The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2021 – Who Will Win?

Walter Scott Prize Shortlist 2021
Photo credit: The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

The shortlist for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2021 was announced on 23rd March 2021. My intention was to read the five shortlisted books before the winner is crowned in mid-June (exact date to be confirmed) but unfortunately I’ve met with my customary lack of success.  However, here are my thoughts on the shortlisted books I have read and my prediction of the book that might win the coveted prize. Links from the title will take you to my reviews.


The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate) – I really enjoyed the previous two books in this much lauded series – Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – however I’ve still to find time to embark on this monumental final instalment in the trilogy.

The Dictionary Of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press/Chatto & Windus) – I listened to the audiobook version of this narrated by Pippa Bennett-Warner. I found it a little slow to begin with but the book grew on me as new characters were introduced around a third of the way through. The question of which words make it into dictionaries and which don’t – and the reasons why – certainly made it a thought-provoking read.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville (Canongate/Text Publishing) – Again, I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Valerie Bader. Although I enjoyed it, I had my usual reservations about the literary device of the discovery of a secret cache of papers and found I couldn’t quite share the judges obvious enthusiasim for the book.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline) – Once again I seem to be in a minority as, although I admired the book and there were sections that I thought were fantastic, I couldn’t rave about it to the extent that so many other readers have. For this reason alone, I suspect it will win!

The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte (HarperCollins Australia) – As this doesn’t yet have a UK publisher, I’ve been unable to obtain a copy which is a pity because the description makes me think I might really enjoy it. Just a personal view but I think that, for a prize named after a Scottish author, the shortlisted books – and, ideally, the books on the longlist too – should all have been published in the UK, even if they were first published elsewhere.

If you’ve read any of the shortlisted books, or even if you haven’t, who would your money be on?

10 thoughts on “The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2021 – Who Will Win?

    1. It was interesting to see that when Hamnet was discussed on BBC2’s Between The Covers last week Robert Webb’s view echoed mine – he admired it but didn’t adore it. I wonder if it’s possible to read TOO much historical fiction so you don’t approach a book in the same way as other readers do…

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  1. I have yet to read my copy of Hamnet. One of these days, i hope. Curious about The Tolstoy Estate. I’m in the midst of Anna Karenina and planning to read War and Peace this year as well. Congrats to the nominees!

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  2. I wasn’t really a fan of Hamnet either, but I’m sure it’s the sort of book the judges will love and I won’t be at all surprised if it wins. I haven’t managed to read any of the others yet, although I’m hoping to start The Mirror and the Light soon. The Tolstoy Estate does sound good and I agree that it seems a shame to nominate books that aren’t available to everyone yet.

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  3. I think the same as you about Hamnet – I was a bit disappointed as it’s written in the third person present tense which distracted and distanced me from the story, although it is richly descriptive. And I still haven’t got round to reading The Mirror and the Light – I loved the first two books. I have read A Room Made of Leaves, which I enjoyed immensely. I hope that one will win, but suspect it could be Hamnet, although I won’t be disappointed if it’s The Mirror and the Light.

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