The £30,000 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction has longlisted three former winners of the prize, Eimear McBride, Rose Tremain and Linda Grant, for 2017's award.
McBride, the most recent winner of the prize on the 2017 longlist, was recognised again by the prize for The Lesser Bohemians (Faber & Faber), only her second novel. After winning the prize in 2014 for her debut A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, this book follows the story of an 18-year-old Irish girl who arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor and the pair have a sexually-charged relationship. McBride told The Bookseller's Alice O'Keeffe last summer she was inspired to write the novel because she was "really bored with the way sex is written about".
Joining the former winners on the longlist, revealed on International Women's Day today (8th March), are two writers of feminist science fiction: Margaret Atwood for her retelling of The Tempest, Hag Seed (Hogarth), and Naomi Alderman for her novel The Power (Viking), soon to be adapted for television after an 11-way auction, imagining a world where women gain the power to electrocute at will.
Also in the running for the award is Waterstones Book of the Year The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent's Tail) and Madeleine Thien's book Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta) that was a strong contender for 2016's Man Booker Prize.
The longlist of 16, lower than the usual 20, is the result of a compromise between the prize and its judges, with the prize organisers wanting to give each book more focus while its judges wanted a longer list due to the strength of the books in contention. This longlist exemplifies "the very best contemporary women's fiction" said organisers. Chair of the judges Tess Ross, c.e.o. House Productions, said she and her fellow judges - also including Sam Baker, Katie Derham, Aminatta Forna and Sara Pascoe - hoped it would "inspire readers everywhere".
Independent publishers accounted for six of the 16 spots on the longlist, Serpent's Tail and Granta each having two titles listed, while behemoths Penguin Random House held four places on the list; Hachette three; HarperCollins two and Pan Macmillan one.
From PRH's camp, in addition to Atwood and Alderman, previous winner Tremain is longlisted for The Gustav Sonata (Chatto & Windus), about an intense friendship between two boys in wartime Switzerland. The book lost out to Sebastian Barry for the Costa Novel Award last year after initial shortlisting but now makes its bid for the Women's Prize almost a decade after its author won the award for The Road Home. South African author Yewande Omotoso is longlisted for a second novel, The Woman Next Door (Chatto & Windus).
Grant, who was one of the prize's first winners (in 2000) after launching in 1996, is longlisted for The Dark Circle (Virago), with other Hachette authors on the longlist including Heather O'Neill for her third novel The Lonely Hearts Hotel, published on Quercus' new riverrun imprint, and Fiona Melrose for her debut Midwinter, about a father and son, both farmers, coming to terms with the loss of a wife and mother in the depths of a "mauling" winter.
The longlist comprises three debuts in total. In addition to Melrose, they are Stay With Me (Canongate) by Nigerian author Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀, a "devastating" story set in '80s Nigeria about the fragility of married love and the undoing of a family when a choice is made after a couple has troubles conceiving a child, and Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Picador), a story of “murder, sex and obsession” set during a heatwave in 1960s New York and inspired by a true crime story.
Conversely, Gwendoline Riley is longlisted for First Love (Granta), following her move to Granta last year from Jonathan Cape, and Annie Proulx for Barkskins (4th Estate), a novel with heft, weighing in at over 700 pages and spanning over 300 years, following the stories of two penniless immigrants to New France and their descendants.
Rounding off the longlist, American authors Mary Gaitskill and C E Morgan are longlisted for The Mare (Serpent's Tail) and The Sport of Kings (4th Estate). Six nationalities are represented on the longlist in total: six authors are British; one Irish; three American; three Canadian; two South African; and one Nigerian.
Ross, chair of the judges, commented: “The judges had a large number of books of extraordinary quality to choose from this year, and so I can’t say that it was an easy process to come up with a list as short as sixteen. However, we’re all thrilled by where we’ve ended up and truly excited by the quality and range of talent on this year’s longlist. It’s a great showcase for the very best contemporary women’s fiction – we hope that it will inspire readers everywhere.”
The shortlist will be revealed on 3rd April and the winner of the £30,000 prize, anonymously endowed, on 7th June 2017 at an awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall.
No update has been provided on the future sponsorship of The Women’s Prize for Fiction, aside from confirmation it is "in discussion with a number of organisations".
The prize revealed in January that Baileys had decided not to renew its support in 2018. Novelist and co-founder of the prize, Kate Mosse, told The Bookseller at the time she was "not worried" about finding new backing and was looking forward to working with a partner with ideas to see in the next iteration of the prize.