The Walter Scott Prize 2021 Longlist

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you will know that I have been slowly working through all of the books shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction since the prize began in 2010. I have discovered some great books and authors over the last few years thanks to this prize. You can see the progress I’ve made with this here – and I know there are other bloggers working on similar projects too.

The longlist for the 2021 prize has just been announced and includes some titles that I would have predicted, as well as some that I’ve never even heard of! Here are the eleven books on this year’s list:


Hinton by Mark Blacklock (Granta)

The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte (HarperCollins Australia)

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd (Two Roads)

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville (Canongate UK, Text Publishing Australia)

Mr Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Bloomsbury)

A Treacherous Country by K L Kruimink (Allen & Unwin Australia)

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline)

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press Australia, Chatto & Windus UK)


I’m not at all surprised to see Hamnet on the list – although I didn’t love it as much as most other readers seem to have done, I’m sure it will be shortlisted and possibly win the overall prize. I didn’t particularly enjoy Islands of Mercy either, but again I can see that it’s a well-written, multi-layered novel and deserves its place on the longlist. The only other one I’ve read is The Year Without Summer, which I did find interesting even though it seemed more like a collection of short stories than a novel.

Of the other eight books, I do have a copy of The Mirror and the Light which I started to read last year and abandoned as I wasn’t in the mood for it; I’m hoping to finish it soon! I was already interested in reading A Room Made of Leaves, but am not familiar with any of the others so will have to investigate.

Have you read any of these? Which ones do you think should be shortlisted?

21 thoughts on “The Walter Scott Prize 2021 Longlist

  1. whatcathyreadnext says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only historical fan who a) hasn’t read most of the titles on this list b) hasn’t even heard of a lot of them and c) didn’t rate Hamnet as much as others obviously did. Having said that, I think Hamnet will probably make the shortlist. On the bright side, I now have the perfect excuse to go on a book buying spree!

  2. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    I haven’t read any of these yet, but I’m not at all surprised to see Hamnet and The Mirror and the Light on here! I’m hoping to read Hamnet really soon, and hopefully I’ll finally cross Wolf Hall off my TBR this year, too. I thought Stacey Halls’ The Foundling might be on the list–I heard a lot of good things about that one!

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy Hamnet and Wolf Hall when you get round to them. I loved The Foundling! It probably wasn’t ‘literary’ enough for the prize judges, but I thought it was great.

  3. whatmeread says:

    Here’s a switch! I’ve actually read three of these already! I just finish The Dictionary of Lost Words, and I have already reviewed Hamnet and The Mirror and the Light. I kind of hope The Tolstoy Estate makes it to the shortlist, because it sounds interesting, and I probably won’t get to read it otherwise. I always have a hard time finding the Australian nominations and sometimes have to accept them as eBooks, which I hate to read.

    I liked Hamnet, but it wasn’t one of my favorites by O’Farrell. The cover for A Room Made of Leaves looks beautiful. I know nothing about the books on this list that I haven’t read, however (except the ones you reviewed).

    • Helen says:

      Sounds like you’ve made a good start on this year’s list already! I hadn’t heard anything about The Dictionary of Lost Words until now, but I do have The Mirror and the Light on my shelf and am hoping to read it soon. The Tolstoy Estate does sound interesting, although it’s not available in the UK yet either. I often have to wait a long time to be able to read the Australian books too.

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    I have read Hamnet and I am the outlier here because I loved it! I own The Mirror and the Light. It has been glaring at me from my shelves for almost a year. This might be a good reason to get to it. But I love how you do this every year and this year I am going to pick one more from the longest and read it.

    • Helen says:

      I think most people loved Hamnet, Judy! I did like Maggie O’Farrell’s writing – there were just lots of little things that irritated me. I will try more of her books. The Mirror and the Light has been on my shelf since the beginning of the pandemic. I did start to read it but couldn’t concentrate so will have another attempt soon.

  5. whitecrow2 says:

    Just finished Dictionary of Lost Words, forced myself to finish because it was a bookgroup selection, otherwise I would have abandoned it, which I in fact did for Hamnet. Maggie O’Farrell is definitely the better writer, IMO, but the story didn’t grab me. Pip Williams’s novel I found formulaic, cliche’d and with generally uninteresting characters. All others unknown, but will probably wait for your assessment!

    • Helen says:

      I’m sorry you didn’t like The Dictionary of Lost Words. It doesn’t sound very appealing to me and I’m not in any hurry to read it, but if it makes the shortlist for this prize then I will probably give it a try. I enjoyed Hamnet enough to keep reading to the end, but I definitely wasn’t as impressed as most other people seem to have been!

  6. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I’m reading Hamnet just now as it happens, I’m always trailing a year or so behind everyone else it seems. So far, I quite like it, though I have a feeling it would probably work just as well without the Shakespeare connection, all these references to the Tutor and so on are a bit odd.

    • Helen says:

      I definitely felt that Hamnet would have worked just as well if it had been about a completely fictional family. I couldn’t really see the point in the Shakespeare connection if she wasn’t even going to refer to Shakespeare by name. I did like the writing, though. Hope you continue to enjoy it!

  7. FictionFan says:

    I haven’t heard of most of them, but will spend the next half hour or so happily investigating them! Hamnet doesn’t much appeal, but I will read the Mantel sometime when I feel ready for such a huge tome. The only one I’ve read is A Year Without Summer, which I enjoyed very much, helped by the fact that earlier reviews like yours had let me know to expect the short story collection feel of it.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think I would have enjoyed The Year Without Summer more if I’d known what to expect in advance – I kept waiting for the different storylines to come together and they never did! Apart from the Hilary Mantel and Kate Grenville books there aren’t many that appeal to me on this year’s longlist, unfortunately. I would like to read The Tolstoy Estate but it’s only available in Australia at the moment!

    • Helen says:

      There are some interesting books on this year’s longlist, although I don’t think I want to read all of them. I hope you enjoy Hamnet and The Mirror and the Light!

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