Stars including BBC journalist Emily Maitlis and film director Richard Curtis have turned their hands to literary criticism and reviewed the books in the running for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The VIP reviewers were each given one of the six novels shortlisted for the award. The winner will be announced on September 8.
Titles include Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, which Curtis hailed as a ‘beautifully written story’, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, which presenter Gabby Logan described as a ‘wonderful book’.
The other books up for consideration are No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi.
Here, ahead of the winner being announced, the celebrity reviewers share their verdicts…
Film director Richard Curtis: Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
The titles shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction include Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, which Richard Curtis (pictured) hailed as a ‘beautifully written story’
‘Unsettled Ground is unsettling. It’s got a truly great first chapter and all the rest of the chapters are wonderful too.
‘It’s the beautifully written story of a brother and sister who have lived their entire lives in a small cottage with their mother on the land of a man who may or may not have murdered their father.
‘It plunges you into their strange world – it’s full of sorrow and mystery – it’s merciless in its observation of casual cruelty and merciful in its observation of casual kindness and family love.
‘It’s a cracking tale, but also a very deep character study of people on the very edge of society, who fall between the cracks of life in a small town. I hope I’ll read the other books on the Shortlist, but obviously now I hope this one was – so you can share the unsettling, beautiful tale of Julius and Jeanie.’
Presenter Gabby Logan: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Gabby Logan said The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a ‘wonderful book’
‘This is a wonderful book about identity, seen through the lives of black twin girls who were born in the segregated era of the deep south. They suffer a terrible tragedy in seeing their father come to a violent death as young girls, a death that was directly related to their race.
‘One of the twin sisters is paler skinned than the other and in an attempt to escape her life and inevitable future, what she sees as her fate she passes herself off as white after the twins had run away to New Orleans. This means she has to learn how to be white, assuming whole cultural upbringing she simply has not had.
‘As a result from the age of sixteen everything about these identical twins begins to change, their communities, possibilities and opportunities. Stella is the paler twin and we learn about the value placed on lighter skin in black communities because of the obvious proximity to wealth and power that such skin is seen in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
‘The hope always seeming to be that the next generation will be a little bit paler than the one before. The way Desiree and Stella’s lives develop over time, living very different experiences is profound and of course Stella cannot escape her past totally and her attempts to do that involve some murky and distressing episodes. What really sets the story alight is Brit Bennett’s language and powers of description and one is very easily transported into the era and locations defined.’
Journalist Emily Maitlis: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
‘This unique work has two characters – through the first hundred pages there is a poetic, tweetetic lyricism to the writing – a protagonist who won’t make the mistake of taking herself too seriously. She plays with words, fears images, lets us inside the portal of social media that ear -worms her day and her thoughts and ultimately her career and her life. But suddenly, there is a sharp change.
‘The character of both writing and protagonist changes as she becomes the aunt to a severely disformed baby – who she adores and who’s existence seems to stop everything else in its tracks.
‘I couldn’t decide if we needed the bilious froth of the social media world at the beginning to make us see how little relevance it had to the actual physical world of pain and birth and death. Or whether perhaps it was a recognition of how we simultaneously inhabit both these worlds. The one that we can dominate but that doesn’t matter. Or the one we can’t control that does.
‘Either way, the book gets better as you travel through it. By the end elegiac and raw and full of the kind of laughter that doesn’t feel twitter-forced or brutal. That finds a sort of naive calmer world. Thoughtful, lyrical and quietly profound.’
Journalist and presenter Fi Glover: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Journalist and presenter Fi Glover said Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a ‘thing of wonder’
‘Piranesi is a thing of wonder, it’s a book that takes you far away from yourself whilst staying so close to the basics of human experience.
‘You can lose yourself in the halls and the tides of the labyrinth Susanna Clarke has created, and she has accomplished a tricky thing – to create a world recognisable to us as readers whilst also making it almost impossible to grasp.
‘It is a compelling book – and a timely one too, it makes you consider what it is to be lost, and then to be found, and how curiosity can be both a comforting and a sinister thing.’
Activist, lawyer and commentator Shola Mos-Shogbamimu: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Activist, lawyer and commentator Shola Mos-Shogbamimu said How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones was ‘a thoroughly enjoyable read’
‘It’s not everyday you come across a story which compels you with intrigue and powerful descriptive play on words that place you side by side with the characters.
‘You can’t read this book without resonating with it – a delicate balance of empathy, defiance and truth.
‘A thoroughly enjoyable read by an author whose storytelling can only be described as a work of art.’
Presenter and actor Tom Read Wilson: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
‘Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom is a harpoon-like look at transcending polarised existences to forge one’s own.
‘As Gifty’s brother, Nana, is consumed by addiction and her mother navigates depression, she attempts to charter her own course. Is she merely a composite of the elements of her upbringing she’s resisted or embraced? Or is there something in her that transcends? Something singular?
‘Challenging contradictions and asking whether they ought to be contradictions, we hop-sometimes plummet- from Gifty’s present world of neuroscience to childhood Sunday services. From Alabama to Ghana.
‘Even the insouciant chronology transcends Gifty’s obsession with order and cleanliness. The ‘anhedonia’, that Nana seeks through Oxycontin and Gifty’s mother seeks through sleep, is a transcendent kingdom of sorts: One of numbness.
‘But does such a kingdom exist where one can actually feel? Live? These heartbreakingly difficult questions underpin this book’s exquisite beauty and ultimate hope.’