Submitted by The Booker Prizes on Tue, 03/09/2019 - 14:24
Margaret Atwood The Testaments
Lucy Ellmann Ducks, Newburyport
Bernardine Evaristo Girl, Woman, Other
Chigozie Obioma An Orchestra of Minorities
Salman Rushdie Quichotte
Elif Shafak 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World
It is no surprise that this year’s Booker shortlist is a surprise. Second-guessing the judges is always a fruitless task and a cluster of fancied names have not made the cut – the critics’ tip Deborah Levy and the much fancied Max Porter and Kevin Barry being among them. The two biggest names though, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, both past winners, have made it through. They are now in line to join the most select company possible and become only the fourth double winner in the prize’s history alongside Peter Carey, J.M. Coetzee and Hilary Mantel.
The stories themselves encompass a modern reworking of Don Quixote set in America and Britain and taking in opioids and meta fiction by Rushdie; a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale from Atwood (still, frustratingly an unknown quantity of a book since it is not published until 10th September and remains wrapped in cloak-and-dagger secrecy); a story of a life after death in Istanbul, narrated by a murdered woman as her life force ebbs, from Shafak; the intersecting stories of 12 black women whose lives touch in 20th and 21st century Britain from Evaristo; a star-crossed love story set in Nigeria and Cyprus from Obioma – who also becomes a two-time shortlistee; and a thousand-page, one sentence freewheeling epic about information and ecology from Ellmann.
The nationalities of the shortlistees are always a point of interest and this year there is only one Brit, Bernardine Evaristo, a Nigerian (Chigozie Obioma), a Canadian (Atwood), three hybrids of Indian, British and American in Rushdie, a British-American (Lucy Ellmann) and Elif Shafak who is Turkish-British. It is a roster that reflects the polyglot and intermingled nature of the modern world.
There is, continuing the recent trend, a distaff feel to the list, with four women and two men. While no single publisher has a monopoly of things: six different houses get a mention – Hamish Hamilton, Little Brown, Jonathan Cape, Galley Beggar Press, Chatto & Windus and Viking. It is good to spread the champagne moments around.
One of the noted hallmarks of the longlist was its breadth and how it presented a range of contemporary fiction, this has been preserved in the shortlist. Certainly no one can accuse the judges of showing undue partiality for any one type of tale. Historical fiction, for example, which has been in the ascendant in past years, is notable by its absence this time.
It is always worth remembering too that the judges will have read each of these six books twice already, and will now embark on them for a third time. It is always a sign of quality if a book can bear re-reading, let alone in quick succession. What the judges have found are half-a-dozen novels that have revealed new strengths when they returned to them, and they hope, as they turn to re-re-reading, there will still be more to come.