Chair of judges and novelist Bernardine Evaristo, said: ‘…with this shortlist, we are excited to present a gloriously varied and thematically rich exploration of women’s fiction at its finest. These novels will take the reader from a rural Britain left behind to the underbelly of a community in Barbados; from inside the hectic performance of social media to inside a family beset by addiction and oppression; from a tale of racial hierarchy in America to a mind-expanding tale of altered perceptions. Fiction by women defies easy categorisation or stereotyping, and all of these novels grapple with society’s big issues expressed through thrilling storytelling. We feel passionate about them, and we hope readers do too.’
Were I not reviewing it, I might have tried to put it down – I say “tried”, because the book is intensely compelling, as well as a lesson in narrative control. You are ensnared in a web with these characters and their trauma; their claustrophobia becomes your own. It’s a startling achievement. There is very little light in this novel, but what shines through instead is a pitiless truth that stays with you long after the story ends.
Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House... unfolds in a Barbados resort where tourists and locals coexist tensely and violence is never far away: two of its female characters, Lala and Jacinthe, are attached to brutal criminals and a third, Mira, was left a widow by a robbery that turned into murder. More a crime-riddled literary novel than a plot-driven thriller, Jones’s atmospheric debut has a multiracial, multigenerational cast who are brilliantly and even-handedly portrayed.
This powerful, unflinching novel opens in Barbados, 1984, with Lala, eight months pregnant and bleeding heavily, searching for her husband so they can go to the hospital. She finds him fleeing the scene of a bungled burglary where a wealthy white man has been shot dead. The novel tells Lala's story, that of her grandmother Wilma, and of the widowed Mrs Whelan, herself once an island girl. Revealing the poverty underpinning the beautiful island paradise, it shows women surviving male violence with resourcefulness and courage.