The longlist for this year’s Booker Prize has been announced, and, as ever, it’s proved to be quite the mix.
This year’s list seems more diverse than previous years, featuring eight female authors and with multiple ethnicities represented. A little surprising is the lack of American authors, with just Lucy Ellmann (who has joint British citizenship) present on the longlist. That said, the decision to open up the prize to all novels written in English since the 2014 prize has been controversial, so this will no doubt please some people.
The list features two former winners, and this could be a clash of the titans if Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie go head to head when the short list is announced on 3 September. Both Deborah Levy and Chigozie Obioma have been nominated previously, and Obioma is two for two following the shortlisting of his fantastic debut, The Fishermen, in 2015.
One element that came as a surprise to me is the inclusion of only one debut – Oyinkan Braithwaite with My Sister, The Serial Killer. I’m delighted that this has been included – I thought it was a fantastic novel – but it’s not one I expected to see appearing on the Booker longlist. Goes to show what I know!
Overall, I think that there is a good mix here – there are some of the longlisted titles that appeal more than others, but the longlist covers a range of novels and is, dare I say, a little more accessible than some years have been.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Chatto & Windus)
And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.
When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead.
With The Testaments, the wait is over.
Margaret Atwood’s sequel picks up the story 15 years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.
‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’ Margaret Atwood
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (Canongate Books)
It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder. Can it be put together again?
This is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from a multi-award-winning writer, Night Boat to Tangier is both mordant and hilarious, lyrical yet laden with menace.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)
When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the fit doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press)
Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans? A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)
Teeming with life and crackling with energy – a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
The Wall by John Lanchester (Faber & Faber)
The Wall is a thrilling and hypnotic work of fiction: a mystery story, a love story, a war story and a story about a voyage. Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he has only two years of this: 729 more nights. The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else.
The Wall is a novel about why the young are right to distrust the old. It’s about a broken world you will recognise as your own – and about what might be found when all is lost.
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)
In 1989, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is fine; he gets up and goes to see his girlfriend, Jennifer. They have sex and then break up. He leaves for the GDR, where he will have more sex (with several members of the same family), harvest mushrooms in the rain, bury his dead father in a matchbox and get on the wrong side of the Stasi.
In 2016, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is not fine at all; he is rushed to hospital and spends the following days in and out of consciousness, in and out of history. Jennifer is sitting by his bedside. His very-much-not-dead father is sitting by his bedside. Someone important is missing.
Deborah Levy presents an ambitious, playful and totally electrifying novel about what we see and what we fail to see, about carelessness and the harm we do to others, about the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (4th Estate)
Suppose you and Pa were gone, and we were lost. What would happen then?
A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark. The little girl tells surreal knock knock jokes and makes them all laugh. The little boy educates them all and corrects them when they’re wrong. The mother and the father are barely speaking to each other.
Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. A grandmother or aunt has packed a backpack for them, putting in a bible, one toy, some clean underwear. They have been met by a coyote: a man who speaks to them roughly and frightens them. They cross a river on rubber tubing and walk for days, saving whatever food and water they can. Then they climb to the top of a train and travel precariously in the open container on top. Not all of them will make it to the border.
In a breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections – a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (Little Brown)
Umuahia, Nigeria. Chinonso, a young poultry farmer, sees a woman attempting to jump to her death from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his most prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of the fall. The woman, Ndali, is moved by his sacrifice.
Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love. But Ndali is from a wealthy family, and when they officially object to the union because he is uneducated, Chinonso sells most of his possessions to attend a small college in Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, he discovers that all is not what it seems. Furious at a world that continues to relegate him to the sidelines, Chinonso gets further and further away from his dream, from Ndali and the place he called home. Partly based on a true story, An Orchestra of Minorities is also a contemporary twist on Homer’s Odyssey. In the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition, Chigozie Obioma weaves a heart-wrenching epic about the tension between destiny and determination.
Lanny by Max Porter (Faber & Faber)
There is a village outside London, no different from many others. Everyday lives conjure a tapestry of fabulism and domesticity. This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber and is listening, and watching. He is watching Mad Pete the village artist. He is listening to ancient Peggy gossiping at her gate, to families recently moved here and to families dead for generations. Dead Papa Toothwort hears them all as he searches, intently, for his favourite. Looking for the boy. Lanny.
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
Inspired by the Cervantes classic, Sam DuChamp, mediocre writer of spy thrillers, creates Quichotte, a courtly, addled salesman obsessed with television, who falls in impossible love with a TV star. Together with his (imaginary) son Sancho, Quichotte sets off on a picaresque quest across America to prove worthy of her hand, gallantly braving the tragicomic perils of an age where ‘Anything-Can-Happen’. Meanwhile his creator, in a midlife crisis, has equally urgent challenges of his own.
Just as Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to satirise the culture of his time, Rushdie takes the reader on a wild ride through a country on the verge of moral and spiritual collapse. And with the kind of storytelling magic that is the hallmark of his work, the fully realised lives of DuChamp and Quichotte intertwine in a profoundly human quest for love and a wickedly entertaining portrait of an age in which fact is so often indiscernible from fiction.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak (Viking)
In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape)
In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love – against their better judgement – with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.
Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.
Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.
But the scene is set in 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’
What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realise. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.
What do you think? Is there anything you wanted to see included that isn’t, or anything that you’re really pleased by? Let me know!
Oh, and if you’re interested, I predicted 3 of the 13 correctly, which I’d say is about average for me.