American Authors Represent on this Year’s Orange Prize Longlist

The longlist for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction was released last Wednesday. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Orange Prize, it’s the UK’s prestigious annual book award for fiction written by a woman. The award can be presented to a female author of any nationality for the best eligible full-length novel written in the English language. The novel entries must be published for the first time in the United Kingdom the year prior to the awarded Prize (rules for entry).

This year’s longlist nominees include American contenders Jennifer Egan, Samantha Hunt, Nicole Krauss, Wendy Law-Yone, Tea Obreht (Serbian/American), Karen Russell, and Julie Orringer (a former creative writing teacher at the University of Michigan).

Where does NLR sit with this year’s nominees? Well, the Revue has a lot of reading left to do. While I enjoyed Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge, I found it difficult to push as a solid cover-to-cover recommendation. But before the ax falls, I intend to read Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife (which is generating big nods), Egan’s NBCC award winner A Visit From the Goon Squad, and jumping the Canadian border to read author Kathleen Winter’s literary gender-bender Annabel.

This year’s Orange Prize seems to be more significant than ever in light of the VIDA Count of 2010. With the noted discrepancies between male and female writers, many have opined on the merits of women in literature, the purported Literary Glass Ceiling, and the very Orange Prize itself.

Now in its sixteenth year, the Orange Prize celebrates “excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing throughout the world.”* Outside of increased book sales and prestige, the winner of the award receives thirty-thousand-pounds (nearly forty-four thousand dollars) and a limited edition bronze sculpture known as a ‘Bessie’ created and donated by artist Grizel Niven. The prize is sponsored by Orange which is a UK mobile network operator and Internet provider.

The Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced on April 12, 2011 and the actual winner will be announced sometime in June. In past years American authors such as Zadie Smith, Marilynne Robinson, and Ann Patchett have taken home the Orange Prize. Author Barbara Kingsolver won the Prize last year for her novel, The Lacuna.

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

*Information taken from the official Orang Prize for Fiction site

Related Information

-You can link here for more information on the history, rules, guidelines, and judges of the Orange Prize for Fiction.

-Try this full list of winners and nominees at Goodreads

-Try The National’s article, Books Firing on All Cylinders: Orange Longlist Shows Power of Women Writers

Orringer’s ‘Invisible Bridge’ a Mighty Draw

Cover ImageWhen I picked up The Invisible Bridge, my understanding was that it involved love, Paris, architecture, and many other reader bon bons. I knew that war was involved, but was under the impression that it was used more as backdrop than as the premise of the story. That said, I usually steer clear of books addressing the Holocaust in any direct way. For me, to read of the devastation and incalculable loss is so profoundly numbing that I can’t move far enough past the actual historic events to meet the novel’s characters. So, it was to my great surprise that Julie Orringer carried me through my prior resistance on the back of her debut novel ‘The Invisible Bridge.’

While reading the book, I wasn’t sure if it was one that I could recommend. Tipping the scales at about 600 pages, ‘Bridge’ is definitely an an emotional and timely investment. As fluffy summer reads and the latest paperbacks beckon, a hard-covered doorstopper doesn’t hold much appeal. However, the more time that passes since I’ve finished the book, the more enamored I have become.

Julie Orringer brings an emotional beauty to the stark barbarism of war-torn Europe and creates a deep, passionate empathy through her strong prose and characters. Crafting heartfelt ruminations like that of Orringer’s main character Andras, Ms. Orringer envelops the reader into the family dynamic while providing an intimate perspective and an invested urgency to survive:

“One and a half million Jewish men and women and children: How was anyone to understand a number like that? Andras knew it took three thousand to fill the seats of the Dohany Street Synagogue. To accommodate a million and a half, one would have had to replicate that building, its arches and domes, its Moorish interior, its balcony, its dark wooden pews and gilded ark, five hundred times. And then to envision each of those five hundred synagogues filled to capacity, to envision each man and woman and child inside as a unique and irreplaceable human being… each of them with desires and fears, a mother and a father, a birthplace, a bed, a first love, a web of memories, a cache of secrets, a skin, a heart, an infinitely complicated brain – to imagine them that way, and then to imagine them dead, extinguished for all time – how could anyone begin to grasp it?”

Orringer has a penetrating commitment to dialogue that fortunately overrides the high rate of coincidence in the story. While some encounters and reunions are a bit of a stretch, they are redeemed and quickly resolved by Orringer’s swift ability to engage the reader’s emotions over any tendency to criticize. In essence, the story wins out every time.

FYI: Julie Orringer was a Helen Herzog Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer