Mantel, Smith on Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist

Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver, both past winners, join Hilary Mantel as finalists in the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Formerly known as the Orange Prize for Fiction, the annual award was created in 1996 and celebrates fiction by women worldwide. Its winner takes home 30,000 pounds ($45,900) and a bronze statuette called “the Bessie.”

This year’s shortlist, announced at the London Book Fair today, embraces themes as varied as global warming, multiculturalism and destiny.

In “NW” (Hamish Hamilton), Smith tells the story of four childhood friends raised in northwest London. The protagonists, now in their 30s, find their lives have diverged markedly yet the city still finds ways to bring them back together.

This is Smith’s fourth novel. Her first two were both finalists for the prize and she won with her third, “On Beauty,” in 2006.

Kingsolver took the 2010 award for “The Lacuna.” Her latest, “Flight Behavior” (Faber), opens as a restless wife and mother hikes into the Appalachian Mountains for an illicit assignation with a younger man.

She’s stopped in her tracks by what she deems a cautionary miracle -- a vision -- and turns out to be an enormous cloud of monarch butterflies, led off course by climate change.

In the pages that follow, she faces truths about her marriage, her community and her ambitions.

Booker, Costa

The other finalists include Mantel’s bestseller “Bring Up the Bodies” (Fourth Estate), which has already become the first novel to win both the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book of the Year Award.

Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” (Doubleday), A.M. Homes’s “May We Be Forgiven” (Granta) and Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (Weidenfeld) complete the list.

In a news release, actor Miranda Richardson, chairwoman of the judges, commended “six tremendous writers at the top of their game.” She said: “Their individual novels are flawlessly presented, they contain a heady mix of ideas and without exception take the reader on a unique and deeply satisfying journey.”

While the winner’s cash purse and trophy have always been endowed by an anonymous benefactor, last year marked the end of the prize’s long relationship with its founding sponsor, the telecommunications corporation Orange.

This year’s prize is privately sponsored by a group of companies and individuals including Cherie Blair, Martha Lane Fox, and Bloomberg News’s parent company, Bloomberg LP.

The winner will be revealed at a ceremony in the Royal Festival Hall at London’s Southbank Centre on June 5. An announcement confirming a new headline sponsor for 2014 and beyond will be made before then.

Previous recipients have included Madeline Miller for “The Song of Achilles,” Tea Obreht for “The Tiger’s Wife,” and Marilynne Robinson for “Home.”

Muse highlights include Laurie Muchnick and Mark Beech on books, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.