Tag Archives: Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Longlist

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie HaynesTitle: A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Publisher: Mantle, PanMacmillan
ISBN: 978-1509836208
Genre: Myth Retelling, Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Long-listed title, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed. This is the book that The Silence of the Girls should have been but wasn’t. I am only too glad that this was published and I got a chance to read it. A Thousand Ships might seem like the regular fare of various perspectives and voices about The Trojan War, but there is more to it.

I liked the structure of the book, in the sense of it being an all-female perspective. Right from Penelope to Cassandra to Calliope to Hera and also the lesser-known women of this epic battle. The book’s characters are divided as per houses through which the battle was fought, but they only have similarities. The same grief and loss when men die. The same trauma when women are raped and married against their will. The same anguish of a mother as her child returns as a dead body. The helplessness of a goddess. The book focuses on events which happened before and during Homer’s two epics – The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The story starts with the sacking of Troy. The Greeks entering Troy through the Trojan Horse and raping, pillaging, and killing. Haynes lends structure and character to the lesser-known voices of the war. Women who have no voices in Homer’s poems. Whether they are Priam’s wife and daughters or Penelope’s pain and hurt, Haynes gives us deeper insight into their emotions and feelings. I just didn’t enjoy the constant Helen-bashing that took place at some points in the book.

The chapters are chronological, so there might be some confusion reading the book to begin with. At the same time, you don’t have to read Homer to know what happened. A quick summary of Iliad and Odyssey should be enough to venture into this read. A Thousand Ships is a great read of the retelling of a great myth.

Girl by Edna O’Brien

Girl by Edna O'Brien Title: Girl
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber Books
ISBN: 978-0571341177
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The award season for books is upon us. The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Longlist was announced on the 3rd of March 2020 and one of the books that caught my fancy was Girl by Edna O’Brien. I have read O’Brien’s books in the past – maybe two to three, but this one sounded so unlike what she would write and further piqued my interest.

Girl is a book based on a factual record. When I got to know of that, my skin crawled a little. I didn’t know what to make of the world we live in – the one that I thought of as being empathetic and kind to a large extent. Now, I don’t know. Girl is based on the abduction of hundreds of convent girls who were group-raped by the Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. The novel focuses on one girl who tells us the story of their journey into the forest, and what happens thereafter.

Girl isn’t an easy book to read. The code of violence the men are governed by, and in turn the abuse faced by mere girls is not easy to digest for all. At the same time, O’Brien talks about love and forgiveness in the harsh landscape – of what follows and how brutal it must be, there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel.

The book is all about the human condition – about its frailties, evils, and also maybe the idea that all can be forgiven. But can it? Would you? Could I? I don’t know but these questions did come to mind as I was reading this book and did stay with me long after.

Girl is a tough read. It isn’t pleasant. It demands attention and your emotions as well. It is sensitively written but doesn’t shy away from telling what must have happened and how. I am rooting for it to be a part of the shortlist. I wish more people read this book.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara Title: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
Author: Deepa Anappara
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670093380
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 344
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a joy to read – the prose I mean. The story is dark, and will bring you down, but will also make you smile and maybe make you hopeful about the world around us. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is a revelation – even revealing what you already know but ignore as you live your life on a daily basis.

The book is about children that are disappearing from a basti (slum) they live in. Jai, a nine-year-old kid decides to find these children, with the help of his friends, Pari and Faiz. He is influenced by the true crime show Police Patrol and is confident that his detection skills will make everything alright. He also recruits a dog for this task and names him Samosa. The story then takes off with more children disappearing, their detective work, and what it ultimately leads to.

This is the thread-bare plot of the book. Of course, there is a lot more that goes on. Anappara doesn’t name the city in which the Purple Metro Line runs but you get a sense of it. The hi-fi buildings next to the basti, the large mountain of garbage, the walls built to separate the rich and the poor, and the aspirations that continue to soar.

With this book, she builds a world that is known to us and yet remains unknown. Is it because we don’t want to see how lives are lived there? Is it because we don’t wish to be involved in lives other than ours? There was a lot of morality play at work while I was reading Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line and rightly so. Anappara wants you to question it all – the intent, the society we live in, the rules we follow or make, the ones that we don’t because we are scared, and lives that don’t get the same or equal opportunities such as ours, no matter how woke we are.

A lot is communicated through the book and a lot which readers have to infer. The book also has been published at a time when the Indian democracy is at the mercy of political parties who have the agenda of dividing and ruling basis religion. It comes at a time of Delhi riots, where there is clearly a pogrom at play – that of eliminating Muslims. A major part of the book also speaks of Hindu-Muslim divide in the wake of disappearing children.

There are three sections in the book, and each starts with “This Story Will Save Your Life” chapter which is about the grim reality of the underbelly (so to say) and yet sounds so assuring. Djinn Patrol is narrated by Jai – the language is English, sprinkled with Hindi throughout, which is the lifeline of the book. There is no need for translation of those words because they take the form of emotion. Anappara doesn’t spell all for the reader, she doesn’t want to explain it all – it is left to the reader to decipher – the situations, the language, and hence draw out the meaning.

Jai, Pari, and Faiz are endearing, earnest, and want to live a secure life and nothing more. It seemed to me that Anappara wanted nothing more for them but had to say what she had to. The children are lost, the djinns are legendary, the class divide is real, the rubbish pile dividing them quite literally is as real as it can get, and in all of this is the slum, which is home. The prose brings it all out – nosy neighbours, dangerous children, even more dangerous adults, a trip to the red-light district, the sense of dread, the claustrophobia as you are reading a scene taking place in small spaces, the smells – of shit, oil, ginger and cardamom tea, and the ever-hanging smog – the smog that doesn’t seem to lift like their misfortune.

Djinn Patrol is a coming-of-age story, a thriller, a literary story, a story of imagination and fantasy, a story that is both linear and nonlinear, and a story that is tough with a heart that’s as soft as cotton. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a book that will stay for long and hopefully will make you pray for the children of the world.