In the running: the six titles competing for this year’s Women’s Fiction Prize

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These are the books on this year's shortlist.
These are the books on this year's shortlist.

From a complex tale of middle-aged twins who’ve been raised in complete isolation to a genre-defying debut about real life colliding with the virtual world, we take a look at the six novels on the shortlist of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. 

The prestigious £30 000 (R600 000) British award, which was previously known as the Orange prize, is open to all female authors, irrespective of nationality, writing in English. It was launched in 1996 to recognise the literary talents of women who are often overlooked in major contests such as the Booker Prize and previous winners have included the likes of Zadie Smith, Tayari Jones and Rose Tremaine.

This year is the first time that the shortlist consists of authors who have never been nominated for the award before. Chair of the judges, Bernadine Evaristo, praised the diversity of stories on the shortlist.

“We did want to champion books that introduced the reader to little-told stories,” says Evaristo, who won the 2019 Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other.

The winner of the Women’s Prize will be announced on 7 July.


The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett


Twin sisters growing up in a black community in the American South run away at age 16, then separate and end up living in two very different worlds. It’s not just their living circumstances that are so vastly different but also their racial identities as the one sister secretly “passes” as white.

What the judges say: “It’s a beautifully written novel, and psychologically very complex. Twins are a perfect conceit, really,” Evaristo says.


By Susanna Clarke


Piranesi is a sweet and enthusiastic man who is imprisoned in a labyrinthine house that is magical, dangerous, puzzling, beautiful and strange and consists of hall after endless marble hall. In some, bones of the dead are devotedly cared for; in others, waves arch and albatrosses rear their young among enormous statues.

What the judges say: “It’s a trip,” Evaristo says. “It’s probably the closest you can come to taking a hallucinogenic drug if you’ve not taken one before. It’s so beautiful and mind-expanding, and completely original.”

Unsettled Ground

By Claire Fuller

Fig Tree

Middle-aged twins, Jeanie and Julius, have been kept in complete isolation from the world by their mother, Dot, in a rundown, rural cottage without internet, television or bank accounts and only a dog for company. But when she dies suddenly everything they’ve known is under threat as they face eviction and Dot’s tangled web of secrets starts to unravel.

What the judges say: “Unsettled Ground really digs deep into rural England and people who are left behind by the system,” Evaristo says.

Transcendent Kingdom

By Yaa Gyasi


Gifty is the child of Ghanaian immigrants whose family has been ravaged by depression, addiction and grief as they’ve gone about building a new life for themselves in America. Her mother is suicidal while her brother, a gifted high school athlete, died of a heroin overdose. As a PhD candidate in neuroscience, Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her.

What the judges say: “It had me in tears, wailing. It’s the most emotional I’ve been about a book in a long, long time,” Vick Hope, a British radio personality who is serving on the judging panel.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

By Cherie Jones


In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister. It’s a cautionary tale, about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. When she’s grown, Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal whose thwarted burglary of one of the beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences.

What the judges say: “It’s a tale of violence, loss and love in Barbados seen through four very vivid voices,” Elizabeth Day, author of Scissors Paper Stone and The Party.

No One Is Talking About This

By Patricia Lockwood


A writer whose tweets have gone viral travels the world meeting her adoring fans. But fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She starts feeling that “the portal” – as she refers to Twitter – is hijacking her life and taking over her brain. But then real life intervenes when her mother sends her a text saying “Something has gone wrong.”

What the judges say: “It takes risks while maintaining warmth, being very moving and profoundly insightful into human nature,” says Nesrine Malik, author of We Need New Stories.



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