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Top women

Top women

There has been much discussion of late about the state of health of literary fiction and whether it is in decline. What is undeniably healthy though is the state of literary fiction by women. Of the 10 best-selling works of literary fiction in the UK last year, nine were by female writers, with the sole male representative being Haruki Murakami. Top of the list was the 2000 Man Booker winner Margaret Atwood who, bolstered by television adaptations of The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace, generated £2.8 million in sales. Also in the top 10 were other Man Booker alumni, including Elena Ferrante (listed for last year's Man Booker International Prize), Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy (all 2017 nominees). Women, however, fared less well in the overall bestseller lists, with only three women – J.K. Rowling, Julia Donaldson, and Fiona Watt – making a top 10 dominated by children's, health and food books and thrillers. Perhaps the subliminal message of the list is that women are more serious than men.

The Man Booker reputation as an unstoppable source of stories for stage and screen continues unabated. The latest novels to be get the treatment are Simon Mawer's 2009 shortlisted The Glass Room, Elizabeth Strout's 2016 longlisted My Name is Lucy Barton and Edward St Aubyn's Melrose novels – Mother's Milk was shortlisted in 2006. The Glass Room, the story of a Jewish Czech family living in a celebrated Modernist house designed by Mies van der Rohe at the time of the arrival of the Nazis, starts filming next month and stars Carice van Houten of Game of Thrones fame. My Name is Lucy Barton will have the three-times Oscar nominated American actress Laura Linney making her stage debut. The play will be directed by Richard Eyre and has a short run at the Bridge Theatre, London, from 2nd to 23rd June. The five St Aubyn Melrose novels (Mother's Milk is number four) each form an episode of a new mini-series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous and dysfunctional Patrick Melrose and will be screened later this year.

Mohsin Hamid's 2017 shortlisted Exit West has been nominated for the American National Book Critics Circle awards (as has his fellow nominee Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness). The magical-realist emigration fable is particularly close to its author's heart, and not just because it also featured in Barack Obama's list of “must read” books: “I've taken the anti-migration backlash a bit personally”, he confessed recently. But President Trump's rhetoric may be having the opposite effect to that intended, he thinks: “While there are many negatives to Trump's policies,” said Hamid, “maybe they aren't even that important anymore.” What is important, he says, it that gender, religious and sexual equality are becoming more widely accepted globally. “In a few years,” says the Pakistan-born and UK-America-based novelist, “people will believe that where you are born doesn't define you.”

The Man Booker Prize has also teamed up with literary festivals across the world to bring the 50th anniversary celebrations to a global audience. Man Booker winning and shortlisted authors will be appearing at international festivals throughout 2018.  Fiona Mozley, shortlisted last year for her debut novel Elmet, is the first of these; she spoke at the Hay Festival Cartagena de Indians this afternoon alongside Irish writer Lisa McInerney who won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016.  Michael Ondaatje, joint winner of the 1992 prize for The English Patient will appear at Jaipur Literary Festival next week. He will be discussing his critically acclaimed fourth novel Anil’s Ghost (2000) on Monday 29th January. While online registration for the (free!) festival has closed, on the spot registration continues as normal, more details can be found on their website