First awarded in 2014, The Writers’ Prize, formerly The Rathbones Folio Prize, is open to all works of literature written in English and published in the UK. Prizes are awarded for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
This year’s shortlists include The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright, The Bee Sting by Paul Murray, and The Fraud by Zadie Smith for fiction, and Thunderclap by Laura Cumming, Doppelganger by Naomi Klein, and A Thread of Violence by Mark O’Connell for nonfiction. None of the poetry selections have been published yet in the U.S.
The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
Nell McDaragh never knew her grandfather, the famed Irish poet Phil McDaragh. But his love poems seem to speak directly to her. Restless, full of verve and wit, twenty-two-year-old Nell leaves her mother Carmel’s home to find her voice as a writer and live a life of her choosing. Carmel, too, knows the magic of her Daddo’s poetry—and the broken promises within its verses. When Phil abandons the family, Carmel struggles to reconcile “the poet” with the man whose desertion scars Carmel, her sister, and their cancer-ridden mother.
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
The Barnes family is in trouble. Dickie’s once-lucrative car business is going under―but rather than face the music, he’s spending his days in the woods, building an apocalypse-proof bunker with a renegade handyman. His wife Imelda is selling off her jewelry on eBay, while their teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way through her final exams. And twelve-year-old PJ is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away from home.
Where did it all go wrong? A patch of ice on the tarmac, a casual favor to a charming stranger, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil―can a single moment of bad luck change the direction of a life? And if the story has already been written―is there still time to find a happy ending?
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
It is 1873. Mrs Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper – and cousin by marriage – of a once famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.
Mrs Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.
Andrew Bogle meanwhile grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realize. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.
Thunderclap by Laura Cumming
As a brilliant art critic and historian, Laura Cumming has explored the importance of art in life and can give us a perspective on the time and place in which the artist worked. Now, through the lens of one dramatic event in 17th-century Holland, Cumming “has fashioned a book that combines memoir, art criticism, and history to illuminating effect” ( The New York Times Book Review ).
In 1654, the Thunderclap—an enormous explosion at a gunpowder store—devasted the city of Delft, killing hundreds of people, including the extraordinary painter Carel Fabritius, and injuring thousands more.
Framing the story around the life of Fabritius, Cumming illuminates this extraordinary moment in art history while also writing about her own father, a painter. Like Dutch art, the story gradually links country, city, town, street, house, interior—all the way to the bird on its perch, the blue and white tile, the smallest seed in a loaf of bread. The impact of a painting and how it can enter our thoughts, influence our view and understanding of the world is the heart of this book. Cumming has brought her unique eye to her most compelling subject yet.
Doppelganger by Naomi Klein
What if you woke up one morning and found you’d acquired another self―a double who was almost you and yet not you at all? What if that double shared many of your preoccupations but, in a twisted, upside-down way, furthered the very causes you’d devoted your life to fighting against?
Not long ago, the celebrated activist and public intellectual Naomi Klein had just such an experience―she was confronted with a doppelganger whose views she found abhorrent but whose name and public persona were sufficiently similar to her own that many people got confused about who was who. Destabilized, she lost her bearings, until she began to understand the experience as one manifestation of a strangeness many of us have come to know but struggle to define: AI-generated text is blurring the line between genuine and spurious communication; New Age wellness entrepreneurs turned anti-vaxxers are scrambling familiar political allegiances of left and right; and liberal democracies are teetering on the edge of absurdist authoritarianism, even as the oceans rise. Under such conditions, reality itself seems to have become unmoored. Is there a cure for our moment of collective vertigo?
A Thread of Violence by Mark O’Connell
Malcolm Macarthur was a well-known Dublin socialite and heir. Suave and urbane, he passed his days mingling with artists and aristocrats, reading philosophy, living a life of the mind. But by 1982, his inheritance had dwindled to almost nothing, a desperate threat to his lifestyle. Macarthur hastily conceived a He would commit bank robbery, of the kind that had become frightfully common in Dublin at the time. But his plan spun swiftly out of control, and he needlessly killed two innocent people. The ensuing manhunt, arrest, and conviction amounted to one of the most infamous political scandals in modern Irish history, contributing to the eventual collapse of a government.
Author Mark O’Connell spent countless hours in conversation with Macarthur—interviews that veered from confession to evasion. Through their tense exchanges and O’Connell’s independent reporting, a pair of narratives a riveting account of Macarthur’s crimes and a study of the hazy line between truth and invention. We come to see not only the enormity of the murders but the damage that’s inflicted when a life is rendered into story.