Fruitful writing

Two of the big hitters defeated so far in the current book-prize season were this week given a final chance of a victory. The formidable duo of Smiths—Zadie and Ali—are eminent among 20 names on the longlist for the women-only £30 000 Orange prize for fiction.

Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty and Ali Smith’s The Accidental live to fight another day against authors like Helen Dunmore, the first Orange winner 10 years ago, Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel, Jill Dawson and Philippa Gregory.

Since any English-language woman author in the world can enter the Orange, they are also up against seven Americans, an Australian and a Tahitian.
The Tahitian, Celestine Hitiura Vaite, improved her English in youth by reading women’s magazines.

Both Smiths made the Man Booker award shortlist. But Zadie Smith was excluded even from the preliminary Whitbread fiction shortlist. Last month, On Beauty went on to win the Eurasian section of the Commonwealth prize, beating novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie and Nick Hornby. The judges described On Beauty, a study of two British-American academic families plotted with a debt to EM Forster’s Howard’s End, as “written on such a high level of style and intelligence that it gleams’‘.

Ali Smith (43) emerged as a big hitter this season when The Accidental, about a woman who creates fruitful mayhem in the lives of a British family on holiday, reached both the Booker and Whitbread shortlists.

Remarkably, both books are only third novels. Zadie Smith (30) got her big break when her exuberant first story, White Teeth, was shortlisted for the Orange in 2000, Ali Smith when her second, Hotel World, was shortlisted in 2001.

The Orange’s honorary director, Kate Mosse, said: “What is amazing is that authors are making this big impression on the world of fiction with only their third or fourth novels.’‘

Among the dark horses on the longlist is Sarah Waters’s fervently reviewed fourth novel, The Night Watch, about women in World War II.

Notably missing from the list is one title that has already sold half a million copies and topped the United Kingdom bestseller list for all books for four weeks in a row—a feat un-equalled by any prize novel in recent years. It is Labyrinth, Kate Mosse’s third novel. “I am ineligible to enter as an employee of the prize,” she said when asked about its absence. “It would be utterly inappropriate.”

The list includes two big historical novels, Dunmore’s House of Orphans, about Finnish resistance to Czarist Russia, and Gregory’s The Constant Princess, set during Katherine of Aragon’s short reign as queen to King Henry Vlll.

Tips for the shortlist, to be announced on April 19, from Waterstone’s fiction buyer Rodney Troubridge were: On Beauty, The Accidental, The Night Watch, Mantel’s Beyond Black, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, House of Orphans, and possibly British author Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience.—Â

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