Books not only spark our imaginations, but they also take us to completely new worlds and enrich our lives in ways that many other hobbies can’t.
This is exactly why literary awards are particularly exciting, as they provide us with the means to discover new authors and novels that may not have been on our radar before. Whether it’s David Dop’s International Booker Prize-winning novel At Night All Blood Is Black, or the numerous female voices championed by the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, this year’s gongs have highlighted a whole host of dazzling works of literature.
And now the longlist for this year’s Booker Prize for Fiction has been announced, there are even more titles to get stuck into – good news if you’re yet to populate your summer reading list. Widely regarded as the UK’s most prestigious literary award, the prize recognises the best fiction written in the English language and published in the UK and Ireland between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021.
This year’s judges – historian Maya Jasanoff (chair); writer and editor Horatia Harrod; actor Natascha McElhone; twice Booker-shortlisted novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma; and writer and former Archbishop Rowan Williams – had the near-impossible task of whittling a stellar line-up of 158 novels down to a longlist of 13.
This year’s line-up features an exciting bunch, including three previously shortlisted authors, two debut novelists, four independently published titles and a book by Nobel Prize winner and past Booker winner, Kazuo Ishiguro.
The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 14 September, while the winning title is set to be crowned in the first week of November. But until then, this round-up covers all 13 books from the longlist so you can get stuck in now.
‘A Passage North’ by Anuk Arudpragasam, published by Granta Books
From the award-winning author of The Story of a Brief Marriage (£7.37, Amazon.co.uk) comes this novel of desire, loss and the legacy of civil war. It follows Krishan's journey from Colombo into Sri Lanka’s war-torn northern province for the funeral of his grandmother’s former caregiver. Exploring themes of communities, individuals and divided cultural identities, the judges called it “quiet by serendipity, possessing its power not on its face, but in hidden, subterranean places”.
‘Second Place’ by Rachel Cusk, published by Faber
An evocative study of female fate and male privilege, Second Place follows a woman searching for meaning in her life who invites a famous artist to spend the summer in her guesthouse. His provocative presence is mysterious and works to disrupt the calmness of her secluded family home. It’s an examination of how art can be equal parts redemptive and destructive.
‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut, published by Chatto & Windus
Examining a dysfunctional white South African family living on a farm, The Promise is set during four funerals across four decades and exposes the anguish at the centre of the characters’ lives.
Galgut cleverly reinvents the role of the narrator here, shifting from traditional narration to directly addressing the reader – sliding between characters and in and out of personae. It’s said to be a convincing and heartfelt novel.
‘The Sweetness of Water’ by Nathan Harris, published by Tinder Press
Harris’s debut novel features a wise and lyrical story of the fictional town of Olf Ox, Georgia, at the end of the American Civil War. The Sweetness of Water opens with two brothers, Prentiss and Landry – freed by the Emancipation Proclamation – who are finally leaving the plantation where they’ve spent their entire lives. Through carefully examining of the brothers’ stories, the book explores the physical and emotional cost of freedom.
‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Faber
The eighth novel by Nobel Prize-winning British writer Kazuo Ishiguro is a luminous journey through the mind of Klara, an artificial friend who has been built to keep lonely children company. Using Klara’s voice, Ishiguro explores themes of power, status and fear among humans, as well as the implications of AI and human relationships.
‘An Island’ by Karen Jennings, published by Holland House Books
This is an intense and gripping story that follows the life of an isolated lighthouse keeper, Samuel, who lives on an island off the African coast. His much-loved solitude is destroyed when a young refugee washes up unconscious on his shores, which in turn brings up memories of his past growing up in Africa under colonialists and helping his country fight for independence.
This novel is so popular that it’s currently out of stock, but we hope it’ll be back soon.
‘A Town Called Solace’ by Mary Lawson, published by Chatto & Windus
In this moving novel, acclaimed Canadian author Mary Lawson brings together three characters, each at different stages in their lives, after a loss. Set in northern Ontario in 1971, it explores tragedy in a small town.
This book is also out of stock but you can sign up to receive a notification for when it’ll back.
‘No One Is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood, published by Bloomsbury Circus
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction award, this exciting debut from American poet Lockwood tells the story of how one woman’s life is turned upside down when something she posts on social media goes viral.
Equal parts witty and unexpected, it covers internet culture and human connection in a wry and intelligent way. Lockwood takes risks while making sure her book retains plenty of warmth.
‘The Fortune Men’ by Nadifa Mohamed, published by Penguin Books
Based on a real-life case from 1952, The Fortune Man is a masterpiece in storytelling. It tells of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali seaman who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Lily Volpert and was one of the last men to be executed in Wales. Mohamed’s ability to examine the blistering racial injustices of the time is sobering and immense.
‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers, published by Cornerstone
This novel follows a widowed astrobiologist, Theo Byrne, and his nine-year-old son, Robin, who has a lesser-known health condition. Set in the near future amid Earth’s slow deterioration, it tells the story of what we must do when faced with the need to keep those we love safe.
‘China Room’ by Sunjeev Sahota, published by Vintage
Telling two stories concurrently, China Room is set between the late Twenties in Punjab, with a tale concerning an arranged marriage, and Nineties Britain. It’s a heartbreaking novel that explores themes of oppression, love and freedom across two histories and cultures.
‘Great Circle’ by Maggie Shipstead, published by Transworld Publishers
Shipstead spent seven years writing her third novel, which offers a thrilling story of the life of a fearless female aviator who disappeared in 1950 while attempting a north-to-south circumnavigation of the earth, and an actor who portrays her on screen decades later. It’s a soaring novel that’s sure to grip you.
‘Light Perpetual’ by Francis Spufford, published by Faber
Opening with a literal bang, in this book a V2 rocket hits south London and kills five children. What follows is a counterfactual tale that explores what their lives would’ve been like had they survived. When talking about Light Perpetual, the judges said: “The novel made us reflect on the contingencies in every human life, and the purpose of fiction itself.”
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Unsure what to read next? Take inspiration from the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 shortlist
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