5. The common thread of motherhood
Two of the novels explore the nuances and challenges of modern motherhood while confronting patriarchal ideologies. Still Born, by Guadalupe Nettel and translated by Rosalind Harvey, is inspired by the experiences of the author’s friend and her daughter and explores the moral complexities of maternity. The novel addresses the challenges of those who are childless by choice through its two career-driven female protagonists, one of whom chooses to be sterilised, perhaps prematurely, while the other’s eventual pregnancy brings devastating complications. Eva Baltasar’s Boulder, translated by Julia Sanches and described by our judges as ‘a feverish exploration of desire’, leads with a lesbian relationship in which one partner chooses to have a child while the other remains ambivalent. The two novels show women reckoning with biology and their physicality, while suffocating under the emotional weight of their decisions.
6. Six very different approaches to storytelling
Although the books share a number of common themes – and while all are, in the words of chair of judges Leïla Slimani, ‘not abstract or theoretical books, but very grounded books, about people, places and moments’ – stylistically and tonally they couldn’t be more different. Boulder is a short, poetic and very sensual book about all kinds of appetites; while Standing Heavy’s blackly comic vignettes are presented in a fragmentary style – as if from different camera angles. In Whale, Cheon Myeong-Kwan’s storytelling is joyful and energetic; our judges said the author had ‘built a believable story out of preposterous situations’. Guadalupe Nettel’s moving and unflinching Still Born balances empathy and cruelty; it is ‘honest, unsentimental and compassionate about the choices we think we’re making, and the choices that are foisted upon us’, said our judges. Time Shelter is a high-concept novel of ideas, propelled by playful humour. While The Gospel According to the New World is joyful, optimistic and colourful, ‘a deceptively simple novel full of wisdom, generosity of spirit and the writer’s palpable tenderness towards the world and her craft,’ according to our judges.