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.’
Like Fuller’s prize-winning first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, Unsettled Ground, which has been longlisted for the Women’s prize, takes marginal lives as its theme. With sensitivity and intelligence, Fuller unpicks the relentless complexity of the modern world, in which mobile phones are connected to bank accounts are connected to central heating systems, and the hopeless poignancy of our longing for simplicity in the shadow of that monolithic interdependence.
Fifty-one-year-old twins Julius and Jeanie still live with their mother, Dot, in a ramshackle rural cottage. Their father died years earlier in a tractor accident for which the twins blame local landowner Spencer Rawson. When Dot dies, they begin to unravel their family history as they struggle to lead independent lives. Fuller explores the painful realities of poverty and social isolation with immense sensitivity in this multilayered and emotionally astute novel.
Jeanie, the more engaging of the two, feels anger at how her illiteracy ices her out of ordinary life; she recalls how her mother implied "that an education for the kind of people they were – poor people, country people – would only steal her away from where she belonged – at home". The blows of destitution crescendo somewhat into melodrama in the final act – it’s the novel’s well-realised mood of shame and guilt that’s more propulsive and affecting. Unsettled Ground examines where the fault lines lie – at how a parent’s errors can reverberate through a life.
Jeanie and Julius Seeder are 51-year-old twins who live in extreme poverty in a fogottwn Wiltshire backwater and are sheltered from the real world by their mother, Dot. But when Dot dies, the twins are forced to confront not just the modern-day 21st centruy, but also the secrets that Dot had been keeping from them. This is an atmospheric thriller that's both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Fuller is frank in her depictions of poverty, both of economy and compassion, and the shame just waiting to be felt in such a small community, where visits to a food bank could never go unnoticed. Broken and decrepit though the cottage may be, it’s where the twins were born and where Dot dies, unexpectedly, one morning of a stroke. “The worries of seventy years — the money, the infidelity, the small deceits — are cut away” in an instant, and the twins are left to fend for themselves.
The theme of filial duty resurfaces in her new novel, which was deservedly longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction...
Jeanie, who can’t read or write, is a captivating heroine, almost Hardyesque in the depths of misery she’s put through.
Fuller writes agonisingly well about poverty, and the cruelty of predatory villagers who smell fresh blood.
Fuller’s great skill is to create characters by stealth. They speak through their actions, rather than internal monologue: Jeanie pinning a drawing of her dog on the wall; Julius daring to offer himself to a woman; the two preparing their mother’s body for burial. The things they do subtly create who they are, and allow us to inhabit their situation ourselves. What would you do if somebody died at home and you had no money or phone but were handy with a spade?
Empathising with those who live under the radar is important work, and thanks to this memorable creation we might look more kindly on those less fortunate, and not turn away when some unwashed woman is being weird in a public place. This is a powerful, beautiful novel that shows us our land as it really is: a place of both shelter and cruelty, innocence and experience.
I loved Fuller's last book, Bitter Orange, and was equally enthralled when reading this. Twins Jeanie and Julias have had a far from conventional upbringing. Aged 51, they're still living with their mother. When she dies, they are ill-equipped to cope with life. I was fascinated and horrified.