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.
SAMUEL COURTAULD TRUST
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The paintings designed to better sculpture

In Pieter Bruegel’s hands, even black and white paintings can be full of colour, as a new exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery shows.

Grisailles – monochrome images usually painted in shades of grey and white – have a long tradition. Early examples appeared in the 14th century as miniatures or manuscript illuminations and then later on the outside of the folding panels of altarpieces, where they imitated sepulchre statues and offered a stark contrast to the bright colour of the paintings inside. With their minimal palette, grisailles also offered painters a chance both to show off their skill and to add their bit to the age-old artistic debate about paragone: which was superior – sculpture, with its ability to show a figure in three dimensions, or painting, with its powers of illusion? By pretending to be sculpture, grisailles could better it.

The first artist to paint grisailles as independent works for private enjoyment and contemplation was the Netherlander Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-69), whose folk scenes of peasants carousing or of hunters in a snowy landscape have long been staples of art’s quotidian, earthy strand. Only about 40 works by him are now known and of those, just three are grisailles (not a term he would have recognised; he referred to the pictures simply as “painted in black and white”). This trio of survivors has been reunited for the first time, at the Courtauld Gallery, with an accompanying selection of copies and engravings – a mere ten pictures in all – for a fascinating one-room exhibition.

The grisailles show a deeper and more intellectual artist than the sometimes slapstick figure who would dress as a peasant in order to gatecrash weddings in the Brabant countryside and record the drunken and playful goings-on in his pictures. They reflect the position of the Low Countries in Bruegel’s time, caught between the Catholicism of their Spanish overlords and the emerging Protestantism that had been sparked by Martin Luther only eight years before Bruegel’s birth. These tensions soon erupted in the Eighty Years War.

Of the three paintings, two show religious subjects – The Death of the Virgin (1562-65) and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565) – and one is a scene that would have been familiar in the streets around him, Three Soldiers (1568). This last, lent by the Frick Collection in New York, shows a drummer, a piper and a standard-bearer in the elaborately slashed uniforms of German Landsknechte mercenaries. Such groupings featured often in German prints and Bruegel’s small picture is a clever visual game: painting could imitate not only sculpture, but prints, too. What’s more, the gorgeously coloured uniforms (mercenaries were exempt from the sumptuary laws that restricted clothing to sedate colours) could be shown to be just as arresting even in black and white.

If this is a painting about painting, the ­religious works have, it seems, added layers of meaning – although it is always difficult with Bruegel to work out what that meaning is and how personal it might be. The Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery shows Jesus stooping in front of the Pharisees and saving the accused woman from stoning by writing in the dust, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That he spells out the words in Dutch rather than Hebrew, which was more usual in other images of the scene (and which he uses on the tunic of one of the learned men observing the mute play), suggests that this picture – a plea for clemency – was intended to serve as a call for religious tolerance amid mounting sectarian antagonism. While the gaping faces of the onlookers recall those of Hieronymus Bosch, the flickering calligraphic touches and passages of great delicacy are all his own.

The picture stayed with Bruegel until his death, so it had a personal meaning for him; more than 20 copies were subsequently made. Included in the exhibition are the copies painted by his sons, Jan and Pieter the Younger (a coloured version), as well as the earliest known print after it, from 1579, by Pieter Perret, which shows some of the detail in the crowd around the central figures that has been lost in the discoloured panel.

If the sombre tones of grisaille are suited to the pared-down faith advocated by Luther, the death of the Virgin was a familiar topic in Catholic and Orthodox iconography. Bruegel’s picture, from Upton House in Warwickshire, depicts an episode that doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. A group of Apostles and mourners has gathered around the Virgin’s bed, the scene lit by the heavenly light emanating from the dying woman and the five flames from the candles and the hearth that correspond to the five wounds suffered by her son on the cross. Domestic items litter the room – a slice of orange, slippers, a dozing cat – and there is a sleeping attendant, unaware of the miracle of Assumption that will shortly unfold. Here is a moving nocturne in which the mysteries of religion emerge from and disappear back into the shadows.

While Bruegel’s peasant works display a delight in physical pleasure, these three bravura works, painted for humanist connoisseurs and for himself, portray the sober, spiritual concerns that come to the fore once the last drop has been drunk. 

The exhibition runs until 8 May. For more details, go to: courtauld.ac.uk

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle