Independent publishers have come out on top in the shortlist for the 2015 Folio Prize for Fiction, with Faber and Granta getting three books each on the list.
Faber’s three titles are All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, about sisters, suicide and how to carry on after grief; Family Life by Akhil Sharma, about a boy torn between duty and survival; and Outline by Rachel Cusk, about a female writer.
Granta’s are 10:04 by Ben Lerner, about “making art, love and children during the twilight of an empire; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, about marriage and motherhood; and Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, covering 50 years of Kenyan history.
The Penguin Random House books on the shortlist are the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlisted How to be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton), a dual narrative with a contemporary section and another about a Renaissance painter in the 1460s, which has also won the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award; and Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster (Viking), about a woman in 1960s Ireland trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband.
Speaking to The Bookseller, Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page said: “We are absolutely delighted, and for our fellow indie Granta as well. Maybe there’s something about the Folio Prize that allows some of the differences in fiction to be acknowledged, and at Faber we have been strong about trying to publish into new forms of fiction... These three books have had spectacular reviews, but that doesn’t always mean audience. A prize like this will bring them to a whole [new] reading public.”
Granta owner Sigrid Rausing told The Bookseller the company was feeling "ecstatic" and that the short listings would raise her books' profiles. I think it [the prize] will raise the books’ profile.” Rausing said she was particularly happy about the inclusion of Owuor’s Dust, which had done well in the author’s home country of Kenya.
This the second year of the £40,000 Folio Prize, which awards a work of English-language fiction released in the UK during 2014.
Fiennes, who was drawn as the judge for the 2015 award from the Folio Prize academy, said that picking the eight shortlisted novels was “very tiring but also an adventure”.
The judging panel – journalist and writer Rachel Cooke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist author Mohsin Hamid, Orange Prize-winning novelist A M Homes, and Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Deborah Levy, plus Fiennes – had a discussion of around seven hours to pick the shortlist.
Commenting on the diversity of the shortlist, which is made up of five women and three men with writers originating from the UK, Kenya, Canada, the USA, Ireland and India, Fiennes said: “My feeling was that this was about rewarding excellence, and it’s really important to open up the space for other voices and marginalized voices, but I am not sure this prize is the place to mount that campaign.
“I think we have come up with a list that is diverse, but that’s just how it panned out. That wasn’t the agenda, the agenda was excellence. If it had turned out to be eight white men from Brooklyn [on the shortlist] we’d have felt a bit sheepish but that would have been the list.”
Fiennes said the shortlist included books which explored “vast themes”, including war, time, marriage and family. “I think it’s possible to be intellectually heavyweight without being heavy and heavy handed,” he said of the shortlist. “They’re a delight to read. I don’t think there should be any exclusiveness between high literary values and vitality.”
Jonathan Ruppin, web editor at Foyles, said: “It's a shortlist that could probably only have been selected by a panel comprising entirely writers: these books are wonderfully distinctive in style and thoroughly original in their approach to fiction as an artform. From the uncompromising intellect of Ben Lerner to the sharp wit of Miriam Toews, the shortlist crackles with brio and bravado, showing how fiction is evolving to remain at the heart of contemporary culture.”
Meanwhile The Bookseller's fiction previewer Cathy Rentzenbrink dubbed the selection "an astonishing vibrant list", saying she was "particularly pleased as it has three books on it that I think are superb novels that have yet to reach as wide an audience as I would like: Family Life, All My Puny Sorrows and Dept. of Speculation." She also praised the list as "more diverse than we're perhaps used to seeing."
Chris White, fiction buyer for Waterstones, called the shortlist "varied and intriguing", adding: "The whole list is remarkably strong and it would be a brave bookseller who’d predict a winner from this pool of talent. Truly the novel is in robust health."
This year the Folio Prize will launch the Folio Society Lecture, as part of the second Folio Prize Fiction Festival. The inaugural lecture will be delivered by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The three-day Folio Prize Fiction Festival will be held from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd March, with authors and critics from The Folio Prize Academy featuring alongside the prize judges and shortlisted authors.
The Folio Prize revealed the 80 books put forward for consideration for the 2015 award last year.
The winner of The Folio Prize will be announced on Monday 23rd March at a ceremony at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in central London.
The inaugural prize was awarded to the American writer George Saunders for his widely acclaimed collection of short stories, Tenth of December (Bloomsbury).