Winner of £50,000 prize, won last year by Anna Burns, will be revealed on October 14th
Former winners Margaret Atwood, who turns 80 in November, and Salman Rushdie, 72, are the biggest names on the 2019 Booker Prize shortlist, announced this morning. The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, is not published until next Tuesday but is already this year’s most anticipated fiction title. Rushdie’s Quichotte, a reworking of Don Quixote, cane out last week to mixed reviews.
The shortlist in full:
Margaret Atwood – The Testaments
Lucy Ellmann – Ducks, Newburyport (Review) (Essay)
Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other
Chigozie Obioma – An Orchestra of Minorities (Review)
Salman Rushdie – Quichotte (Review) (Interview)
Elif Shafak – 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Review)
Also in contention for the £50,000 prize are Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other and Nigerian Chigozie Obioma for An Orchestra of Minorities. Turkish author Elif Shafak for 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World; and Anglo-US writer Lucy Ellmann for her one-sentence, 1,000 page epic Ducks, Newburyport.
The winner will be revealed on October 14th.
Chair of judges Peter Florence said: “The common thread is our admiration for the extraordinary ambition of each of these books. There is an abundance of humour, of political and cultural engagement, of stylistic daring and astonishing beauty of language. Like all great literature, these books teem with life, with a profound and celebratory humanity. We have a shortlist of six extraordinary books and we could make a case for each of them as winner, but I want to toast all of them as winners.
“Anyone who reads all six of these books would be enriched and delighted, would be awe-struck by the power of story, and encouraged by what literature can do to set our imaginations free.”
Gaby Wood, literary firector of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “It was hard to watch the judges narrow down their longlist to this shortlist: they were so committed to all 13 of the books they’d chosen just over a month ago that the discussion was intense. Still, these six remain extraordinary: they bring news of different worlds; they carry a wealth of lives and voices; they’re in conversation, in various ways, with other works of literature. I think it’s fair to say that the judges weren’t looking for anything in particular – they entered this process with an open mind – but this is what they found: a set of novels that is political, orchestral, fearless, felt.
The shortlist, selected from 151 submitted books, offers an insight into different worlds from the dystopian setting of Gilead, the monologue of an Ohio housewife and the tragicomic tale of a travelling salesman in America; to mostly female, mostly Black, British lives across generations, the trials of a young Nigerian man on a quest to improve his prospects and true allegiances within the brothels of Istanbul.
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, the only Irish novel longlisted for the prize, which was won last year by Belfast author Anna Burns for Milkman, did not make the cut. Burns’s Milkman, about a young woman preyed upon by a paramilitary in Troubles-era Belfast, has sold more than half a million copies since it won the Booker last October.
Atwood won the 2000 Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin and was also shortlisted for Cat’s Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996) and Oryx and Crake (2003). Rushdie won the 1981 Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children. In 1993 it was judged to be the Booker of Bookers, to mark the 25th anniversary of the prize and in 2008 the Best of the Booker to mark the 40th anniversary. Rushdie was also shortlisted for Shame (1983), The Satanic Verses (1988) and The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995) and longlisted for Shalimar the Clown (2005) and The Enchantress of Florence (2008).
Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, if it goes on to win, would be the longest winning novel in the prize’s history at 998 pages, overtaking The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, in 2013, at 832 pages.
Evaristo, shortlisted for Girl, Woman, Other has founded several successful initiatives as a literary activist for inclusion. They include Spread the Word writer development agency; The Complete Works mentoring scheme for poets of colour and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
An Orchestra of Minorities is both Obioma’s second novel and second shortlisting. His debut, The Fishermen, was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, and its highly acclaimed stage adaptation opens today in London’s West End.
Shafak, shortlisted for 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, writes in Turkish and English and is the most widely read female author in Turkey. In 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the 12 people who would make the world better.
Shortlisted books: judges’ comments, synopses and author biographies
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood (Vintage, Chatto & Windus)
Judges: “There is a strange pleasure in knowing the secret of the publishing juggernaut that is The Testaments, and an exquisite agony in being unable to share it yet. So this: it’s a savage and beautiful novel that speaks to us today with conviction and power. The bar is set unusually high for Atwood. She soars. I can’t wait for Saturday when everyone can read it.”
Synopsis: The Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three female characters.
Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press)
Judges: “Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport offers a radical literary form and voice. Dense to look at, challengingly epic, the novel is built around one Ohio housewife’s monologue, flowing with dazzling lightness and speed. The detritus and maddening complexity of domesticity unfold in one breath, over a thousand pages. Shards of film plot and song collide with climate change anxiety; the terrors of parenting, healthcare and shopping lists wrestle with fake news and gun culture. The narrator reverberates with humour, wordplay and political rage. The writing resonates like a dissonant yet recognisable American symphony for massive forces, with riffs and themes folding back, proliferating, and gradually cohering. Its one long sentence occasionally breaks to simply describe a mountain lioness and her cubs: a meditation on nurture that will be wrapped into the violence of the ending. Lucy Ellmann has written a genre-defying novel, a torrent on modern life, as well as a hymn to loss and grief. Her creativity and sheer obduracy make demands on the reader. But Ellmann’s daring is exhilarating ― as are the wit, humanity and survival of her unforgettable narrator.”
Synopsis: 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, Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin General, Hamish Hamilton)
Judges: “A must-read about modern Britain and womanhood. This is an impressive, fierce novel about the lives of black British families, their struggles, pains, laughter, longings and loves. With a dazzling rhythm, Evaristo takes us on a journey of intergenerational stories, moving through different spaces and heritages: African, Caribbean, European. Her 12 main characters manifest the highs and lows of our social life. They are artists, bankers, teachers, cleaners, housewives, and are at various stages of womanhood, from adolescence to old age. Her style is passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humour. There is never a single moment of dullness in this book and the pace does not allow you to turn away from its momentum. The language wraps the reader by force, with the quality of oral traditions and poetry. As the author herself stated perfectly: ‘One of my aims as a writer is to explore the hidden narratives of the African diaspora, to play with ideas, conjure up original and innovative fiction and forms, and to subvert expectations and assumptions.’ This is a novel that deserves to be read aloud and to be performed and celebrated in all kinds of media.”
Synopsis: Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of 12 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.
An Orchestra of Minorities, Chigozie Obioma (Hachette, Little Brown)
Judges: “This is a book that wrenches the heart with its story of love, migration and inner turmoil, told with remarkable language from start to finish. Narrated by a cast of characters from Igbo spiritual tradition, the story of Chinonso, the chicken farmer begins and ends with tragedy. But his quest for a life with Ndali, the woman he loves, drives him to seek status and wealth as an African migrant in Europe, to transcend Nigeria’s formidable class boundaries. The spirits look down on these human dramas of small town Nigeria and reveal the rich complexity of another realm along the way. Obioma’s is a tale of Odyssian proportions that makes the heart soar, and a crucial journey into a heartache that is both mythical and real. A stunning book.”
Synopsis: 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.
Quichotte, Salman Rushdie (Vintage, Jonathan Cape)
Judges: “If you are going to tilt at one of the greatest works of European literature, the novel often cited as the world’s greatest, then you’d better make sure you can play at Cervantes’ level. You’d better push the boundaries of fiction and satire, reimagine romance and fantasy, and you’d better have something to say about the contemporary world and all its delusions and heroisms. You’d better bring maximalist entertainment. If you can trump hubris and fill the pages with wonder, then your readers will be in for a helluva ride. Bring it on.”
Synopsis: Inspired by the classic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Quichotte is the story of an aging travelling salesman who falls in love with a TV star and sets off to drive across America on a quest to prove himself worthy of her hand. Quichotte’s tragicomic tale is one of a deranged time, and deals, along the way, with father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, racism, the opioid crisis, cyber-spies, and the end of the world.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak (Penguin General, Viking)
Judges: “Elif Shafak’s audacious, dazzlingly original storytelling brings Istanbul’s underworld to life via the vivid recollections of sex worker Tequila Leila, recently dumped for dead in a rubbish bin. For another ten minutes and 38 seconds, her brain continues to function and, minute by minute, memories of her previous life are spooling back, prompted by tastes and smells of her childhood, before she was thrown out of her family home and washed up in Istanbul’s mean streets.
A work of fearless imagination, the story takes the reader into the vertiginous world of its irresistible heroine, whose bloody-minded determination and fierce optimism make her an unforgettable character whose death, albeit foretold, still comes as a shattering blow. Courageous and utterly captivating, this telling novel is a testament to the power of friendship and of the human spirit.”
Synopsis: 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. . .