June third is fast approaching and I’m two-thirds of the way through this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize Shortlist. For the past two week’s I’ve been reading two titles by beloved authors, Anne Tyler and Sarah Waters. Let the battle begin!
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Why is she a darling? Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist with 20 novels to her name who has twice been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. She is perhaps best known for The Accidental Tourist (later made into a film starring Geena Davis), though my favourite novel of hers is Digging to America.
What’s this book about? Like most of Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread centres around the the life of an everyday American family. Abby and Red Whitshank are getting on in years and decisions must be made about what to do with the house, which was built by Red’s father.
What keeps you reading? Tyler does an excellent job of writing memorable characters who feel authentic, the Whitshanks are no different. The digressive section on Red’s parents courtship was particularly entertaining.
Verdict: While I thoroughly enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread, the narrative is less coherent than Tyler’s other works and therefore less satisfying. If you’re a Tyler fan already, read it. If you are new to her work, there are better starting points.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Why is she a darling? Waters is known for writing Victorian novels featuring lesbian protagonists. She was twice shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Her best known works are Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet.
What’s this book about? Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter Frances take in a married couple as lodgers to make ends meet. Frances becomes quite close to the wife, Lilian.
What keeps you reading? The early stages of the novel paint an affecting portrait of female friendship. Midway through, it becomes a crime drama. I kept reading to see how (and if) the main characters’ relationship would survive.
Verdict: As with Tyler, I don’t find this to be Waters’ best work. I found the melding of two genres readable but ultimately unsatisfying. If you are new to her work, I’d pick up Fingersmith or another early work instead.
While I enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread more than The Paying Guests, I found the latter harder to put down. In the end, I’m still routing for Rachel Cusk’s Outline or Laline Paull’s The Bees to take home Bessie on June 3rd.
Registration is now open for our Baileys Women’s Prize Party on June 3rd. The party will celebrate the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction and will feature readings from the shortlisted books, drinks, refreshments, and prizes! You can register via our event calendar here: http://bit.ly/1E5jyEw