OTwo Co-Editor Lucy Cleere discusses the six shortlisted novels and their authors ahead of this year’s Booker Prize awards on November 26th.
“We are driven by a simple belief – great fiction not only brings joy to millions, it has the power to change the way we think about the world we live in.” - Booker Prize
It’s Booker Prize award season again! For unfamiliar readers, the Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English language. The prize is, in the opinion of the judges, awarded to the author of the best full-length work of fiction written in English and published in the UK and Ireland that year. Notwithstanding the pretty £50,000 cash prize, the winner is practically guaranteed a global readership and a life-changing increase in book sales. From its inception in 1969, known then as the Booker Prize for Fiction, it was created as an attempt to rival France’s Prestigious Prix Goncourt award. Its hope was that Anglophone fiction would become as respected as its francophone counterpart in France, and was originally bestowed to Commonwealth writers only, but is now open to any author regardless of origin.
This year’s six shortlisted novels address many of 2023’s most pressing concerns: the persecution of minorities, political extremism, financial hardship, migration and the disintegration of personal freedoms. Across the board of six immensely talented shortlisted authors, some have numerous accolades already under their belt, while the list also includes two debuts. Excitingly, none have been shortlisted for the award before. So roll on the 26th November...
This year’s six shortlisted novels address many of 2023’s most pressing concerns: The persecution of minorities, political extremism, financial hardship, migration and the disintegration of personal freedoms.
What are your favourites from the following list? In no particular order:
Western Lane – Chetna Maroo
Beginning with a tender debut by Maroo, Western Lane is a novel enveloping grief, sisterhood, and a young girl’s wish to surpass herself on the Squash court. Eleven-year-old Gopi’s life is knocked into reverse after the death of her mother, closely followed by her father's decision to enrol her in a brutal squash training regime. She is terrified, she is spectacular, she is in awe.
Chetna Maroo was born in Kenya and lives in London. Before taking the leap of faith to become a full-time writer, she worked as an accountant. Her stories have since appeared in anthologies and have been published in the Paris Review, The Stinging Fly and The Dublin Review.
This Other Eden – Paul Harding
A historical fiction set partly in 1792 and inspired by true events, This Other Eden recounts the story of the formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife Patience who travel to Apple Island, an enclave off the coast of Maine, USA. Over a century later, their descendants are plagued by ‘civilisation’, determined to ‘cleanse’ the island. One light skinned boy is chosen to save, the rest must succumb to authorities' institutions – or the waters. The age-old trope of the subjugation of fellow humans in a world brutally intolerant of difference percolates throughout Harding's third novel.
Paul Harding is currently the director of the MFA in creative writing and literature at Stony Brook University. He lives on Long Island, New York with his family.
The Bee Sting – Paul Murray
A patch of ice on the road, a casual favour, a bee sting – This novel examines the butterfly effect in a poignant way, questioning whether a single moment of bad luck can change a life. The Bee Sting is a tragicomic saga surrounding the ill-fated Barne’s family, and the repercussions of their once lucrative car business going under, spiralling towards disastrous consequences. A thought-provoking account of family, fortune, and the struggle to be a good person when the world is falling apart.
One of two Irish authors on this year's shortlist, Dublin’s Paul Murray is no stranger to literary accolades, including one of his previous of four novels Skippy Dies being shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2010.
Study for Obedience - Sarah Bernstein
Through the eyes of the ubiquitous unreliable narrator, Bernstein’s second novel explores sombre themes such as prejudice, guilt, abuse and the question of innocence. The novel follows a young girl forced to relocate to a ‘remote northern country’, where she does not speak the language. As the townspeople begin to blame her for a string of dark natural occurrences, we are left guessing the reality of her effects on others, whether these accusations by people she has failed to forge connections with are xenophobic or otherwise. The question is, for someone's suffering to be recognised, must they be innocent?
Sarah Bernstein is a Canadian writer and scholar who was born in Montreal and now lives in the Scottish Highlands, where she teaches literature and creative writing. In 2023, she was named by Granta as one of the best young writers in Britain.
If I Survive You – Johnathon Escoffery
The second of the two debuts on the shortlist this year, Escoffery’s If I Survive You is a compelling novel pulsing with style, heart and barbed humour, surrounding themes of political violence, family rivalry and migration. Fleeing to Miami from their native Kingston in 1979 is more of a culture shock for one family than they could’ve ever imagined. Regarded with suspicion and confusion, The American Dream strays far out of reach for two brothers Topper and Sanya as they navigate personal issues amongst a sea of racism and poverty, finding themselves pitted against one another.
Johnathon Escoffery is a Jamaican American author, currently a PhD fellow in the University of Southern California’s PhD in Creative Writing and Literature Program. His fiction has appeared in the Paris Review, American Short Fiction and Electric Literature, and has been anthologised in The Best American Magazine Writing.
Prophet Song – Paul Lynch
The second Irishman and third Paul on the shortlist, Lynch's shocking masterpiece Prophet Song is set in a dystopic Ireland slowly falling under authoritarian rule. Beginning with a knock on the door of a dark wet evening in Dublin, the novel follows scientist and mother of four Eilish Stack attempting to save her family in a collapsing society driven by invisible tyrannical forces.
Without paragraph breaks, there is a tight, claustrophobic air to this propulsive and morbid novel, which witnesses society's descent into a war transcending Ireland.
Paul Lynch is an internationally acclaimed author from Limerick, who has published five novels, winning several awards in the process, his most recent being Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year in 2018 with his third novel Grace.