Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013: longlist announced

Hilary Mantel nominated alongside six first-time novelists.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced. The prize, formerly known as the Orange Prize for Fiction, was set up in 1996 to celebrate international fiction by women. Any woman writing in English, regardless of nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter, is eligible to enter.

“The list we have ended up with is, we believe, truly representative of that diversity of style, content and provenance, and contains those works which genuinely inspired the most excitement and passion amongst the judges,” said Miranda Richardson, this year’s Chair of Judges.

Six authors - Bonnie Nadzam, Ros Barber, Shani Boianjiu, Francesca Segal and M L Steadman - have been nominated for first novels. Meanwhile three - Hilary Mantel, Barbara Kingslover and Michèle Roberts - have written eight or more. Boianjiu, an Israeli who writes in English, and Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, are the only nominees listed from outside the Anglophone world. Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingslover have won the Prize in previous years: Smith for On Beauty in 2006, Kingslover for The Lacuna in 2010. Here is the list in full:

Kitty Aldridge - A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson - Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber - The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu - The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti - How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes - May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingslover - Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen - The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel - Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam - Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins - The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts - Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal - The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple - Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak - Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith - NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman - The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany - Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson - Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

Shortly before last year’s winner was announced, Orange (now Everything Everywhere) announced it would no longer fund the award, choosing to focus instead on film sponsorship. After a number of fruity rumours, when no single financier stepped forward, a series of benefactors include Cherie Blair, Joanna Trollope and Bloomberg stepped in to plug the gap.

The shortlist will be announced on 16 April, while the coveted “Bessie” - a bronze statuette created by the artist Grizel Niven - and £30,000 cheque, will be awarded during a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall on 5 June. Past winners have included Lional Shriver, Marilynne Robinon, Téa Obreht and Madeline Miller, who won the Prize in 2012 with her novel The Song of Achilles.

Zadie Smith, who won the Prize in 2006, is nominated again this year. Photo: Getty Images.
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In Kid Gloves, the stories tumble out like washing from a machine

Adam Mars-Jones' has created a clever, stoical and cool account of caring for a dying father.

In bookish circles, it’s pretty commonplace these days to remark on the way in which the spirit of the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard hangs over our literary culture – noxious gas or enlivening blast of ­oxygen, depending on your point of view. Nor would I be the first critic to point out the similarities between his prolixity and that of the British novelist Adam Mars-Jones. Reviewing Knausgaard’s My Struggle in the New Yorker, James Wood likened its style – “hundreds of pages of autopsied minutiae” – to that of Mars-Jones’s novels Pilcrow and Cedilla, the first two volumes in a thus far unfinished project in “micro-realism”. But originality be damned: I’m going to say it anyway. As I read Mars-Jones’s new memoir, Kid Gloves: a Voyage Round My Father, it was Knausgaard I thought of repeatedly. Mostly, this was because I simply couldn’t believe I was so fascinated by a book that was at times so very boring.

Mars-Jones is by far the more elegant writer of the two. He is also feline where Knausgaard is only wide-eyed. Nevertheless, they clamber (slowly and with many pauses to consider the view) over comparable territory. What, after all, is Knausgaard’s account of the effect of milk on a bowl of ­cereal compared to Mars-Jones’s disquisition on the subject of orange juice? The Norwegian’s reverie is the longer of the two but it is Mars-Jones who is the more triumphantly banal. “Shopping on a Monday I saw a wide variety of types of orange juice on display in a supermarket and bought large quantities,” he writes early on. I love that “Monday” – it’s so precise. But it also prompts the question: which supermarket, exactly, was he in? Was it the same “large branch of Sainsbury’s” where, three paragraphs later, we find him picking up a carton of buttermilk?

You will think that I am taking the piss. I’m not – or not entirely. For all its pedantic weirdness, Mars-Jones’s memoir, clotted and rich and true, does its job rather well. As the subtitle suggests, at its heart is his tricky relationship with Sir William Mars-Jones, the high court judge who died in 1999. A clever man but also a difficult one (having made a bit of a leap in terms of education and social class, he clung rather ardently to certain comforting reflexes), he is brought to life vividly by his son, who often simply replays their most frustrating conversations. In doing so, Mars-Jones, Jr also tells us something of himself. He comes over as a bit silly and fastidious but also as clever, stoical, kindly and, above all, ever cool in the face of provocation. In this light, his Pooterish digressions are just another symptom of his unnervingly temperate personality, his clinical even-handedness.

His memoir is oddly artless, the stories tumbling out, one after another, like washing pulled from a machine. An account of his father’s better-known cases (he prosecuted in the Moors murders trial) shades into a detour on soup-making; an analysis of Sir William’s retirement – he gravitated, his son writes, towards the state of “inanition” – takes us, almost slyly, to an explanation of why Mars-Jones tenderly associates Badedas with shingles (a friend who had yet to discover he had Aids, of which shingles can be a symptom, bathed in it).

The reader waits, and waits, for the big scene, for the moment when Mars-Jones tells his father, a regular kind of homophobe, that he is gay. But in a strange way (it does arrive eventually) this is beside the point. From the outset, we know that it was Adam, not his brothers, who looked after his widowed father in his last days, sharing his flat in Gray’s Inn Square; so we know already that an accommodation has been reached, however horrifying Pater’s reaction was at the time. (Mars-Jones, Sr suggested that his son could not possibly be gay because, as a boy, he played with himself during a film starring Jacqueline Bisset; more cruelly, he delegated his clerk to research the possibilities of testosterone treatment for his son.) In any case, there is a universality here: for which of us, gay or not, hasn’t trembled on hearing our mother say, down the line from home, the dread phrase “Dad would like a word”?

After his father’s death, Mars-Jones attempts to continue to live in his parents’ home, insisting that the inn will have to evict him if it wants him gone. When it does turf him out, he writes a piece for the Times in which he denounces its members – in ­effect, his parents’ friends and neighbours. Is this just the response of a more than usually broke freelance writer? Or is it that of a man in deep grief?

Perhaps it’s both. Mars-Jones tells us quite a bit about his parlous finances but relatively little of his feelings of abandonment. He was closer to his mother. It is more than 15 years since his father died. And yet, here it is, his book. Those Knausgaardian impulses of his – perhaps they’re just displacement for his loss, word-fill for a void so unfathomably big that it still takes him by surprise, even now. 

Kid Gloves: a Voyage Round My Father is available now from Particular Books (£16.99)

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 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism