Welcome back to the bookish version of Six Degrees of Separation. Here’s how it works: Start with the book suggested by Kate over at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, and see where you end up by linking it to six other titles. It’s easy and it’s fun, and no two chains are the same!
How do you feel about award-winning books? I love seeing the long- and short-list announcements, but I don’t always love the winners. Sometimes they can feel too academic for me; I’m always left wondering what I missed. This month, I thought it would be fun to talk about books I’ve read that have won literary awards in 2020 (mostly because I haven’t read The Bass Rock and don’t know anything about it)!
This month’s starting point is the winner of the 2021 Stella Prize, The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. Before this, I hadn’t even heard of it, so here is the Goodread’s synopsis:
“Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has always borne witness to the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries, the fates of three women are inextricably linked to this place and to one another. Sarah, accused of being a witch, is fleeing for her life. Ruth, in the aftermath of the Second World War, is navigating a new marriage and the strange waters of the local community. Six decades later, Viv, still mourning the death of her father, is cataloguing Ruth’s belongings in the now-empty house. As each woman’s story unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that their choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men who seek to control them. But in sisterhood there is also the possibility of survival and a new way of life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with love and fury–a devastating indictment of violence against women and an empowering portrait of their resilience through the ages.”
First Degree: Last year, Shuggie Bain won the Booker Prize Award, one of the most prestigious literary prizes for works written in the English language. Unfortunately, Shuggie Bain was a DNF for me, but not until I was about 60% through it. I know, I know…why not just finish it? For me it was pretty boring and uneventful, though it seems like all the reviews rave about it. I’m not sure what I missed, but if you’re interested, I’d definitely seek out other opinions!
Second Degree: Founded in 1992 due to long-held frustration towards all-male literary award shortlists (despite the ratio of books written by women to those written by men holding at roughly 60/40), the Women’s Prize is one of the most respected literary awards in the world, and an enduring champion for fiction written by women.
The 2020 winner is Hamnet by Irish-British novelist Maggie O’Farrell, a fictional account of the short life of Shakespeare’s son, who would ultimately lend his name to one of the Bard’s iconic tragedies. There are strong themes of loss, grief, and resilience. All of these build up to a bombastic conclusion that reiterates the idea that grief strikes us all differently and that how we chose to handle that grief isn’t necessarily wrong. I loved how O’Farrell ended this novel…and it truly made me love Agnes even more. She has become one of my favorite literary characters after reading this one!
Third Degree: With over 25 award categories, the British Book Awards aim to celebrate the incredible works that come out of the British publishing industry every year, but also the people who bring us this literary joy, from authors and publishers to booksellers.
The 2020 winner for Best Fiction is Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, an expansive look into the inner lives of Black British women, and how their lived experiences intersect with contemporary and historic notions around race, class and sexuality. While Girl, Woman, Other is considered a novel, it’s written differently than that. Instead, Evaristo masterfully crafts a series of interconnected short stories/novellas within the overall plot and it was a lot of fun to see the intersectionality of each of these characters. Evaristo created characters with a lot of depth and complexity and gives a strong voice to each of the twelve women of the book. (Girl, Woman, Other was also the joint winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize.)
Fourth Degree: Candice Carty-William’s Queenie won two categories of the British Book Awards: Fiction: Debut and Overall Book of the Year. Queenie is a sparkling and bold coming-of-age tale which centers on one young woman’s struggle to take control of her own life. Marketed as a companion book for those who loved Bridget Jones’ Diary, I expected this to be a light-hearted disastrous story. If you make the same assumption, I think you’ll be misdirected and disappointed. This book has grit and it’s hard to read at times (🚨trigger warnings: sexual violence, mental health, miscarriage, childhood trauma, graphic sex, and race.). Queenie is quick-witted and I even chuckled at a few of her comebacks, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a transformative read of a young woman who battles her childhood demons to finally embrace the live she has. She struggles to find her own self-worth and to be her own hero in her life.
Fifth Degree: Established in 1917, the coveted Pulitzer Prizes honours the very best in American arts and journalism. The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction recognises a work written by an American author published in the preceding calendar year, with preference given to novels about an American subject.
The 2020 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which centres around the abuse that occurs in a Florida reform school in the ’60s. This book is harrowing and haunting. It absolutely deserves to have light shed on the atrocities these boys lived, and I could not believe that a school like this existed up until 2010! The abuse these people – including the townspeople by looking the other way – inflicted on young boys is beyond upsetting. While this book is hard to read, Whitehead’s writing ability stands out and proves that he is a true talent in conveying stories that demand attention. (Also, Whitehead becomes one of four writers who have won the prize twice, as he also won in 2017 for The Underground Railroad, another incredible book!)
Sixth Degree: The National Book Awards are a set of American literary prizes which seeks to ‘celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.’ Awards are given across the five categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translation and young people’s literature
The 2020 winner of the National Book Award for Fiction is Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, an inventive, funny and touching send-up of Asian stereotypes in film. It is a satirical look at how Asians are viewed in America. The format of the book was incredibly unique – Willy Wu is an actor. He is trying to climb the unspoken about ladder from ‘Generic Asian Man’ to the top where only a select few can be crowned ‘Kung Fu Asian’. Often times, the book would blur the lines between what was reality and what was part of the script, which made this one of the most unique book formats I’ve ever seen. Within the first few pages, I had tears running down my face. Then a few pages later, I was chuckling under my breath. This book really has it all – and there’s a lot of nuance you have to dig through as a reader.
Next month (July 3, 2021), we’ll start with a nonfiction modern classic, Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.