Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Orange shortlist is announced

I wish I'd started my reading of the longlist sooner, because the shortlist was revealed yesterday and I've only read one of the books chosen! The final list is:

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

The Song of Achilles is the book I've already read and, while I did love it, I can't believe that the utterly fantastic Gillespie and I didn't score a place as well. If ever there was a lesson in how to play your readers like little bits of string, that was it. It makes you wonder what criteria the judges use to select winners for these prizes.

On Channel 4 news last night there was an interesting report on the Orange prize from the London Book Fair, and also an interview with Kate Mosse, one of the prize's founders. She simply said that the winner has to make the hairs stand up on the back of the judges' necks, which is nice, but I can't help thinking there must be more to it than that!

One of the points raised in the report was that there's only one British author on the list, one Irish author and all the rest are Americans. Apparently, the Americans go to a lot of effort to teach the craft of writing in their schools and colleges and they are reaping the rewards of this approach in International awards such as this. Educators in Britain may need to think about upping their game if we don't want to find ourselves lagging behind.

I thought it was quite interesting that the Orange prize is the most commercial book award in Britain, and influences sales much more than the more "prestigious" Man Booker or Costa prizes. This is despite the fact that it's only open to women authors. Prestigious is all very well I suppose, but most people still just want a good read that will entertain them.

I've already got Painter of Silence, State of Wonder and The Forgotten Waltz on the pile, but I really didn't fancy Half Blood Blues or Foreign Bodies and was about to consign them to the "I don't think I'll bother" list before yesterday's announcement. I'll rethink that now, and will also continue to read the other books that caught my eye from the longlist even though the judges didn't put them through. I'm currently still wading through The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy but can't say it's set my world on fire so far. Never mind, it may improve.

Have any of you been following the Orange entries or do you plan to read through the shortlist? Do you think literary prizes are a good guide to readers or should we ignore them and make our own way?


  1. I've read Half Blood Blues and State of Wonder. I thought Half Blood Blues was good, but not extraordinary and State of Wonder was a great addition to Patchett's works, but not her best book. I think I have to read The Song of Achilles next. I've read so many wonderful reviews (yours included)!

    1. I think seeing the words "jazz music" and "Nazi" in close proximity in the blurb of Half Blood Blues put me off it straight away! I should give it a fair try though. State of Wonder sounds pretty good and I'm quite looking forward to that. The Song of Achilles was great - I think you'll enjoy it.

  2. I really liked Half-Blood Blues but it's the only one on the short list I had read before it was announced. I want to read Gillespie and I next, but Song of Achilles is the other short list I want to read.
    I read Island of Wings last week, and quite enjoyed it.

    I like the look of the books you've read, and we both have been reading Orange books and Muriel Spark - I've added you to my google reader!

    1. I've just had a good look around your blog too - we do have similar tastes, don't we! Thanks for the follow, I'm following you too :-)