Bettany Hughes, author of The Hemlock Cup, is chairing this year’s judging panel for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Here is one of her dispatches from the judging process.
In Nepal and Turkey, through New York and LA, across the United States the sentiment has been the same, even if the language was not…why is your suitcase so ****ing heavy?! Well the answer is simple; the wealth of stories packed inside. OK so I could have Kindled—but my fear was I’d skim read and miss a sentence, a word. And that was not an option. Not only because it is my job as Chair to cover-to-cover read 130 plus books, but because the standard of entries to this year’s Orange prize has been quite exceptional. Our longlist—announced yesterday (March 16th) is original to the power of x. On the pages we have been taken to the Sudan, Burma, the Balkans, an alligator park in the US, into the head of a girl who wonders whether she is a mermaid, through the struggles of man-woman hermaphrodite, around the complexities of incest. The narratives cover continents and centuries—there is nothing that hasn’t been dared. In the most intense and dark of human nightmare and struggle there has been joy.
Next stop, with my books, was Japan. The horror of what is happening there meant we had to turn back mid-journey. In one of the press photos a young girl sits in a devastated town reading a book. All power to the power of the page to take you to another place. And all our heartfelt thoughts to each and every one of those people who are suffering so hideously at the hands of natural and manmade disasters.