Our top picks from the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist

Looking for some autumn reading inspiration? You’re in luck – the Women’s Prize for Fiction has revealed this year’s longlist.

The judging panel includes Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo, journalist Nesrine Malik and Elizabeth Day, author of How To Fail.

Ms Evaristo said: “We’re confident that we have chosen 16 standout novels that represent a truly wide and varied range of fiction by women that reflects multiple perspectives, narrative styles and preoccupations. These novels fascinated, moved, inspired and challenged us and we’re excited at announcing their inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist.”

The list of 16 highlights debut novels and books by more established authors, from countries including Ireland, the US and Barbados. Maggie O’Farrell took home the top prize for Hamnet in 2020, and previous winners include Ann Patchett, Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Read more: Dazzling debut novels from fresh new writers

The shortlist will be revealed on 28 April, and the winner announced on 7 July.

These are our top picks from the longlist.

1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

What’s it about? Black twins Stella and Desiree flee their southern hometown as teenagers in the 1950s, and then their paths diverge. Stella begins passing as white, hiding her true identity from her husband and daughter, and Desiree returns home with her daughter Jude, before their lives cross over once more, and they discover the true nature of their history.

Why should you read it? A searing look at racism, classism, privilege and more, the content of The Vanishing Half might be heavy, but it’s a true joy to read. Ms Bennett’s writing is so beautiful and multilayered, you’ll struggle to put it down. HBO is reportedly adapting it with help from playwright Jeremy O. Harris, too.

2. Luster by Raven Leilani

What’s it about? Edie is a rudderless 20-something black woman in New York, navigating microaggressions in her majority white workplace, when all she really wants to be is an artist. Her life switches course when she loses her job, starts an affair with a middle-aged white man and somehow ends up living in his New Jersey suburban house with his wife and adopted child. Ms Leilani drip feeds details from Edie’s traumatic past, while delivering moments of dark humour.

Why should you read it? Ms Leilani’s writing is so raw and real, it’ll send chills down your spine. Luster is a timely exploration of making your way as a black woman in America, and all the baggage that comes with it. Believe the hype for this debut novel – it’s even got the seal of approval from Zadie Smith.

Read more: Our picks from the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction longlist

3. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

What’s it about? First generation Ghanaian immigrant Gifty is a neuroscientist living in California. Her mother – who has been depressed since they lost her teenage brother to opioid addiction – comes to visit, causing Gifty to look back at her hyper-religious upbringing in Alabama and the circumstances leading up to her brother’s death.

Why should you read it? Through the three main characters, Ms Gyasi treats religion, grief and addiction with thoughtfulness and depth. It might not be an easy read, but the writing is so emotionally charged it will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

4. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

What’s it about? Irish writer Naoise Dolan transports us to Hong Kong in her debut novel. Ava is an Irish working class English teacher, who falls into a strange relationship with extremely wealthy banker Julian. Things get a bit sticky when he moves away, and she stays in his apartment but develops feelings for a lawyer, Edith.

Why should you read it? Judge Malik puts it best: “Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan is a taut, gripping book full of unsympathetic characters that for some reason you remain extremely invested in.”

5. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

What’s it about? Ms Peters’ first novel follows three 30-somethings in Brooklyn, New York. Ames is a cis man who recently detransitioned, his ex Reese is a trans woman desperate for a child, and Katrina is Ames’ pregnant boss. It’s a complicated set-up, begging the question: can these three people form an unconventional family?

Why should you read it? Detransition, Baby is the perfect modern comedy – it deftly deals with identity and gender issues, and champions trans writers telling trans stories.

Read more: 10 absorbing books to while away the hours

The full longlist also features:

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Because Of You by Dawn French

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Consent by Annabel Lyon

Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen McMahon

Summer by Ali Smith

Which one would you be most likely to pick up? What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

– With PA

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Written by Prudence Wade



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