Booker Prize

Booker Prize 2021 – Longlist Prediction

On 27th July, the longlist for this year’s Booker Prize will be announced.  I like to try to predict which thirteen titles will make up the so called “Booker Dozen”, admittedly with varying degrees of success. Hopefully, I’ll get at least a couple of them right this year (and maybe beat last year’s three correctly predicted titles?), but one of things that I like about the Booker Prize it that it always has a few surprises, and usually at least one title that I’ve never even heard of.

It should be noted that very little science goes into my predictions.  The following are all eligible, to the best of my knowledge, but I haven’t looked into the number of submissions each publisher might have, for example, nor have I tried to balance out publishers and their imprints.  Some are simply books / authors that I’d like to see included, as well as some novels that I think may make it onto the longlist given the topics highlighted by those novels.


Assembly by Natasha Brown (Penguin)

Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Step out into a world of Go Home vans. Go to Oxbridge, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things. Buy a flat. Buy art. Buy a sort of happiness. But above all, keep your head down. Keep quiet. And keep going.

The narrator of Assembly is a Black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend’s family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can’t escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?

Assembly is a story about the stories we live within – those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers. And it is about one woman daring to take control of her own story, even at the cost of her life.


Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic (Bloomsbury)

A couple drive from London to coastal Provence. Anya is preoccupied with what she feels is a relationship on the verge; unequal, precarious. Luke, reserved, stoic, gives away nothing. As the sun sets one evening, he proposes, and they return to London engaged.

But planning a wedding does little to settle Anya’s unease. As a child, she escaped from Sarajevo, and the idea of security is as alien now as it was then. When social convention forces Anya to return, she begins to change. The past she sought to contain for as long as she can remember resurfaces, and the hot summer builds to a startling climax.

Lean, sly and unsettling, Asylum Road is about the many borders governing our lives: between men and women, assimilation and otherness, nations, families, order and chaos.

What happens, and who do we become, when they break down?


Bewilderment by Richard Powers (William Heinemann)

Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend’s face with a metal thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, while all the while fostering his son’s desperate campaign to help save this one.


Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (Fourth Estate)

Cloud Cuckoo Land follows three storylines: Anna and Omeir, on opposite sides of the formidable city wall during the 1453 siege of Constantinople; teenage idealist Seymour and gentle octogenarian Zeno, in an attack on a public library in present day Idaho; and Konstance, on an interstellar ship bound for a distant exoplanet, decades from now. 
 
A single copy of an ancient text – the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to the paradise of Cloud Cuckoo Land – provides solace, mystery and the most profound human connection to these five unforgettable characters.
 
Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Zeno, Seymour and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders, struggling to survive and finding resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril.


Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (Serpent’s Tail)

Reese nearly had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York, a job she didn’t hate. She’d scraped together a life previous generations of trans women could only dream of; the only thing missing was a child. Then everything fell apart and three years on Reese is still in self-destruct mode, avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.

When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?


Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (Fourth Estate)

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a young woman snoops through her boyfriend’s phone and makes a startling discovery: he’s an anonymous Internet conspiracy theorist, and a popular one at that. Already fluent in Internet fakery, irony, and outrage, she’s not exactly shocked by the revelation. But this is only the first in a series of bizarre twists that expose a world whose truths are shaped by online lies.

Suddenly left with no reason to stay in New York – or be anywhere in particular – she flees to Berlin, and embarks on her own cycles of manipulation in the deceptive spaces of her daily life, from dating apps to expat social events, open-plan offices to bureaucratic waiting rooms.

Narrated in a voice as seductive as it is subtly subversive, Fake Accounts is a wry, provocative and very funny debut novel about identity and authenticity in the age of the internet.


How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue (Canongate)

Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, How Beautiful We Were tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean-up and financial reparations are made – and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest only. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. But their fight will come at a steep price… one which generation after generation will have to pay.

Told through the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold onto its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.


Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

‘The Sun always has ways to reach us.’

From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

In Klara and the Sun, his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly-changing modern world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?


Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor (Fourth Estate)

When an Antarctic research expedition goes wrong, the consequences are far-reaching – for the men involved and for their families back home.
 
