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Women's Fiction Prize Judge Laments "Misery Lit"

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

A blog from: Poets & Writers Magazine

Posted by Prize Reporter on 3.17.10

On the heels of the announcement of the Orange Prize longlist today, a bit of insight into the judging process of the annual award, given for a novel by a woman writer, was revealed by chair of judges Daisy Goodwin. The British television producer told the Independent she was put off by an abundance of nominated books written around an "issue," derivative of the popular genre she called the "misery memoir," several centering on themes of rape and child abuse.

"The pleasure of reading counts for something...I don't think editors think enough about this pleasure," Goodwin told the U.K. newspaper. "If I read another sensitive account of a woman coming to terms with bereavement, I was going to slit my wrists."

Goodwin counted as exceptions Roopa Farooki's The Way Things Look to Me, the story of an autistic teenager; Amy Sackville's The Still Point, whose protagonist suffers from depression; and Hilary Mantel's Booker prize–winning historical novel Wolf Hall—all of which made the longlist. Joining Goodwin in winnowing the pile of nominated titles are rabbi and author Julia Neuberger, novelist and critic Michèle Roberts, journalist Miranda Sawyer, and British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman.

Below is the list of semifinalists for the 2010 Orange Prize. The winner of the £30,000 (approximately $46,000) award will be announced on June 9.

Rosie Allison for The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)
Eleanor Catton for The Rehearsal (Granta)
Clare Clark for Savage Lands (Harvill Secker)
Amanda Craig for Hearts and Minds (Little, Brown)
Roopa Farooki for The Way Things Look to Me (Pan Books)
Rebecca Gowers for The Twisted Heart (Canongate)
M. J. Hyland for This is How (Canongate)
Sadie Jones for Small Wars (Chatto & Windus)
Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna (Faber & Faber)
Laila Lalami for Secret Son (Viking)
Andrea Levy for The Long Song (Headline Review)
Attica Locke for Black Water Rising (Serpent's Tail)
Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)
Maria McCann for The Wilding (Faber & Faber)
Nadifa Mohamed for Black Mamba Boy (HarperCollins)
Lorrie Moore for A Gate at the Stairs (Faber & Faber)
Monique Roffey for The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon & Schuster)
Amy Sackville for The Still Point (Portobello Books)
Kathryn Stockett for The Help (Fig Tree)
Sarah Waters for The Little Stranger (Virago)

In the video below, 2009 Orange Prize winner Marilyn Robinson discusses the complexity of father-son relationships, which she investigates in her winning third novel, Home.

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