Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Orange Prize for Fiction 2009

Another year and another Orange Prize for Fiction longlist, but my what a diverse and fascinating one which mirrors the great panel of judges for this year’s shop window on the very best of writing by women.

Chaired by Fi Glover, the four judges Bidisha, Sarah Churchwell, Kira Cochrane and Martha Lane-Fox have done the prize proud with 20 works by authors that include a Nobel Laureate, a 63-year-old newcomer and the ever-fascinating, eminently readable Kamila Shamsie. In Dubai recently I was chatting with the prize’s co-founder Kate Mosse (LibraDoodle passim) who told me that a nicer panel of literary judges it would be harder to find and that her hopes for a great list were high.

You can read the full list and details of each of the books here but my first impression is that the range of styles, ages and modes of writing contained within this year’s list really cuts to the heart of what the Orange prize, now in its second decade, was set up for. It seems odd now to think that there was a time when the considerable talent and achievement of women’s critical views and writing was overlooked by other prizes and the Orange has been at the forefront of changing this. So much so that they seem to have dropped the "for Women's Fiction" part of the prize's title which I'm sure was there in the early days. Progress indeed. If you want to really know what women are thinking about, writing about and what is exercising them then you could do far worse than read the entirety of the longlist. I will and I sincerely hope you will too, as this year it includes works from Australia, the USA, Ireland, Malaysia, Pakistan and Canada as well as the UK possibly making it the most international longlist that the Orange has yet fielded.

Fi Glover has said that “all the books on the long list are there because each one, in its own way, is terrific in its ambition, quality and simple ability to entertain.” Hurrah to that, for many of the authors on the list are some of the best storytellers of our time, irrespective of gender.

I don’t envy the panel the next phase; how the hell they pick one winner from such a brilliant field is beyond me, but I congratulate them on a superbly rich showing so far and wish them luck for the next stage. I hope that the niceness that Kate Mosse mentioned endures!



No comments: