PUBLISHED on August 22, 2021
The long list of the Booker Prize is one of the highly anticipated literary events of the year. The thirteen titles nominated for the coveted prize, called Booker Dozen, were chosen from 158 novels, all published in the UK or Ireland between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. The Booker Prize for Fiction is open to works by ‘writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.
This year’s jury was made up of president Maya Jasanoff, the historian; writer and editor Horatia Harrod; actor Natascha McElhone; novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma and writer and former Archbishop Rowan Williams.
Maya Jasanoff, president of the 2021 judges, said this about the novels on the long list:
“Many of them consider how people grapple with the past – whether it is personal experiences of mourning or dislocation or the historical legacy of slavery, apartheid and war. Many examine the strained intimate relationships and, through them, meditate on ideas of freedom and obligation, or what makes us human. It is especially striking during the pandemic that all of these books have important things to say about the nature of the community, from the smallest and most isolated to the immeasurable expanse of cyberspace. â
Five novelists have already been awarded the prize: Damon Galgut, Kazuo Ishiguro, Mary Lawson, Richard Powers and Sunjeev Sahota.
Following the Booker’s decision in 2014 to include American authors among the nominees eligible for the award, the long list each year revives the debate as to whether this will lead to more inclusiveness or consistency in the edition. This year’s list consists of five British authors alongside four Americans and writers from Canada and South Africa.
The list of six finalists will be announced on September 14 of this year, and the winner, who will take home Â£ 50,000, will be announced on November 2.
So what can you expect from this year’s long list? Keep reading to find out.
A passage to the north – Anuk Arudpragasam
After his critically acclaimed debut, The story of a brief marriage, the Sri Lankan Tamil writer is back with another politically astute novel. His latest work of fiction is a dark discursive meditation on the collective amnesia of a nation. The story revolves around Krishan who sets out on a trip from Colombo to the war-torn Northern Province for the funeral of the caregiver of his grandmother, a woman who never recovered psychologically after having lost her two sons in the bloody civil war that lasted thirty years. . A breathtaking work of fiction about the generational trauma of war.
Klara and the sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
Having won the Booker Prize in 1989 with the famous The leftovers of the day which has also been adapted into an award-winning film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, this is the fourth time Ishiguro has been nominated for the award. Klara and the sun takes place in a world where parents buy androids called artificial friends to provide companionship for their children. Klara, one of these “friends” is brought home to Josie, a chronically ill girl. The plot and tone of this book most closely resemble the writer’s seminal work, Never let Me Go. With the same ingenious combination of naivety paired with artful observations on human fragility, both books push the boundaries of the sci-fi genre.
The promise – Damon Galgut
Previously shortlisted for In a strange room the South African writer marks his return to Booker’s long list with his most political work to date.The promise revolves around a fanatical South African family who renegs on their promise to make their black servant a legal owner of the house in which they live. This provocative, multigenerational family saga begins in the 1980s and ends in 2018, skillfully tracing the legacy of apartheid.
Second place – Rachel Cusk
In the wake of his critically acclaimed trilogy Contour who pushed the boundaries of fiction, Cusk marks his return with this domestic novel. Author’s Note Credits Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir of DH Lawrence’s stay at his artist colony in Taos, New Mexico, as a source of inspiration. This fictional memoir deals with the strained relationship between a woman and the famous artist whom she invited to use her guesthouse in the remote coastal landscape where she lives with her family. While the story is weighed down by overly stylized and dense prose, this thin short story ultimately talks about the boredom of midlife and the double-edged sword of fame in the creative realm.
The softness of the water – Nathan Harris
One of the landmark debuts of the year, this propulsive novel takes place during the twilight years of the Civil War era. With keen insight, Harris paints a vivid and nuanced portrait of rural Georgia in the southern United States at a time of great political upheaval. The plot centers on two brothers recently released by the Emancipation Proclamation and their families. The novel features a cast of well-etched characters and a sensitive portrayal of complex interpersonal relationships.
