Orange Prize 2012 longlist announced

Ali Smith, Cynthia Ozick and A L Kennedy are among the heavyweights chosen.

The judges of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction have announced their 20-book longlist. Here are this year's nominees (with links to New Statesman reviews where available, and the author's nationality indicated):

Karin Alternberg, Island of Wings (Quercus, Swedish)
Aifric Campbell, On the Floor (Serpent's Tail, Irish)
Leah Hager Cohen, The Grief of Others (The Clerkenwell Press, American)
Emma Donoghue, The Sealed Letter (Picador, Irish)
Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail, Canadian)
Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz (Jonathan Cape, Irish)
Roopa Farooki, The Flying Man (Headline, Review British)
Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (Quercus, American)
Georgina Harding, Painter of Silence (Bloomsbury, British)
Jane Harris, Gillespie & I (Bloomsbury, British)
Francesca Kay, The Translation of the Bones (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, British)
A.L. Kennedy, The Blue Book (Jonathan Cape, British)
Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (Harvill Secker, American)
Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles (Bloomsbury, American)
Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies (Atlantic Books, American)
Ann Pratchett, State of Wonder (Bloomsbury, American)
Ali Smith,There but for the (Hamish Hamilton, British)
Anna Stothard, The Pink Hotel (Alma Books, British)
Stella Tillyard, Tides of War (Chatto & Windus, British)
Amy Waldman, The Submission (William Heinemann, American) (Read Jonathan Derbyshire's interview with Amy Waldman.)

The judges are Joanna Trollope (Chair), Lisa Appignanesi, Victoria Derbyshire, Natalie Haynes and Natasha Kaplinsky. The list is notable for the presence of some fairly big-hitters, including Ali Smith, Anne Enright, A L Kennedy and the veteran American author Cynthia Ozick. Esi Edugyan, who was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, is also on the list. The shortlist will be announced on 17 April and the prize awarded at a ceremony in London on 30 May.

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Against the Law: Peter Wildeblood must be one of the bravest men who ever lived

BBC2's historical gay rights film evokes bewilderment, fear and agonising pain.

My head told me that Against the Law (26 July, 9pm), the BBC’s film about Peter Wildeblood, the only openly gay man to give evidence to Lord Wolfenden’s committee, wasn’t up to much. Wildeblood was one of the three men who in 1954 were convicted of buggery in the notorious Montagu case (the others being Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and his cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers) – a trial that led, thanks to unease about the verdict, to the inquiry that resulted in the Wolfenden report, which in 1957 recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain.

The film is based on the book Wildeblood published (he was a journalist) after his release from Wormwood Scrubs. Its script, by Brian Fillis, was underpowered and off-puttingly didactic, and I couldn’t understand, at first, the decision to keep interrupting the drama with the spoken-to-camera recollections of a series of elderly gay men. But at some point my heart, which was aching, told my head to shut up. This is… good enough, I thought, watching the film’s last few moments, in which the 89-year-old Roger and the 77-year-old Percy tenderly kissed for the camera. I was mad for Roger. Did he remember Wolfenden? My dear, how could he ever forget it? At the time, he was having an affair with Lord Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, which certainly added piquancy to the newspaper reports as he read them over breakfast.

If I’d been casting this piece, I might have gone for a floppy-haired Matthew Goode type for Wildeblood, the former public school boy – but that would have been my mistake. It’s hard to imagine a finer performance than the one given by Daniel Mays, an actor who is not even remotely floppy haired.

Here was all of the wit and compassion you find in Wildeblood’s prose, combined with emotions I’d hitherto only been able rather half-heartedly to imagine: bewilderment, fear, agonising pain. As Wildeblood watched his former lover, an RAF corporal called Edward McNally, turn Queen’s evidence during his trial, May’s face grew slack with disbelief. He looked, to me, as if some unknown hand was quietly disembowelling him. By which had he been most betrayed? Love, or the law of the land?

Everyone knows what followed, but it was horrible to see nevertheless. Mailbags were sewn; aversion therapy was discussed (the prison shrink, played with viper-like precision by Mark Gatiss, told Wildeblood he could either receive a series of electric shocks or a drug that would make him vomit for two days). I thought, not for the first time, that Wildeblood must have been one of the bravest men who ever lived – though it’s not as if he wanted for company: the director’s talking heads, silver of hair and soft of jowl, reminded us of this at every turn, and I was glad of the human punctuation they provided. For most of us, this stuff is history. For them, it had been life.

Some people are devoted to newts, and others to hobbits; a few enjoy recreating the battles of the Civil War. The film My Friend Jane (17 July, 7pm) got down and not very dirty with the Austen super-fans, by which I mean not those who have read Sanditon and The Watsons but types who like to dress in full Regency garb and dance to the sound of a spinet come Saturday night. Actually, it’s scarier than this. A former doctor, Joana Starnes, breathlessly described her new career as a writer of “top-tier JAF”. Translated, this means highly superior Jane Austen fan fiction. She’s produced seven JAF novels, which sounds like a lot until you discover that 60 come out every month.

Zack Pinsent, meanwhile, who is 22, makes his living as a period tailor in Hove, where he likes to promenade in fall-front trousers – a flap enables the gentleman thereby to pee – and top hat. I wanted to laugh at him, and all the other empire-line eccentrics in this odd little documentary. But there was something touching about their obsession; at least they didn’t attempt to intellectualise it, unlike those literary fan girls who have lately taken to writing entire books about why their lives would be meaningless without this or that great writer for company. 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue