…An American Marriage!

Notice the blurbs and stickers on the covers? Fun fact: Oprah’s Book Club and the Women’s Prize for Fiction were both started in 1996.

Tayari Jones has won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel An American Marriage. She took home £30,000 in prize money and a bronze cast of the 7.5 inch ‘Bessie’ figurine, designed and donated by artist Grizel Niven. The awards ceremony was live-streamed on the @WomensPrize Twitter feed on June 5th.

‘Bessie’. Photo by @WomensPrize.

Over 308 pages, Jones explores the impact of a wrongful incarceration on an American family in clean, elegant prose from multiple points-of-view. Here, the Women’s Prize group interviews Jones about her novel.

An American Marriage was a surprising winner for our book club, which had unanimously predicted that Ordinary People would take home the Bessie. Opinion was divided on who participants wanted to win, but the majority voted for Circe. However, Miller won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2012, and it was deemed unlikely that she would win the same prize twice.

138,131 users have rated An American Marriage on popular reader website Goodreads, giving it on average 3.98 out of 5 stars, and making it the most rated of the shortlisted novels. Circe received the highest average rating at 4.30 out of 5 stars. Check out the table below to see how the other shortlisted titles were rated (arranged in descending order by total ratings).

3 thoughts on “…An American Marriage!

  1. Interesting that Ordinary People has so few ratings compared to the other shortlisted novels. Is it too British? Milkman got lots of attention with the Booker win and Serial Killer had a decent marketing strategy, so that makes sense.


    1. I was also surprised: I would have expected Milkman and Silence of the Girls to have far more ratings as they were both nominated for well-promoted prizes. I checked to see how many people have added each novel on Goodreads, and the figures are consistent with the ratings. An American Marriage was published earliest (in February, months before the other novels), but there is no obvious pattern between amount of time on the market and the number of readers. (OP was published next on April 5th and then Circe on April 10th, the last to be published was My Sister in mid November.) There is also no obvious correlation between page count and the number of readers – Circe was the longest novel on the shortlist. My theory, therefore, is Ordinary People’s lower readership is because it has too common a title. The title is shared with the more popular 1976 novel by Judith Guest, a 1980 film, and a John Legend album. Or perhaps any number of other marketing factors I haven’t considered. As soon as Oprah adds it to her book club or John Legend posts a picture of himself reading it…


  2. Honestly, I think a lot of people might have found Ordinary People a bit too much, simply because it is such an honest, sometimes very tragic view of marriage. Not every marriage, and not like this, but there are aspects that she discloses quite openly that I can see might bother certain American audiences, at least. Things people don’t want to think about, because they fear if they do, it means their marriage is over (even though that isn’t true). But also, I don’t know the age median for Goodreads, but if it is predominantly under 35, I can also see it not being that popular. But I think maybe people were at a loss as to how exactly to rate it, and so maybe they just didn’t (because it was fantastic prose, but the subject matter was a bit harsh). That is a very loose theory, though.

    Also, my book club discussed Milkman the other night. Only two people (other than myself) managed to finish it. The non-native English speakers had a bit of trouble with it, although they were dedicated readers and enjoyed what they had read (and claimed they would finish it). The other two that finished it were native English speakers (and one had listened on audiobook, and said it worked really well that way, which is interesting as I would have thought it wouldn’t). The other native speaker, also American, had the same reading experience I did – it went quickly. So I am thinking Milkman didn’t meet the “accessibility” requirement of the Women’s Prize.


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