The 2019 Shortlist

The tenth Walter Scott Prize Shortlist was announced on 2nd April 2019. The judges said:

“Over the ten years of our Prize, we have been able to throw a spotlight onto an amazing variety of books and historical periods.  This year is no exception, with a shortlist of dazzling diversity.  What a privilege it is, to go on a journey through the fictional centuries, pick up gems that sparkle at us, and present them for new readers to discover.  

From the dark edges of cities to insular rural communities, and from long distance road trip to intercontinental adventure story, our shortlisted books dare to investigate themes and issues in unique ways.  In its tenth year, it’s fitting that the Prize is pushing the boundaries of historical fiction, whilst maintaining great writing as its most important criterion.”

What the judges said about the shortlist

A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey 

A Long Way From Home is a blast of a novel, so atmospheric that you can smell the burning tyres of the racing cars and sniff the dry eucalyptus leaves. The Redex Trial, a crazy 1950s car race around the continent of Australia, is the hook on which Peter Carey hangs the real story: Willie Bachhuber’s dawning knowledge of who he really is. We live with him as he slowly comes to a deeper understanding of a dreadful crime in his country’s past, and rock with him for thousands of miles through the unforgiving outback on terrible roads with his sparky, furiously energetic, car-mad neighbours, Irene and Titch, who drag him into their wild enterprise. Peter Carey has delved into an agonising episode in Australia’s dark history and brought it to life with humour, deep compassion and writing that surprises and delights on every page.

After The Party by Cressida Connolly 

It is the summer of 1938 and Phyllis Forrester has returned to England after years abroad. Moving into her sister’s grand country house, she soon finds herself entangled in a new world of idealistic beliefs and seemingly innocent friendships. Fevered talk of another war infiltrates their small, privileged circle, giving way to a thrilling solution: a great and charismatic leader, who will restore England to its former glory.The undercurrents in the relationships of the three sisters mirror the early rumblings of the war to come in this is original and utterly engrossing book, which is sparely and beautifully written.  Like the best historical fiction, it illuminates a sliver of history and how it impacts on ordinary people.

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey 

To be transported immediately into calf deep mud, pitted with hoof marks, to a rural village marinated in poverty, superstition, and rough Catholicism, and to believe you are truly in an isolated village in 1491, is the feat achieved by Samantha Harvey.  You are on the four-day journey with the priest John Reve, the pragmatic but mystical centre of this tale of paradoxes and suspense, with a glimpse of St Christopher to cheer you along. As the story unfolds in reverse, adding to a sense of faith, but also repressed desire, you feel you are taking each step with John Reve within a beautifully woven tapestry. The Western Windis a rare and wonderful achievement.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

Consistent truth, the source of all beauty, is difficult in any sphere; in writing it’s almost impossible, yet Andrew Miller tells the truth and nothing but. Not a self-indulgent word, not a self-indulgent sentence distances the reader from a world Miller seems to observe rather than create, so intimate and direct is the portrait. His story is of wounds gouged into souls, some by birth and circumstance, some during war’s worst moments, in this instance the British army’s withdrawal to Corunna in January 1809 when the retreating soldiers’ humanity was starved and frozen to vanishing. With the freshness of first sight, Miller weaves a tale of cat and mouse, of sour and sweet, and of the ache in hearts when what’s done cannot be undone. 

Warlight  by Michael Ondaatje

Set in London in 1945, amidst all the confusion and disruption of the immediate post war city, this is an atmospheric, magical novel that immediately draws the reader in. Abandoned by their parents and cared by the enigmatic Moth, Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, begin to lead independent lives, exploring love and friendship, taking risks, finding their way around the bomb-damaged city. East London and its watery byways is beautifully recreated. Without doubt, Warlightis Michael Ondaatje’s greatest novel since The English Patient. It never lets the reader go and will stay in memory.

The Long Take by Robin Robertson  

Walker is a Canadian veteran of the Normandy Landings and this extraordinary and exceptional prose/verse narrative tracks the progress of this damaged but decent man through the bleak and violent streets of post-war America. While New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are in a state of constant change and reinvention Walker is trapped by his searing experiences; his devils too present for him but to remain an outsider. Illustrated with grainy black and white photographs and inviting comparison with cinema The Long Take defies conventional literary boundaries but is a moving, memorable and wholly original work of writing.