Here is a look at feminist books by women authors on the prestigious Booker Prize shortlist over the years – this year’s shortlist has been out on the 13th of September.
Books are food for soul and, condiments for thoughts. They slither into your head in the form of words that are spun with emotions, magic and reality. They coax you to think in different ways about the same subject. They make you wonder about the magnanimity of life and destiny. Books after all, are instruments of knowledge that shape your thoughts, words, actions and character.
So, if you have been wondering why I am emphasising and re-emphasising on the importance of books, there is a good reason for it. In a world that is clouded with gender disparity, where people gape in awe when a female wrestler gets a bronze or, when a female badminton player wins a silver in the Olympics, where women trying to reach the pinnacle of their career with all gumption are looked down upon as women who have compromised, we need feminist books that could bring in a change in the world for good. Now, that brings a pertinent question – What is feminism?
Feminism is a movement that advocates for complete fruition of a woman’s dreams and goals with the same success as that of a man’s. And, what better way than books that idolize the theme of feminism and, are all set to spin the wheel of change?
Some of these books with feminist themes have been on the Booker Prize shortlist, a prestigious award that is bestowed upon authors that have woven magic with their words. Countless candidates aspire to get into the Booker Prize shortlist. Essentially, a shortlist in the world of literary awards comprises of possible winners whose works have met the given expectation of the judges and, are likely to win the Booker prize. It is one of the richest literary prize with a cash award of 50000 pounds. However, to be shortlisted is almost nearly as prestigious as winning one, in the literary world.
So, let’s catch a glimpse of the feminist books that made it to the Booker Prize shortlist and, some have won it too.
Shortlisted in 1980 and 1998, respectively. When it comes to discussing feminist authors, Anita Desai’s name comes first to mind! Her novel Clear Light of Day portrays a bold interpretation of status of women in the modern day India. The book also highlights the importance of family, human bonds and forgiveness. Her other work, Fasting, Fasting that ran on feminist lines too, was also a in the Booker Prize shortlist. In this book, Anita has touched topics on gender inequality, dowry and, the clash of the cultures from East and west. But, it is the way Anita has brought every core issue of our society under one banner that ensured this book a place in the Booker Prize shortlist.
Shortlisted in 2013. Jhumpa Lahiri has a way with words when it comes to exploring a woman’s grey shades concerning love, marriage, morality and sexuality. Her book Lowland made it to the shortlist for Booker prize in 2013. The book revolves around three main characters, Udayan, Subhash and Gauri. It is a tale that deeply reflects on the bonds fostered over friendship and love and, on how social conditioning is deeply responsible for the way a human behaves. It also delicately touches illegitimacy and lesbianism. With a proper closure towards the end, this book was one of the strong contenders in the shortlist.
Like mother Anita Desai, Kiran has made her mark too in the literary world. Beautifully woven over the characters Biju and Sai, the story reveals the myriad facets of a colonial mindset derived from the English in the pre-independence era. Set against the backdrop of Gorkhaland movement, the story also revolves around the retired judge – Jemubhai Patel, Sai’s maternal grandfather who insists on eating chapatti with a fork and a knife. Desai has penned down the dynamics of hypocrisy of Indian society over its love hate relationship with the way of living of the English, in an engaging manner.
“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.” – Arundhati Roy has the knack of making profound statements in simple words. Her heart wrenching story on fraternal twins Rahel and Esthappen reflect widely on their dysfunctional family and, their twisted perceptions of relationships, religion, politics, and importantly, women. Roy, in a smooth flowing colloquial style of writing, has revealed the dark side of a stubborn society that fails to see the God in small things. No wonder, this book fetched her the coveted Booker after being short listed!
Set in colonial India during the 1920s, Heat and Dust tells the story of Olivia, a beautiful woman who feels stifled by her position as the wife of an important English officer. Wanting something else from life, she gets emotionally involved with an Indian prince, and soon gets pregnant. Unsure of the child’s paternity, she faces a social crisis that could potentially destroy her world. It is how she handles this crisis in her life that sets her apart from the avaerage English memsaheb, but creates a scandal that the British society has difficulty swallowing.
Shortlisted in 1970. Eva Trout, the protagonist of this pretty intense book is a woman who has been looking for some sense of order in her ever crumbling life. An orphan when we first encounter her, she is a very independent person making her own decisions in life, and has always grappled with the challenges life threw her. The tragedy of a woman character that could have lived a much more promising life in today’s comparatively liberal times.
Shortlisted in 1970. In this intricately woven story, Nina Bawden writes about a middle class family affected by a child caught with drugs – the personal and public implications of the situation. The book uses multiple voices that narrate the story, taking it forward, among which are the voices of three generations of women – the sister, the mother, and the grandmother of the boy Toby who is the offender, and ring so true to the struggle they face as they cope with the situation. An excellent read.
Shortlisted in 1970. Jenny is an Englishwoman who is fleeing a past that she wants to forget, and comes to Italy. There, she meets with three different men, and her intercations with them make her realize that the past cannot be shrugged off so easily. A vividly and lyrically written book, this will also make you long to make a visit to Naples, the setting of the story which is almost like another protagonist!
Shortlisted in 1971. Mrs Palfrey is an elderly woman, recently widowed, who comes to stay at the Claremont, (the kind of establishment immortalised by Agatha Christie in her At Bertram’s Hotel), a hotel that has many other interesting guests, young and old. Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that age is indeed just a number, and even the old can fall in love. A sensitively written story.
One of the celebrated feminist authors of all times, Margaret Atwood has written countless short stories and novels. However, this Canadian author’s Cat’s eye remains the top pick as it has portrayed the life of the famous controversial painter Elaine Risley. The protagonist who is initially portrayed as a woman oblivious to her hidden courage, later, through the events of her life discovers it through feminist art. Atwood has woven the plot in a way that gives every character the closure it needs. No wonder, this book won her a Booker prize in 1989.
Shortlisted in 2015. The portrayal of relations and the play of emotions between the siblings in the family of Whitshank spanning across three generations, is delicately weaved in the plot. The story line revolves around the main female protagonist, Abby, whose role as a mother, wife and daughter-in-law is tested by time and fate as she struggles to bring the family around, in their huge Baltimore mansion with a wrap around porch.
Image source: bbc.com