Booker Prize

Booker Prize 2021 Shortlist Prediction

Booker season continues with the shortlist announced on 14 September. I’ve not read all of the titles on the longlist – some appeal more than others, and life has, as always, managed to get in the way. I will make an effort to read all of the shortlisted titles before the winner is announced on 3 November though!

As a reminder, here are the thirteen novels making up this year’s “Booker dozen”, with links to my reviews where available:

  • A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam (Granta Books, Granta Publications)
  • Second Place by Rachel Cusk, (Faber)
  • The Promise by Damon Galgut, (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)
  • The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (Tinder Press, Headline, Hachette Book Group)
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
  • An Island by Karen Jennings (Holland House Books)
  • A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)
  • No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)
  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers (Hutchinson Heinemann, PRH)
  • China Room by Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker, Vintage, PRH)
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday, Transworld Publishers, PRH)
  • Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford (Faber)

I have also read Great Circle and am currently reading A Town Called Solace as well as those highlighted above, but haven’t yet posted my reviews. I’m not letting this stop me trying to predict the shortlist, however, and here are the six titles that I think will go on to the next stage.


The Promise by Damon Galgut (Chatto & Windus)

The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.


The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (Tinder Press)

In the dying days of the American Civil War, newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss find themselves cast into the world without a penny to their names. Forced to hide out in the woods near their former Georgia plantation, they’re soon discovered by the land’s owner, George Walker, a man still reeling from the loss of his son in the war.

When the brothers begin to live and work on George’s farm, the tentative bonds of trust and union begin to blossom between the strangers. But this sanctuary survives on a knife’s edge, and it isn’t long before the inhabitants of the nearby town of Old Ox react with fury at the alliances being formed only a few miles away…


An Island by Karen Jennings (Holland House Books)

A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer, then fight for independence, only to fall to a cruel dictator; he recalls his own part in its history.


The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking)

Mahmood Mattan is a fixture in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, 1952, which bustles with Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen and Jewish families. He is a father, chancer, some-time petty thief. He is many things, in fact, but he is not a murderer.

So when a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn’t too worried. It is true that he has been getting into trouble more often since his Welsh wife Laura left him. But Mahmood is secure in his innocence in a country where, he thinks, justice is served.

It is only in the run-up to the trial, as the prospect of freedom dwindles, that it will dawn on Mahmood that he is in a terrifying fight for his life – against conspiracy, prejudice and the inhumanity of the state. And, under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, he begins to realise that the truth may not be enough to save him.


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.


China Room by Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker)

Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days hard at work in the family’s ‘china room’, sequestered from contact with the men. When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that will put more than one life at risk.

Spiralling around Mehar’s story is that of a young man who in 1999 travels from England to the now-deserted farm, its ‘china room’ locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence – his experiences of addiction, racism, and estrangement from the culture of his birth – he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, finally gathering the strength to return home.


So there you have it – my prediction for this year’s Booker Prize shortlist. Do you agree with my selection, and is there anything you think should be on the shortlist? I have to admit that I ummed and ahhed about Klara and the Sun. It wasn’t for me personally, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was shortlisted…

4 comments

  1. Time was (not too many years ago) that as soon as the longlist was announced I’d rush to get as many titles as I could from the library. But when the rules started changing and the judges seemed to be trying to make political points with their choices, I lost a lot of that interest. So of the 13 books this year I’ve not read even one. I do have A Passage North and China Room (which sounds excellent) and yesterday I bought The Fortune Men – good to see two of these make it to your predicted shortlist.

    1. I like the Booker as there’s always something on the list that I wouldn’t otherwise have come across. There were several this year.
      Of those you’ve mentioned, I very much enjoyed The Fortune Men.

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