Robert “Doc” Wright, a veteran of Antarctic field work, holds the clues to what happened, but he is no longer able to communicate them. While Anna, his wife, navigates the sharp contours of her new life as a carer, Robert is forced to learn a whole new way to be in the world.
 
Award-winning novelist Jon McGregor returns with a stunning novel that mesmerizingly and tenderly unpicks the notion of heroism and explores the indomitable human impulse to tell our stories – even when words fail us.  A meditation on the line between sacrifice and selfishness this is a story of the undervalued, unrecognised courage it can take just to get through the day.


Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (Picador)

Five generations of women, linked by blood and circumstance, by the secrets they share, and by a single book passed down through a family, with an affirmation scrawled in its margins: We are force. We are more than we think we are.

1866, Cuba: María Isabel is the only woman employed at a cigar factory, where each day the workers find strength in daily readings of Victor Hugo. But these are dangerous political times, and as María begins to see marriage and motherhood as her only options, the sounds of war are approaching.

1959, Cuba: Dolores watches her husband make for the mountains in answer to Fidel Castro’s call to arms. What Dolores knows, though, is that to survive, she must win her own war, and commit an act of violence that threatens to destroy her daughter Carmen’s world.

2016, Miami: Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, is shocked when her daughter Jeanette announces her plans to travel to Cuba to see her grandmother Dolores. In the walls of her crumbling home lies a secret, one that will link Jeanette to her past, and to this fearless line of women.

From nineteenth-century cigar factories to present-day detention centres, from Cuba to the United States to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt follows Latina women of fierce pride, bound by the stories passed between them. It is a haunting meditation on the choices of mothers and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their truth despite those who wish to silence them.


Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking)

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.


The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. (Riverrun)

In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose of Zora Neale Hurston to characterise the forceful, enduring bond of love, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.

The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love – away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs – where they can be alone together.

But, Amos – a fellow slave – has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them.

The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr’s breathtaking debut, The Prophets.


The Yield by Tara June Winch (HarperVia)

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert “Poppy” Gondiwindi has one final task he must fulfil. A member of the indigenous Wiradjuri tribe, he has spent his adult life in Prosperous House and the town of Massacre Plains, a small enclave on the banks of the Murrumby River. Before he takes his last breath, Poppy is determined to pass on the language of his people, the traditions of his ancestors, and everything that was ever remembered by those who came before him. The land itself aids him; he finds the words on the wind.

After his passing, Poppy’s granddaughter, August, returns home from Europe, where she has lived the past ten years, to attend his burial. Her overwhelming grief is compounded by the pain, anger, and sadness of memory―of growing up in poverty before her mother’s incarceration, of the racism she and her people endured, of the mysterious disappearance of her sister when they were children; an event that has haunted her and changed her life. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends and honor Poppy and her family, she vows to save their land―a quest guided by the voice of her grandfather that leads into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Told in three masterfully woven narratives, The Yield is a celebration of language and an exploration of what makes a place “home.” A story of a people and a culture dispossessed, it is also a joyful reminder of what once was and what endures – a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling, and identity, that offers hope for the future.


And that’s my prediction for this year’s Booker Prize longlist. What do you think? Anything you agree or disagree with? Let me know what books you’d like to see make this year’s longlist in the comments! 🙂

14 comments

    1. Ummmm… is now the time to admit that I’ve not actually read any of these?! 😬 There are quite a few I’d like to read though, including The Prophets 🙂

  1. Thanks for this insightful post. So far, the only book I managed to read from this list is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. I was somehow expecting it.

    1. I’ve not actually read any of them yet, although there are several that I have my eye on – Klara and the Sun included…

    1. How exciting – I hope you enjoy it! I think I’m the only hyping it at the moment, but will be interesting to see if it makes the actual longlist 🙂

  2. I’m reading Lean, Stand Fall at the moment – completely mesmerising, powerful narrative. Really hope it gets selected
    Open Water is on my to read list – when I get to it is another matter

    I’m drawn by How Beautiful We Were – where is Africa is this set or isn’t it specific?

    1. I think that Jon McGregor is in with a good chance, although the Booker always proves unpredictable, although I’ve never let that stop me trying!

      I’ve had my eye on How Beautiful We Were since hearing the author discuss it (virtually) as part of this year’s Hay Festival. I know it’s set in a fictional town, but I don’t think it’s specified where that town is…

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