Monica Ali: ‘it’s such a wickedly funny book’

We are bringing the podcast into the Women’s Prize family for the final episode of the series this week as 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction chair of judges, Monica Ali joins Vick Hope. Monica is a prolific reader and her five book choices take us all around the world including Sweden, Italy, New York and provincial England.

As a writer Monica discusses how her reading and writing habits talk to each other, what motivates her to write everyday and the pure joy of rereading books she hasn’t read since her childhood.

Check out the full episode here.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking is nine years old. She has just moved into Villa Villekulla where she lives all by herself with…

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“I think I was about six or seven when this was a book that we got out of the library. I grew up in Bolton, and every weekend, my mum would take me to the library in town and we would go to the children’s section and get out as many books as we were allowed. And one of the first was a Pippi Longstocking book, which I think is just called Pippi Longstocking. And I read it. And I was so taken by this girl who lives without any adult supervision and doesn’t conform to any of the norms of society that I couldn’t wait to get back the next week and get the other two books”


Beautiful, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her single life and sees no need for either love…

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“I just started senior school, maybe I was 11 or 12. And I fell in love with Emma straightaway, which is sort of ironic because Jane Austen famously wrote in one of her many letters to her relatives: I’m going to take heroin that no one will much like. But I loved Emma, and you’re right that she is flawless as her creation, but she has many flaws. Which makes her only the more lovely”


Middlemarch addresses ordinary life at a moment of great social change, in the years leading to the Reform Act of…

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“Unlike lots of heroines of novels of that era, it wasn’t a sort of a choice between marry this man or become a governess or face poverty – she her own fortune. So I was always, wrestling with this puzzle, like, why is she doing this, but it’s because she thinks of him as a good man. And she comes to realise that she’s made a terrible blunder. She’s made a terrible mistake. And the reason that she becomes a real heroine is because although she suffers humiliation and pain, and so on, she continues to want to do good in the world, and she continues to want to find the best in people”

The Bottle Factory Outing

Freda and Brenda are friends spending their days in an Italian-run wine-bottling factory in North London. When a works outing…

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“I’d went through this period in my teens of reading a lot of classics, and hearing a lot of the old men from Tolstoy to Balzac, to Dickens to whoever else. And then I think it was about 18, I was about to go off to college and I picked up this book from the library, and it was like a breath of fresh air. I mean, it’s such a sort of wickedly funny book, and if I told you the plot, which I won’t, it sounds like a fast. It is a fast in some ways, but there was all the acute observations of English mores, isn’t it?”

The Group

Mary McCarthy’s most celebrated novel portrays the lives and aspirations of eight Vassar graduates. ‘The group’ meet in New York…

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“I picked this because it’s a classic, modern classic that I hadn’t read until I finish writing Love Marriage. And I picked it up at random in a bookshop. And I knew all about it. Well I thought I knew all about it, because of its fame. But I sort of picked it up with the intention of filling the hole of my literary landscape or education rather than expecting it to really grip me”

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The Women's Prize Podcast

Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.