UPDATE: I was wrong to snark (although it may be useful for blurb writers and cover designers) – having read them all – they’re all good.
Surprisingly : Ali Smith ‘How to be Both’.
I have managed to not read a single-one of this year’s shortlisted Bailey’s Prize books – so I can give my ‘what I would think in a bookshop’ first impression of them.
First off – every single book cover is either boring, seen-it-before or actively ugly. Putting that aside and ignoring most of the content we have:
The Bees – by playwright Laline Paull – about a rebel bee leading a double life in a collapsing bee colony… it’s apparently an allegory about race or the Monarchy… or anyway… something human.
Outline by Rachel Cusk – a creative writing teacher asks her students to tell her about the one thing they noticed on their way in (which sounds like A Chorus Line without the singing)… I’m sure I read an interview with Rachel in which she had marriage issues and lived in Norfolk.
A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie – is an epic about about Empires falling and Nations rising and archaeologists digging stuff up. I think its main period is the First World War and its protagonists are mainly in Turkey, London and India – but it sprawls – so I may be wrong.
How to Be Both by Ali Smith – has a half decent cover – but one that’s entirely misleading – since it makes it look like a Retronaught novel set in the 1990s’ favourite decade the 1960s. Apparently it’s about a teenage girl now and an Italian Renaissance artist then – who are somehow connected in time – and who both are a bit both.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler is about an American family and is described as homely, spot-on and melancholy.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – promises to be genre trash (that’s a compliment) but I have bad memories of Tipping The Velvet having terrible plot development and the prose felt like I was being dragged backwards (I mean I literally felt that – which wasn’t entirely pleasant – although it must take some skill).
So what would I buy if I was in the book shop?
The Bees – it’s about bees – it’ll either work or be funnier than The Swarm (Oh my God – Bees! Bees! Millions of bees!).
The Paying Guests – it’s about taking in lodgers in the 1920s and has a lesbian romp and a murder and got denounced by The Guardian as ‘middle-brow’ – so clearly a winner.
The rest – meh – maybe. Probably not.