Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 November 2019

Your ultimate guide to the 2019 Booker Prize longlist

From plot overviews to critical reception and further reading – here is everything you need to know about the 13 nominated novels

Six of the novels longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize
Six of the novels longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize

The longlist for the 2019 Booker Prize was announced on Wednesday and includes two former winners – Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood – as well as authors from Nigeria, Turkey and the US. One of the novels is narrated by a Nigerian spirit; another is a 1,000 page internal monologue by a housewife in Ohio.

So it’s certainly a varied list and one that chair of the judges Peter Florence insists – perhaps unsurprisingly – we should all read. “If you only read one book this year, make a leap,” says Florence. “Read all 13 of these.”

That’s all well and good but if you’re halfway through the latest series on Netflix, say, or simply hoping to leave the house at some stage this summer, wading through 13 novels might be tricky.

With that in mind, here is a quick, easily-digestible guide to the 2019 Booker Prize longlist.

'The Testaments' by Margaret Atwood (Canada)

Publisher: Vintage, Chatto & Windus

Plot: Nope, sorry, can’t help you with this one, since Atwood’s follow-up to her 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, isn’t published until September 15. But the Canadian author, nominated six times for the Booker Prize, has revealed that the novel is “set 15 years after Offred’s final scene and is narrated by three female characters”.

Critical reception: No reviews yet, obviously. But the Booker Prize judges have read advance copies and report that The Testaments is “terrifying and exhilarating”.

Read if you enjoyed: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; The Power by Naomi Alderman; The Farm by Joanne Ramos

'Night Boat to Tangier' by Kevin Barry (Ireland)

Publisher: Canongate Books

Plot: Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, a pair of ageing Irish gangsters, are waiting for Charlie’s estranged daughter at the ferry terminal of the Spanish port of Algeciras. While they wait, the pair reminisce. Barry delves into their shady, chaotic pasts with dark comic consequences.

Critical reception: The Guardian described Night Boat to Tangier as “a plunging spiritual immersion into the parlous souls of wrongful men”, while The Independent, in its four-star review, praised Barry as, “a writer who captures male friendship with rare brilliance”.

Read if you enjoyed: Ulysses by James Joyce; The Commitments by Roddy Doyle; How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

'My Sister, The Serial Killer' by Oyinkan Braithwaite (UK/Nigeria)

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Plot: The clue’s in the name, really. Ayoola has a habit of murdering her boyfriends and yet it always seems to fall to her sister, Korede, to clear up the mess. Things start to get even more complicated, though, when the man Korede is in love with asks her for Ayoola’s number.

Critical reception: “A bombshell of a book – sharp, explosive, hilarious,” gushed The New York Times. The Huffington Post thought so, too: “A taut, rapidly paced thriller that pleasurably subverts serial killer and sisterhood tropes for a guaranteed fun afternoon.”

Read if you enjoyed: Therese Raquin by Emile Zola; Sugar Run by Mesha Maren; Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

'Ducks, Newburyport' by Lucy Ellmann (USA/UK)

Publisher: Galley Beggar Press

Plot: Over 1,000 pages long but consisting of just eight sentences, this is a modernist, stream-of-consciousness account of the ruminations of an Ohio housewife. Occasionally, a mountain lion makes an appearance. If it sounds tricky, well, that’s because it is.

Critical reception: The Guardian hailed it as, “a novel that rewards perseverance, is truly unique, and feels like an absence in your life when you finish it”. The Times was less sure, stating that the “book is stuck between insanity and genius, arousing conflicting responses in the reader”.

Read if you enjoyed: Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce; Umbrella by Will Self; A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimar McBride; Milkman by Anna Burns

'Girl, Woman, Other' by Bernadine Evaristo (UK)

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Plot: The history of modern Britain is told through 12 stories, mostly from the perspective of black women.

Critical reception: The Financial Times praised Evaristo’s ability to capture “the shared experiences that make us, as she puts it in her dedication, ‘members of the human family’,” while Stylist magazine called it, “ambitious, flowing and all-encompassing”.

Read if you enjoyed: White Teeth by Zadie Smith; Small Island by Andrea Levy; Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

'The Wall' by John Lanchester (UK)

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Plot: In the near future, a wall is built around the British Isles to stop the “Others” from getting in. We meet Joseph Kavanagh, one of the “Defenders” of the wall, as he endures another bleak, boring shift. A dystopian fable about immigration and climate change.

