Honor roll: Orange Prize for Fiction

Each of these works has been nominated for one of these awards: Orange Prize for Fiction, Women's Prize for Fiction. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:Alias Grace

Alias Grace: A Novel

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood takes us back in time and into the life and mind of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, the wealthy Thomas Kinnear, and of Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence after a stint in Toronto’s lunatic asylum, Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story, from her family’s difficult passage out of Ireland into Canada, to her time as a maid in Thomas Kinnear’s household. As he brings Grace closer and closer to the day she cannot remember, he hears of the turbulent relationship between Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, and of the alarming behavior of Grace’s fellow servant, James McDermott. Jordan is drawn to Grace, but he is also baffled by her. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend, a bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she a victim of circumstances?

Book:A Crime in the Neighborhood

A Crime in the Neighborhood

Suzanne Berne

An auspicious debut novel by a young writer who will remind readers of Anne Lamott and Anne Tyler

Crime in the Neighborhood centers on a headline event— the molestation and murder of a twelve-year-old boy in a Washington, D.C., suburb. At the time of the murder, 1973, Marsha was nine years old and as an adult she still remembers that summer as a time when murder and her own family’s upheaval were intertwined. Everyone, it seemed to Marsha at the time, was committing crimes. Her father deserted his family to take up with her mother’s younger sister. Her teenage brother and sister were smoking and shoplifting, and her mother was “flirting” with Mr. Green, the new next-door neighbor. Even the president of the United States seemed to be a crook. But it is Marsha’s own suspicions about who committed this crime that has the town up in arms and reveals what happens when fear runs wild.

Book:The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Against this backdrop, Orleanna…[more]

Book:Larry's Party

Larry's Party

Carol Shields

The San Diego Tribune called The Stone Diaries a “universal study of what makes women tick.” With Larry’s Party Carol Shields has done the same for men.

Larry Weller, born in 1950, is an ordinary guy made extraordinary by his creator’s perception, irony, and tenderness. Larry’s Party gives us, as it were, a CAT scan of his life, in episodes between 1977 and 1997, that seamlessly flash backward and forward. We follow this young floral designer through two marriages and divorces, and his interactions with his parents, friends, and a son. Throughout, we witness his deepening passion for garden mazes—so like life, with their teasing treachery and promise of reward. Among all the paradoxes and accidents of his existence, Larry moves through the spontaneity of the seventies, the blind enchantment of the eighties, and the lean, mean nineties, completing at last his quiet, stubborn search for self.

Larry’s odyssey mirrors the male condition at the end of our century with targeted wit, unerring poignancy, and faultless wisdom.

Book:Lives of the Monster Dogs

Lives of the Monster Dogs

Kirsten Bakis

Here is a first novel like no other: a spellbinding tale that both creates its own fully realized world perspective and provides an incisive look at the ways that humans and animals resemble each other. A group of elegant monster dogs in top hats, tails, and bustle skirts become instant celebrities when they come to New York in 2008. Refugees from a town whose residents had been utterly isolated for a hundred years, the dogs retain the nineteenth-century Germanic culture of the humans who created them. They are wealthy and glamorous and seem to lead charmed lives—but they find adjusting to the modern world difficult, and when a young woman, Cleo Pira, befriends them, she discovers that a strange, incurable illness threatens them all with extinction. When the dogs construct their dream home, a fantastic castle on the Lower East Side, and barricade themselves inside, Cleo finds herself one of the few human witnesses to a mad, lavish party that may prove to be the final act in the drama of the lives of the monster dogs.

Book:The Ventriloquist's Tale

The Ventriloquist's Tale

Pauline Melville

Pauline Melville conjures up vivid pictures both of savanna and forest and of city life in South America where love is often trumped by disaster. Unforgettable characters illuminate theme and plot: Sonny, the strange, beautiful and isolate son of Beatrice and Danny, the brother and sister who have a passionate affair at the time of the solar eclipse in 1919; Father Napier, the sandy-haired evangelist whom the Indians perceive as a giant grasshopper; Chofy McKinnon the modern Indian, torn between savanna life and urban future. This is a novel that embraces nearly a century, large in scope but intimate as a whisper, where laughter is never far from the scene of tragedy; a parable of miscegenation and racial elusiveness, of nature defying culture, magic confronting rationalism and of the eternally rebellious nature of love.

Book:Fugitive Pieces

Fugitive Pieces

Anne Michaels

It is a story of World War II as remembered and imagined by one of its survivors: a poet named Jakob Beer, traumatically orphaned as a young child and smuggled out of Poland, first to a Greek island (where he will return as an adult), and later to Toronto. It is the story of how, over his lifetime, Jakob learns the power of language—to destroy, to omit, to obliterate, but also to restore and to conjure, witness and tell—as he comes to understand and experience what was lost to him and of what is possible for him to regain.

Profoundly moving, brilliantly written—as sensual and lyric as it is emotionally resonant—Fugitive Pieces delves into the most difficult workings of the human heart and mind: the grief and healing of remembrance. It is a first novel of astonishing achievement.

Book:Paradise (Toni Morrison)

Paradise

Toni Morrison

“Rumors had been whispered for more than a year. Outrages that had been accumulating all along took shape as evidence. A mother was knocked down the stairs by her cold-eyed daughter. Four damaged infants were born in one family. Daughters refused to get out of bed. Brides disappeared on their honeymoons. Two brothers shot each other on New Year’s Day. Trips to Demby for VD shots common. And what went on at the Oven these days was not to be believed…The proof they had been collecting since the terrible discovery in the spring could not be denied: the one thing that connected all these catastrophes was in the Convent. And in the Convent were those women.”

In Paradise—her first novel since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature—Toni Morrison gives us a bravura performance. As the book begins deep in Oklahoma early one morning in 1976, nine men from Ruby (pop. 360), in defense of “the…[more]

Book:The Leper's Companions

The Leper's Companions: A novel

Julia Blackburn

The Leper’s Companions begins, we know only that the narrator has lost someone she loves. In her bereavement, she creates a past in which she might both lose and find herself: a fifteenth-century village in a land of saints and spirits, inexplicable afflictions and miraculous awakenings. With a band of pilgrims—among them an old man, his pregnant daughter, a priest, a dying woman, and a leper—she discovers a beached mermaid, watches a priest drive madness from a woman’s mouth, enters a mossy forest inhabited by a hunted man covered in shaggy hair, and witnesses a map being digested in the belly of a ravenous woman.

Moving effortlessly between the magical and the real, the past and the present, the journey of the narrator and her companions transcends the physical terrain and becomes a fantastical quest for rebirth. We are skillfully ushered into the emotional lives of each of the travelers as they reflect and ultimately redefine the life of the narrator.

The Leper’s Companions reaffirms Julia Blackburn’s status as one of the most original writers at work today, as she makes the fictional narrative do the work not only of storytelling but also of invention.

Book:I Was Amelia Earhart

I Was Amelia Earhart

Jane Mendelsohn

In this brilliantly imagined novel, Amelia Earhart tells us what happened after she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared off the coast of New Guinea one glorious, windy day in 1937. And she tells us about herself.

There is her love affair with flying (“The sky is flesh”)…

There are her memories of the past: her childhood desire to become a heroine (“Heroines did what they wanted”)…her marriage to G.P. Putnam, who promoted her to fame, but was willing to gamble her life so that the book she was writing about her round-the-world flight would sell out before Christmas.

There is the flight itself—day after magnificent or perilous or exhilarating or terrifying day (“Noonan once said any fool could have seen I was risking my life but not living it”).

And there is, miraculously, an island (“We named it Heaven, as a kind of joke”).

And, most important, there is Noonan…

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