The Baileys Women’s prize for Fiction is one of those strange beasts – a competition open to only half the population. With good cause, it might be argued, as recent research has shown that the Booker prize – that pre-eminent and most prestigious of awards – has produced an overwhelming number of male authors on its shortlists and even more of its winners. However in recent years things have changed pretty dramatically. The Booker has been going since 1969 and the Orange Prize (the precursor to the Bailey’s) started in 1996. In the intervening 27 years, the prize was won only 10 times by women. For the 10 years after, only twice. So far, so bad. However in the years since (nine) it has been won by men only four times. So case made – we do not need a Women’s prize anymore. Not so say some, because the subject viewpoint of two of those women’s Bookers was male – step forward Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell.
Whatever you think, book prizes get people talking about books and that has to be good news (for bookshops at least).
Just out in paperback this week is The History of Loneliness by John Boyne (author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). It is written from the perspective of an Irish catholic priest and is very well done indeed.