Women write literary fiction’s big hitters. So where are their prizes? | Stephanie Merritt

The 2017 bestseller list was dominated by women, with Margaret Atwood at the top, but the Booker still favours men

On the face of it, the revelation that female writers dominated the UK literary bestseller lists in 2017 might seem cause for celebration, a long-overdue correction that seems especially welcome in a year that exposed systemic bias in many forms across the creative industries. According to the Bookseller’s analysis of sales, only one man, Haruki Murakami, made it into a top 10 that saw a new generation of female writers, including Sarah Perry, Naomi Alderman and Zadie Smith, displace venerable fixtures of the literary landscape such as Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro.

Related: Kamila Shamsie: let’s have a year of publishing only women – a provocation

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Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich review – fertile ground for dystopian nightmares

This diary to an unborn child shows a world where the treachery of our genes has distorted society

There was an exchange on Twitter that went viral recently: a man, deliberately trolling, wrote: “Look out the window and name one thing women have made.” Without missing a beat, a woman tweeted back: “EVERY. SINGLE. HUMAN. BEING.” The power of female fertility is simultaneously so mundane as to be overlooked and so significant that it remains the principle battleground in culture and gender wars, a tool or a weapon to be appropriated by those who seek to control the masses. Feminists and writers of speculative fiction have long known this. “The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet,” wrote Margaret Atwood earlier this year, on why her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is resonating so forcefully in the age of ...

Winter by Ali Smith review – luminously beautiful

A fraught family Christmas in Cornwall is the setting for the second part of Smith’s seasonal quartet, a tender tale inspired by Dickens and Shakespeare

Think of a classic winter tale, and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol might be the first to mind. It’s clearly one of the models for the second part of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, a novel of great ferocity, tenderness, righteous anger and generosity of spirit that you feel Dickens would have recognised. Sophia Cleves is a Scrooge for our time, a retired businesswoman whose work always took precedence over family. Now holed up in her 15-bedroom house in Cornwall, she is, as her estranged sister, Iris, observes, “an old miserly grump who had nothing in the house for your son and his girlfriend for Christmas except a bag of walnuts and half a jar of glace cherries”.

But Sophia has not been alone; as the story ...

The Last Hours by Minette Walters review – mass graves and power plays

The first novel in a decade from the queen of psychological crime is a historical drama set during the Black Death

In the book business, when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life,” explains Ken Follett, in the introduction to his 1989 bestseller The Pillars of the Earth. Follett ignored that advice, frightening his publishers by abandoning thrillers to embark on a historical epic. Now Minette Walters – formerly the multimillion-selling “queen of psychological crime” – has gambled on the same change of direction. After retiring from the genre she helped popularise, amid much speculation about burnout or writer’s block, she has spent most of the last decade working on a mammoth two-part historical saga set in her home county of Dorset during the early ravages of the Black ...

Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett review – a well-marshalled family saga

The biographer has turned her hand to fiction with this accomplished ensemble tale set on a single English estate through the agesYou can’t help wondering if Lucy Hughes-Hallett realised, when she began her first novel, how prescient its themes would turn out to be. Peculiar Ground is concerned with walls and borders, and the significance of land – what it means to appropriate it, to enclose it, to fence certain people in or out; ideas that feel particularly pertinent in the present. Hughes-Hallett has already enjoyed critical acclaim as a biographer; her third and most recent book, The Pike, a life of Gabriele D’Annunzio, won the Samuel Johnson prize and the Costa biography award in 2013. She might have been expected to attempt a repeat of this success, but instead she announced her intention to become “the world’s oldest first-time novelist”. At 65, she hasn’t quite broken the ...

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan review – a novel take on the writer’s own life

The French author toys with the reader while blurring memoir and fiction and eventually arriving at a gripping thrillerIs this a novel? That is the question Delphine de Vigan wants you to ask on opening her new book; she is playing with the reader from the beginning. The title itself introduces a note of ambiguity about veracity that permeates the story; throughout, we are obliged to ask ourselves who exactly is speaking to us, and how much we should believe. The narrator is a writer named Delphine; she lives in Paris with her two teenage children, is in a relationship with a well-known journalist called François, and has recently achieved success with an autobiographical novel about her family, resulting in strained relationships with relatives who did not welcome the exposure. Thus far, the details correlate with what is known of the author. But this is fiction – isn’t it? ...

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor review – an aftermath in elegant slow motion

In the author’s first novel for seven years, formal experimentation gives way to a delicate, subtle study of the effects of a disappearance on a village’s inhabitants Jon McGregor has been quietly building a reputation as one of the outstanding writers of his generation since 2002, when he became the youngest writer to be longlisted for the Booker prize with his debut, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, published when he was 26. Reservoir 13 is only his fourth novel, but it confirms his gift as a poet of ordinary lives and his skill in taking risks with form and style. After the experimental narrative of 2010’s Even the Dogs, a story of drug and alcohol addiction told in fragmented bursts by a series of urban ghosts, Reservoir 13 may seem, at first glance, a more conventional and pastoral novel. This could come as a relief to those ...