An island – Karen Jennings
Dark horse of the long list, this novel by a South African writer struggled to find a publisher, eventually finding a home in a small independent publishing house with a circulation of only 500 copies. It is the story of a young refugee who is stranded unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by none other than Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper who is exiled from a cruel world. Their interactions revive memories of Samuel’s troubled past and the suffering he witnessed. An island ofdelivers a living and stimulating history that reflects racism, colonialism and its reverberations across generations. The book is already collecting comparisons with the works of another great South African literary, JM Coetzee.
A town called Consolation – Mary Lawson
The Canadian author was previously on the list of The other side of the bridge. The story of this novel revolves around three characters, each facing loss in their own way. Echoing the works of Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout, this novel deals with small town life, incorporating themes of family love, loss and togetherness.
Nobody talks about it – Patricia Lockwood
One of this year’s most high-profile debut novels, it captures the Internet’s zeitgeist in all its chaotic glory. Described as a Twitter novel and an autofiction, the book follows a social media celebrity who is “extremely online” and struggles to cope with her offline struggles with real life issues and her online fame. As sketchy prose polarizes, ironic, scorching humor and insightful observations on the vapidity of social media make this novel stand out.
Men of fortune – Nadifa Mohamed
Mahmood Mattan, a young Somali sailor living in Cardiff, was the father of three children and a petty thief. Since his Welsh wife left him he has been in trouble, but when a shopkeeper is brutally killed in Tiger Bay in Cardiff in 1952, he doesn’t expect to be charged with the crime. He was wrongly convicted and executed for a murder he did not commit in a horrific case of racial profiling. The British and Somali author’s fictionalized account of the real-life story of Mahmood Mattan is a mind-boggling literary feat. Overflowing with soul and grace, this book depicts the deplorable history of racism and bigotry.
Perplexity -Richard Powers
This novel marks the third entry on Booker’s Long List for the Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer. Astrobiologist Theo Byrne, 45, searches for life in space while his 9-year-old son Robin is determined to protect endangered animals on Earth. Recently bereaved, the father-son duo face the loss of Robin’s mother in an accident. As the grieving son’s behavior becomes problematic, in an attempt to keep him away from psychoactive drugs, Theo agrees to put his son on experimental neurological therapy. Meanwhile, ecological and political disasters are raging in the outside world. Perplexity is a poignant and timely reflection on how to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the perils of the outside world and our own minds.
China room – Sunjeev Sahota
No stranger to the Booker, Sahota was shortlisted in 2015 for The year of the fugitives.
The double story of China room follows Mehar, a young bride in rural Punjab during the lead-up to the score who spends most of her time sequestered in the “porcelain room” with her two sisters-in-law and her great-grandson who returned from London in 1999 in the Punjab to fight his heroin addiction on an isolated farm, where Mehar resided. Sahota masterfully evokes the sense of place and time in lush prose in this multigenerational novel that explores individual action, oppression and liberation.
Large Circle – Maggie Shipstead
Doorstop to a book of over 600 pages, this glorious feminist epic spans a century. Marian was a daredevil aviator in the mid-90s who embarked on her dream journey of flying around the world, over the North and South Poles. On the last leg of her journey, Marian and her navigator disappeared. A century later, the disillusioned actress Hadley Baxter agrees to try out the role of Marian in a film centered on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. From aviation to Hollywood, the worlds created by Shipstead are meticulously researched and vividly evoked. It’s an exhilarating novel about two women, separated by a century but united in their quest to find their own place in a society that demands submission.
Perpetual light – Francois Spufford
On November 25, 1944, a crowded Woolworths branch in New Cross was struck by a German V2 rocket, which exploded and destroyed the store and the immediate area, killing 168 people, including 15 children under the age of 11. Inspired by this real life incident, it is the story of five 20th century lives – the lives five London children could have had had they not been killed. We follow the lives of these five “children” at 15-year intervals and gain insight into the transformative years of post-war London history in this book on Redemption and Hope.