Critical reception: The Independent was unsure about The Wall, describing in its three-star review as “ambitious” but too broad: “In making [Kavanagh’s] experience as universal as possible, detail is lost, and there just isn’t enough spark to create a needed sense of urgency.” Time magazine was more taken, however. “As in all good dystopian fiction,” it stated, “Lanchester shows us a world that could become a reality; if we keep doing what we’re doing.”

Read if you enjoyed: The Trial by Franz Kafka; The Road by Cormac McCarthy; Autumn by Ali Smith; Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers

'The Man Who Saw Everything' by Deborah Levy (UK)

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Plot: A young man is hit by a car on the Abbey Road in London in 1988, an event that alters the course of his life and which is mirrored decades later. An examination, according to the publisher, of “what we see and what we fail to see, the grave crime of carelessness, the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off”.

Critical reception: The novel is published on August 28.

Read if you enjoyed: Bluets by Maggie Nelson; The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett; The Girls by Emma Cline

'Lost Children Archive' by Valeria Luiselli (Mexico/Italy)

Publisher: 4th Estate

Plot: As a family sets out to drive from New York to Arizona, news comes through on the radio of an immigration crisis in the US. The family, however, appears to be undergoing a very different kind of crisis in the car. A striking look at the plight of refugees.

Critical reception: Luiselli’s novel has been near universally praised with the Financial Times suggesting that the author “urges her readers towards a common humanity”, and the New York Times stating that she “dramatises what it takes for people to stare hard at their own families, to examine their complicity in other people’s suffering”.

Read if you enjoyed: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; The Mistry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy; Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

'An Orchestra of Minorities' by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)

Publisher: Little Brown

Plot: Obioma, who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015 for The Fishermen, returns with a novel about a Nigerian poultry farmer who sells his possessions to take up a place at a school in Cyprus, only to discover that he has been scammed.

Critical reception: The Guardian praised Obioma’s “rich and vivid” language, while The Atlantic stated: “Obioma depicts the indignities the farmer faces with rich details, at times even appearing to revel in the contours of his protagonist’s suffering.”

Read if you enjoyed: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo; The Incendiaries by R O Kwon; Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

'Lanny' by Max Porter (UK)

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Plot: A young boy goes missing after summoning a spirit to an English village, an event which brings to the surface ancient folklore traditions. Lanny is, according to the publisher, “a ringing defense of creativity, spirit, and the generative forces that often seem under assault in the contemporary world”.

Critical reception: “Porter writes exquisitely and vividly, carefully deploying tensions, with a fine ear for the myriad nuanced reactions and voices of those involved in the search,” said The Independent in its four-star review. The Washington Post added that Lanny is, “a book that is part poetry and part prose, where each main character feels like a member of a chorus delivering a soliloquy, some humorous, many others pained”.

Read if you enjoyed: Pure by Andrew Miller; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

'Quichotte' by Salman Rushdie (UK/India)

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Plot: A modern-day reimagining of Don Quixote about a salesman who falls in love with a TV star.

Critical reception: The novel is published on September 3.

Read if you enjoyed: Don Quixote by Cervantes (obviously); otherwise, since this is being tipped as one of Rushdie’s great novels, this should be top of any Rushdie lover's wish-list.

'10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World' by Elif Shafak (UK/Turkey)

Publisher: Viking

Plot: A sex worker is murdered in Istanbul and recalls, in the moments after her death, the defining moments of her life.

Critical reception: The Financial Times called it “a novel that gives voice to the invisible, the untouchable, the abused and the damaged, weaving their painful songs into a thing of beauty”. The Spectator described Shafak as “a writer at the height of her powers”.

Read if you enjoyed: Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi; The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

'Frankissstein' by Jeanette Winterson (UK)

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Plot: It’s Brexit Britain and a young transgender doctor falls for their professor, one of the leading proponents of AI, in this modern day re-imagining of Mary Shelley's classic novel.

Critical reception: The Guardian stated that the novel is “a fragmented, at times dazzlingly intelligent meditation on the responsibilities of creation, the possibilities of artificial intelligence and the implications of both transsexuality and transhumanism”. The Telegraph was less sure, describing it as “a techno-novel with hardware too smart for its own good”.

Read if you enjoyed: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Neuromancer by William Gibson; Machines Like Us by Ian McEwan

Updated: July 24, 2019 06:12 PM

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