Thoughts on the Orange Prize shortlist

My love of literature is starting to impact my sleep. I've already started getting up each day to read for an hour before work. When I heard the Orange Prize shortlist would be announced today at 9:30 a.m. London time, I vowed to wake up at 4:30 a.m. Albany time to hear the news. (Yes, Mr. Nomadreader thinks I'm adorably crazy.) Well, I managed to wake up at 6, but after I heard the announcement was later than expected, I was grateful for my sleep.

The 2011 Orange Prize shortlist is:
Room: A NovelThe Memory of LoveGrace Williams Says It Loud
Great House: A NovelThe Tiger's Wife: A NovelAnnabel: A Novel
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson
Great House by Nicole Krauss
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Annabel by Kathleen Winter

I stopped short of making predictions for the short list because I've only managed to read eight so far (which is one track for my goal of finishing all twenty before the winner is announced in June; you can track my progress and find links to all of my Orange Prize reviews on my Orange Prize page.) Still, when you bring a list from twenty to six, there are bound to be surprises.

My first reactions:

  • Half are debut novels (Grace Williams, Tiger's Wife, Annabel). The longlist featured 9/20 debuts, and the shortlist carries on that pattern.
  • The geographical variety is incredibly balanced: Emma Donoghue (Irish, but lives in Canada now), Aminatta Forna (British/Sierra Leonean), Emma Henderson (British), Nicole Krauss (American, but her work is infused with her Israeli and Eastern European ancestry),Tea Obreht (America/Serbian), and Kathleen Winter (Canadian). It's a broad spectrum.
  • I guessed either Great House or Goon Squad would make it but not both. I'm a little disappointed, but I'll be reading Great House again to see if it is better the second time.
  • I would not have predicted Emma Henderson would be the British representative.
  • The 20 Under 40 are still faring well. They represent two of the six shortlisted books (Krauss & Obreht).
  • Overall, it's a pretty young list: Donoghue (41), Forna (47), Henderson (53), Krauss (37), Obreht (25), and Winter (47).
  • Interestingly, the ages of the debut novelists are 25, 53 and 47.
  • Hooray for Room! I'm a bit disappointed to see Jennifer Egan left off, but as of now, I'm rooting for Room. It was my favorite read of 2010, and despite it being on both the Booker and Orange shortlists and named one of the 5 best novels of 2010 by The New York Times, I still think it deserves more praise. I'm looking forward to re-reading it too.
I'll be re-reading both Room and Great House, as I read both last year when they were first nominated for prizes (Booker and National Book Award respectively). I'll also be reading the other four longlisted titles, but not necessarily right away. There are so many intriguing titles on the longlist this year, and I still plan to read them all before the winner is announced on June 8. I'll wait to pick my winner until I've read them all, but it's no secret I'm cheering for Room right now. The contrarian part of me does want a debut novel to win because the Orange Prize for New Writers was disbanded.

What do you think of the shortlist? Which novel are you rooting for?

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  1. I am totally rooting for Room, and was saddened when it didn't win the Booker. I hope it wins the Orange Prize though!

  2. Every time I see that Tea Obreht is only 25 years old (my age!), I feel like a glorious, terrible slacker!

    Though I enjoyed Great House far more than I expected, I was left with so many questions that couldn't seem to find answers... and that frustrated me. Room was definitely a powerful read and well deserving of praise, and I'd love to check out the other books here, too!

  3. I get up early every day to get my reading in so I can relate.

    I was looking at my list of books read this year (so far) and I haven't been too impressed. I feel as if I need some beefier reads. Maybe I will make my way through the longlist.

    Out of the shortlist, I've only read Room and Great House. I liked Great House but I really did not like Room.

  4. I'm actually a little disappointed that Room made the list. I wasn't so impressed with it. I'm glad to see Annabel in there. For now, I'm hoping to read Annabel, Great House and The Memory of Love before the winner is announced.

  5. What Meg said! "Every time I see that Tea Obreht is only 25 years old (my age!), I feel like a glorious, terrible slacker!"

    I'm a little older and still feel like a slacker! Especially since I've read none of the shortlist -- I'm going to get on this stat!

  6. I loved Room too but it's the only one on this list I've read. Looks like I better get reading!

  7. I'm impressed by your dedication - there is no way I'd wake up at 4am to get the news!

    I was also surprised that Goon Squad was left off, but overall I'm happy with the list.

    I think I'm rooting for Room as it was my favourite, but I'm not too unhappy for any of them to win. It is such a strong shortlist that I don't really mind. :-)

  8. All I know is I'm NOT rooting for Great House. Awful of me, I know, but I just didn't like it. The only other one I've read is Room, whcih I wouldn't mind winning. But I have The Memory of Love on my shelf...although who knows when I'll get to it!

  9. I LOVE that you get up early to read! I don't plan it but the mornings when I have extra time and get to read make me so happy, LOL!

    I'm rooting for Room!

  10. I've felt much more longlist than shortlist focussed this year, which I think has made my reading more enjoyable than last year's. If I could figure out a way to finish all 20 books BEFORE the shortlist was announced, I think I'd have even more fun with it! (Two books to go and about as many days left to read them.)


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