The 2014 Women’s Prize for fiction shortlist:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“A wonderful book from a writer who makes words do extraordinary things. On almost every page there’s a sentence that makes you want to stop, think and read it again.” Mary Beard, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu – beautiful, self-assured – departs for America to study. She experiences defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze – the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor – had hoped to join her, but post 9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Years later, he is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu decides to return home, she and Obinze will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
“A stunning, haunting debut by this young Australian writer. It tells the story of Agnes, condemned to death for murder in Iceland in the 1820s. Beautiful prose, evocative imagery, Hannah Kent transports you effortlessly back to the bleak landscape of northern Iceland 2 centuries ago. I couldn’t put it down, yet I didn’t want it to come to an end. It’s a book that will stay with you for a long time.“
Sophie Raworth, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge
In Northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try and understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge – and with it the terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed…
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Moving and vivid, an unforgettable story of two brothers and the different paths they take. A novel about how political passion can destroy lives”
Helen Fraser, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Chair
From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in the age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as US tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will end up as their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequality and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so, will transform the futures of those dearest to him.
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
“An extraordinarily startling, hypnotic debut novel, both sparse and rich, bringing a brutal era to life. So vivid it leaves the reader with a lingering sense of having been present at world events and hiding in the shadows of private rooms.”
Denise Mina, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge
Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises honeymoon leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them. When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of his wife that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to.
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
“This is a proper tingles-up-the-spine, call all your friends shouting “A new writer has arrived, and she’s it – she’s got the thing, the very thing we’re all waiting for.” An astonishing debut novel of risk, energy and creative dazzle – half-sound, half-colour, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing puts you in the head of a clever, troubled Irish girl and her rapidly collapsing life, and leaves you there weeks after you’ve finished it. The kind of book that makes you proselytise to friends, strangers and random cold-callers to the house.”
Caitlin Moran, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge
Eimear McBride’s debut tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is not so much a stream of consciousness as an unconsciousness railing against a life that makes little sense, forming a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a young and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside into the narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
“A novel with Dickensian breadth, which grips from the first page and explores loss, grief, rescue and love brilliantly”
Helen Fraser, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Chair
Aged 13, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, miraculously survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is bewildered by his new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years he clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.