The Bailey’s Prize 2015: Shortlist

Sunday 19 April 2015 by

If I didn’t have enough bookclubs, I thought I would add another to the list! At work we have decided to read the Bailey’s Prize shortlist before the winner is announced on 3rd June. Our task? Read at least two of the below six!

Outline, Rachel Cusk, Book, Faber Faber, Bailey's Prize 2015Outline by Rachel Cusk

A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.

Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voices begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.

The Bees, Laline Paull, Book, Bailey's Prize 2015The Bees by Laline Paull

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is deemed fit only to clean her orchard hive. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting nectar and pollen on the wing. Before long she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, learning secrets both sublime and ominous.

Flora’s ascent disturbs the natural hierarchy of the colony, incensing powerful enemies. But when she feels compelled to break the most sacred law of all, Flora’s instincts are overwhelmed by love, as all-consuming as it is forbidden…

A God in Every Stone, Kamile Shamsie, Book, Bailey's Prize, 2015A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

July 1914. Young Englishwoman Vivian Rose Spencer is running up a mountainside in an ancient land, surrounded by fig trees and cypresses. Soon she will discover the Temple of Zeus, the call of adventure and the ecstasy of love. Thousands of miles away a twenty-year-old Pathan, Qayyum Gul, is learning about brotherhood and loyalty in the British Indian Army.

July 1915. Qayyum Gul is returning home after losing an eye at Ypres, his allegiances in tatters. Viv is following the mysterious trail of her missing beloved. Qayyum and Viv meet on a train to Peshawar, unaware that a connection is about to be forged between their lives – one that will reveal itself fifteen years later, on the Street of Storytellers, when a brutal fight for freedom, an ancient artefact and a haunting green-eyed woman will bring them together again.

How to be Both, Ali Smith, Book, Bailey's Prize 2015How to be Both by Ali Smith

How to be Both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance.

A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler, Book, Bailey's Prize 2015A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’

This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.

And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we also see played out own hopes and fears, rivalries and tensions – the essential nature of family life.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Book, Bailey's Prize 2015The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in the south of the city, on genteel Champion Hill, in a hushed Camberwell villa still recovering from the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed.

Widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances – an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster – find themselves obliged to take in lodgers. The arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, brings unsettling things with it: gramophone music, colour, fun. Open doors offer Frances glimpses of the newcomers’ habits, sounds travel from their rooms to hers, and the staircase and landing have never seemed to her so busy.

As she and Lilian are drawn into an unexpected friendship, loyalties begin to shift. Secrets are confessed, dangerous desires admitted; the most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama. And in the house on Champion Hill, no one can foresee just how far the disturbances will reach.

 

I’ve decided to read The Bees and A God in Every Stone! Have you read any of the shortlist? Will you be reading any of them before the winner is announced? And who do you want to win!

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