Five debut novels have been longlisted for the 2022 Women’s prize for fiction, including Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith, called “marvellous and confounding” by the Guardian, and Barack Obama’s book list pick The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. These novels are up against Booker shortlisted Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead and The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson, who was shortlisted for the 2008 prize.
Mendelson is joined on the longlist by four more authors who have been previously nominated: Elif Shafak, Leone Ross, Catherine Chidgey and Rachel Elliott. Yet the popular authors Sally Rooney and Hanya Yanagihara, who have both been selected in previous years, didn’t make the cut this year.
Chair of judges Mary Ann Sieghart attributed the fact that “a lot of very well-known authors didn’t make it to the longlist and five debut novelists did” to the debuts simply being “brilliant books”.
“Why people are starting to write brilliant books, and managing to do so with their first novel, I can’t really answer … but is it possible that perhaps during the first lockdown people thought, you know what, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, maybe I’ll give it a go?”
Many of the novels that were eligible for this year’s prize were written during the coronavirus pandemic, a reason why, Sieghart thinks, quite a few of the submissions were dystopian novels. Other common themes among the novels the judges considered were lesbian relationships and female friendship, but what struck Sieghart about the books “was a diversity rather than the homogeneity of them”.
Any woman writing in English is eligible for the award, and this year the longlist of 16 is made up of five British authors, six Americans, two New Zealanders, one Turkish-British, one American-Canadian, and one Trinidadian writer.
Sieghart said that after a “harmonious” judging session, she and her fellow judges, Lorraine Candy, Dorothy Koomson, Anita Sethi and Pandora Sykes “discovered we’d picked a fantastically diverse list”.
She added: “We didn’t have to make any sort of corrections to try to get a good variety of subject matter or nationality of author or ethnicity of author or genre, it was just all there. So that was rather wonderful.”
A quarter of the books on the list are published by independent presses, with three publishing houses, Unbound, Myriad Editions and Europa Editions, having a book on the longlist for the first time.
The shortlist will be revealed on 27 April and the winner on 15 June.
Established in 1996, after the Booker prize failed to shortlist any women five years earlier, the Women’s prize is intended “to celebrate and promote fiction by women to the widest range of readers possible”. Former winners include Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.