I have been thinking over the last few days about how blogging the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist is a very different experience to blogging the Man Booker longlist.
Now, clearly, some of this is down to the ‘me’ factor: the fact I am no longer a blogging ‘newbie’, the stage in my life I am at nine months later and even the different seasons in which I am reading.
But there is also something more to it, and I think it is about both the novels themselves and the way they are judged (although clearly these two things are intertwined).
I find it interesting that, of my original criteria for a “good book” (for me), Man Booker novels tend to favour one (and a half) of them, whilst Women’s Prize novels favour the two (and a half) others. This goes a long was to explaining my preference for Women’s Prize books, I think.
Man Booker novels are far, far more quoteable than Women’s Prize novels. In general, they tend to be more philosophical and ‘meaningful’ so this makes a lot of sense. But unfortunately, this seems to directly correlate with them being far less plot-driven and much more doom and gloom than the Women’s Prize texts. Not all, but most, tended to linger on subjects for longer than I found them interesting.
At the same time, Women’s Prize novels tend to be less ‘meaningful’ than Man Booker books. Instead they focus on plot and characterisation. This makes them more enjoyable at the time. And memorable in their own ways, though maybe not for as long, or in ways which are as fundamental as the more philosophical texts. I am yet to wholly land on which prize wins the ‘memorable’ point – as you can tell.
Now, in all likelihood it is probably not a coincidence that the two prizes attract different styles of novels. The most probable cause is that the judges have different definitions of what a ‘good’ novel is. The Man Booker judges are clearly looking for something more literary, whilst the Women’s Prize judges focus on readability. These different preferences lead to very different choices. (Clearly, it also has to be noted that the Women’s Prize list excludes male authors, but I am not going to be drawn on whether there are more ‘male’ or ‘female’ styles of writing).
It says something for Hilary Mantel that she made it onto both lists. And rightly so. Because Bring up the Bodies really is all things to all people. Or at least to me. It is one of the rare novels that I felt had all the qualities of a good read. Now, interestingly, that doesn’t necessarily make it my favourite book on either list. But it is probably the most rounded, quality, and universal in its appeal of any (so far….)