May book of the month

It's Orange Prize time again. And this year's buzz is that a debut novelist (Samantha Harvey) has beaten Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison to the shortlist.

In fact, none of the six finalists are particularly big names but the judges agree they have all written highly accessible and original novels. The winner will be announced on 3rd June but which one shall we have as our May Book of the Month in the meantime?

Read our quick guide to the shortlist below and vote now for your favourite Orange contender.

scotts book coverEllen Feldman: Scottsboro
Feldman's third novel is a fictionalisation of a real trial that was the catalyst for the US civil rights movement. It is Alabama, 1931, and a posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls emerge from another freight car and the cry of rape goes up. One of the girls sticks to her story. The other changes her tune, time and time again. A young journalist, whose only connection to the incident is her own overheated social conscience, fights to save the black youths from the electric chair, redeem the girl who repents her lie, and make amends for her own past. Moving, disturbing and powerful writing.

Samantha Harvey: The Wildernesswilderness cover
Harvey has boldly ignored the debut novelist's "write about what you know" adage: her main character, Jake, is male, 65 years old and has Alzheimer's. On his birthday, he sits in a small plane, being flown over the landscape that has been the backdrop to his life – his childhood, his marriage, his work, his passions. Jake struggles to hold on to his memories and his identity but they become increasingly elusive and unreliable. What happened to his daughter? Is she alive or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? What went so wrong in his life? A first novel that raises questions about how we see ourselves and how memories build us into who we are. Remarkably life-affirming and thought-provoking.


invention cover

Samantha Hunt: The Invention of Everything Else
Another fictionalised account of a real event, Hunt's novel revolves around the twin poles of Serbian-born scientist Nikola Tesla, inventor of radio and AC electricity and a notoriously marginalised genius, and Louisa, a highly sensitive and imaginative young woman who encounters Tesla at the end of his life. It is also a father-and-daughter story, a love story, a New York story – and a literary mystery, woven around a biographically accurate portrayal of Tesla, whose wild eccentricities made him a counter-culture icon and whose carelessness about patenting his ideas led to Edison and Marconi stealing them and making fortunes, while he died in poverty.


molly fox coverDeidre Madden: Molly Fox's Birthday
The most experienced novelist on the list, Irish writer Deirdre Madden has set her seventh novel in Dublin. While she is away in New York, the celebrated actor Molly Fox has loaned her house to a playwright friend who is struggling to write a new work. On Midsummer's Day, the playwright reflects upon her own life, Molly's life and that of their mutual friend Andrew, who she has known ever since university. Exploring the themes of family, friendship and love, this is a novel about identity and the complexities of friendship. Subtle and understated, the style of writing is simple, clear and unshowy but full of atmosphere.


home coverMarilynne Robinson: Home
Pulitzer Prize-winner Robinson is probably the best-known writer on the list (her debut novel, Housekeeping, was chosen as one of the Observer's 100 greatest novels of all time and her second novel, Gilead, won the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award). In this third novel, Jack – prodigal son of the Broughton family – has returned home looking for refuge and to make peace with a past littered with trouble and pain. A bad boy from childhood and an alcoholic who cannot hold down a job, Jack is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, although he remains Broughton's most beloved child. A beautifully written, poignant story.


burnt coverKamila Shamsie: Burnt Shadows
Hugely ambitious (and with resonances of The English Patient), this book begins in a prison cell in the US, where a terrified man stands waiting to be shipped to Guantánamo Bay. Rewind to 9th August 1945, Nagasaki: Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda - she's 21 years old, in love and, wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she's thinking of the man she is about to marry. Then the world turns white. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she's known, all that remains are three bird-shaped burns, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. From Delhi and Pakistan to New York and Afghanistan, this story unravels the ties that bind and the wars that divide. A riveting read you'll be passing on to all your friends this summer.

Vote for the book you'd most like to be May's Book Club choice. The poll closes at midnight on Tuesday 5 May. 

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