Bailey’s Shortlist 2017 Discussion

10 May

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While I have not read every book on the Bailey’s longlist (mostly because I either can’t get the remaining titles/have 0 interest in them), I have finally finished the 6 books on the shortlist! And since the winner will be announced in the not-too-far-future, I thought it was high time to have an informal discussion about the books on it. I’ve reviewed them all so I am not going to rehash all my opinions here, but just generally discuss how I feel about the shortlist, who I want to win, and its strengths and weaknesses.  To start off here is the list, in order of least- to most-favorites.

First Love, Gwendoline Riley

The Power, Naomi Alderman

The Dark Circle, Linda Grant

Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo

The Sport of Kings, C. E. Morgan

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeline Thien

I can break these into 3 general categories.

Would be (mildly) upset if they won: I feel that books with large, glaring flaws really do not deserve to win a prize, no matter how strong certain aspects are. Unless it’s a prize that values that specific aspect (like Goldsmiths, for example). So it’s no surprise that I would be a little annoyed if First Love or The Power won. I feel like First Love is kind of a universal head-scratcher: it’s not a bad book, but it combines a total lack of plot with just okay writing and a not-original concept. I actually liked FL, but I do wonder how it even got on the list.

The Power is probably a controversial pick for the “please don’t win” category because it is well-loved. But I found it to have very glaring issues that I discuss in my review.

Basically neutral: It’s no surprise that the middle two on my list, Stay With Me and The Dark Circle, are my “meh” books. I didn’t hate them, and in fact I enjoyed both books. They’re just not overly memorable and I had an issue with each of them (SWM is a little melodramatic and TDC lacked a bit of plot depth & cohesion). But they both feel like very prize-y books, especially this particular prize, so I can see either winning. I wouldn’t care too much if they did… but I also wouldn’t be upset.

Favorites: Rounding out the list are The Sport of Kings and Do Not Say We Have Nothing. I absolutely adored both of these books. DNSWHN was already a favorite after I read it for the Man Booker last year, and was my runner-up winner for that prize (Hot Milk was number 1 in my heart). I feel like both are just very strong all around: deep characters, complex but not convoluted plots, gorgeous (though very different) writing. And in fact they are quite similar! Both are family sagas that deal with very tough topics (racism, oppression, etc), and both have a ‘hobby’ as a backdrop and ongoing thematic/metaphorical element (horse racing for SoK, music for Do Not Say). Both are lush and dense and easy to sink in to.

Winner prediction: While Stay With Me seems to be the fan favorite, I predict that The Power will win. It just seems very Bailey’s, no? Not overly literary but well written, has strong feminist themes, and commercial appeal. The Sport of Kings has been shortlisted for a LOT of other awards though, so maybe this is finally its time to shine.

In general, I did not find this to be a very strong shortlist. It had only two really memorable titles for me, and they were ones I would have read anyway (or in the case of the Thien, already had read). I honestly think the longlist is much, much stronger overall, and most of my favorites (like The Lonely Hearts Hotel, my #1 fave Bailey’s book, and Hag-Seed) were left off (along with the fan-faves The Essex Serpent and The Gustav Sonata). I honestly cannot fathom how something like First Love got on over them. In fact, I am not even sure what Bailey’s is looking for when they pick a shortlisted novel. Most of the truly innovative books didn’t make the shortlist, and they don’t seem to have been picked on specific things like strong plots or standout writing. So what gives? Then again, judging a prize is obviously not a quantifiable thing, and perhaps I should leave it up to the professionals. But I will be salty about Lonely Hearts Hotel until the day I die.

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