize this year.

Some of the novels I am most excited to read from the list include Trespasses by Louise Kennedy, described by judge Rachel Joyce as “a doomed love story” set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks, which follows a young British Black woman growing up in 1970s London but embarks on a journey that takes her to Bristol and then to Jamaica. I have heard there is a focus on the reggae movement in this one, which certainly intrigues me as someone who loves fiction that incorporates music as a central theme. I am also very keen to get my hands on Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin (the only book I’ve been seeing all over Bookstagram recently due to its beautiful cover), which tells a story of immigration about a family fleeing from Vietnam by boat and arriving in Thatcher’s Britain where they try to build new lives. All three novels promise to be incredibly poignant, eye-opening reads I can’t wait to dive into.

Meanwhile, we have one for the Greek mythology lovers – Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes, a very popular feminist retelling of Medusa and one I’m not surprised to see on the list. Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead is an equally unsurprising inclusion and has a great premise – a retelling of David Copperfield set in a Virginian community ravaged by poverty and opioid addiction – although its sheer enormity has me quaking slightly. On the slimmer end of the longlist is I’m A Fan by Sheena Patel, an experimental – and apparently very intense – novel about social media and obsession. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this one, but the themes of race, privilege and male entitlement keep drawing me back to giving it a go. Other experimental novels on the list include Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova, set in a crumbling yet hallucinatory old cinema, and Pod by Laline Paull, narrated entirely from the perspective of a dolphin.

All in all, I think this is a hugely exciting list that takes us everywhere from Ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy to rural India and an imaginary underwater world. Once again, the Women’s Prize highlights just how rich and varied women’s fiction is. Without further ado, it’s time to get reading.  


Image by Liya Shin on Unsplash

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